Classic Couloirs of the San Juans
Gilpin Peak’s North Face Couloir
The San Juan Mountains are blessed with a lifetime’s worth of climbing and mountaineering challenges in all seasons. One of the most overlooked times of year to climb in the San Juans are the months of May and June. Ample winter and spring snow is an excellent recipe for spring climbing conditions – especially on some of the area’s classic couloirs. One such classic climb is the North Face Couloir on Gilpin Peak.
Gilpin Peak is situated high in Yankee Boy Basin, directly across from the massively popular Mount Sneffels. The North Face Couloir is unmistakable, as it splits the steep North Face of Gilpin Peak directly down it’s center. Timing is a very important consideration on this climb, as at this time of year, the couloir comes into the sun at first light – so start early. For the climb on this day, we left Ouray at 0430.
The couloir gradually steepens as you climb, eventually reaching a sustained 55 – 60 degrees in steepness during the last 3rd of the climb. There is a choice towards the top to climb either the left finish or the right finish to the couloir. The left finish typically sports an overhanging cornice which makes that finish more difficult and much steeper at the crest of the ridge. The right finish is narrower and also steep, but doesn’t typically have much of a cornice at the top. We opted for the right finish on this day, and found excellent climbing conditions in that part of the couloir.
We brought a few pickets to protect some of the long steeper sections of snow, and then a few cams for protection in the narrower section of the couloir. I found a good spot to belay the steepest section of snow right where the rock that splits the upper part of the couloir meets the lower part of the couloir. A .75 Black Diamond Camalot offered excellent protection in that section.
After you crest the ridge, the last 100 vertical feet to the summit are quite easy, and end on the huge, flat summit of Gilpin Peak. As with most peaks in the San Juans, there are fantastic panoramic views of the entire range, with the Telluride Ski Area seemingly only a stone’s throw away. The descent heads down the ridge towards Blue Lakes Pass, then loops back into upper Yankee Boy Basin and basically involves class 2 walking.
Overall, this is one of my favorite couloir climbs in the range because of it’s steepness, aesthetics, positioning, and time-friendliness (we summited at 0800 and were down by 10am).
The Alpamayo Expedition is safe and they are now on their return trek to Cachapampa. They attempted the summit two nights; the 4th and 5th. Due to energy levels and weather, they did not make the top. Certainly, the journey was incredible and they learned a lot. That’s what these expeditions are all about, learning about the mountains and about yourself. We look forward to hearing accounts of the trip from Andrés, Nathan, and Jerry. Tomorrow they plan on arriving in Huaraz to celebrate.
If you haven’t been on the Telluride Via Ferrata, you need to check it out! It’s an adventure for the whole family!
Tim and I just got done with a great trip to Vestal Basin. We parked at Molas pass and hiked in from there. All total we hiked 20 miles, gained 8,000′ and climbed Vestal Peak, all in 36 hours! Great climbing with you Tim! -BK
Andrés called this morning. The team did not make the summit last night. In high altitude climbing, factors have to be in line to reach the summit safely. They are doing fine, at High Camp resting. Later this afternoon Andrés will call for a weather update and to give us their plan of action.
Andrés, Jerry, and Nathan are going for the summit of Alpamayo (5,947 m/19,512ft) tonight. The native language of Perú is Quechua. Alpamayo in Quechuan signifies: Alpa:Earth and Mayu:River. May the continual energy of the Earth River flow though them as they climb tonight!
The French Direct Route leads out from the glacier, over a significant bergshrund, and onto the steep, beautiful SW face of Alpamayo. The team will endeavor the climb of 50-70 degree ice for many continuous pitches, to top out on the glorious summit pyramid.
Heard good word from Andrés this afternoon. The Alpamayo Expedition is doing great! They arrived at High Camp (5,490m/18,011 ft.) today, feeling good and doing excellent. They will contact us again tomorrow afternoon. The hope is to go for the summit tomorrow night July 4/5. Cheers to Andrés, Jerry, and Nathan as they continue their journey up Alpamayo. Wishing them a restful night and day tomorrow as they prepare for the summit climb. ¡Buena Onda!
Andrés checked in today from Moraine Camp (4,930m./16,175ft.) All is well. Everyone is doing great, they are enjoying the journey. He said the weather is a little in and out. Looking at the forecast on mountain-forecast.com, it appears the weather will be improving as they continue up the mountain. Tomorrow they will head to Advanced Base Camp to stage for their summit push within the following few days. Please stay tuned for their progress as we receive word. Sending the team positive energy from home for safe travels as they approach the upper reaches of Alpamayo.
Jerry, Nathan and Andrés are making great progress on Alpamayo. Received word from Andrés that they are all doing super and acclimatizing well. Today they did a carry from Base Camp (4,300 m./ 14,100 ft.) to Moraine Camp (4,900 m./ 16,075ft). Tonight they will stay at base camp. They plan to advance to Moraine Camp tomorrow. The weather has been a little unsettled, however, the forecast looks like it is shaping up for the next couple days. Sending them perpetual buena onda from home!