Game-time decision: Split Couloir no-go but ice looks IN

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ElGreco

Mountain climber
Topic Author's Original Post - May 25, 2014 - 11:07pm PT
Made it to Split yesterday after all with the intention to climb the East Couloir in search of ice. The storm from midweek had left a good amount of snow in places. Here's what it looked like as of yesterday afternoon:

https://flic.kr/p/nJSQHo

We approached in the morning and made a game-time decision not to get on it and climbed the neighboring St. Jean instead based on the following:

 We watched sluffs come down the couloir the evening before and that morning, especially when the sun came up (couloir faces east). Hard to know whether these would be anything substantial, or just refreshing face spray.
 All chutes had heavy wet debris fans coming out of them. Some were several feet deep (we walked on them). This likely meant that the chutes/faces had released on Weds/Thurs as the snow was coming down. Hard to know if they were done sliding or not.
 This couloir has been known to slide, likely due to snow releasing from the faces above it, and has claimed the lives of some of the most skilled and knowledgeable (Kip Garre and Allison Kreutzen, RIP).
 The night had been very warm, without a good freeze, if at all.

In short, we thought better of it and chickened. The St. Jean didn't have as much debris at the base, and clearly showed a slide path that had swept part of the couloir (about 1/3 of its width). We used that to climb up. This showed a seasonal crust underneath, with up to 1-3ft of wet new snow on top. We sprinted up lugging a bunch of useless gear, as the day warmed up and started sending small roller balls down off the walls.

The ice in the East Couloir looks like it links up though. An opportunity missed? Perhaps. We just didn't have the knowledge to gauge the post-storm conditions with confidence, and were aware that they had tricked some of the very best. Unusual situation for this time of year. Decided to play it safe. Someone with superior alpine experience may want to weigh in...

Another few days and the climb may be ready. Trouble is the forecast looks warm. Anyone want to go get it?? Hit me up if you need more info.
ms55401

Trad climber
minneapolis, mn
May 25, 2014 - 11:19pm PT
bottom third looks great, and the ice does look in
hard to second-guess backing-off ever. my MO has usually (not always) been to wait for when conditions were very favorable; I hate getting on a route with a queasy feeling that my head is on the chopping block.
bergbryce

Trad climber
South Lake Tahoe, CA
May 26, 2014 - 12:41am PT
California ice is a harsh mistress.
ElGreco

Mountain climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 26, 2014 - 12:48am PT
Incidentally, the Death Couloir on Morrison looked like it could be in from 395 on Fri morning. Today it already looked broken up at the bottom.
T H

Boulder climber
extraordinaire
May 26, 2014 - 02:08am PT
http://flic.kr/p/nJSQHo
Edit: hope those offwidths (rock) have been done on either side.
ElGreco

Mountain climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 26, 2014 - 01:23pm PT
Yeah, anyone for some wYde?!

The recipe that seems to work though is early season after a dry winter, and a good cold spell after a period of melt to feed and form up the ice. Worked for us in the Clyde couloir a couple of years ago. Unfortunately this time the snow came down during the spell too.

ms55401 and bergbryce, both well said...
Stewart Johnson

climber
lake forest
May 26, 2014 - 06:43pm PT
split mountain couloir
split mountain couloir
Credit: Stewart Johnson
split mountain in June 2010
ElGreco

Mountain climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 26, 2014 - 06:58pm PT
Sweetness, Stewart! Do you remember the conditions/weather prior to the climb?

Why did you opt for the chimney instead btw?
Stewart Johnson

climber
lake forest
May 26, 2014 - 07:05pm PT
A thin overnight freeze was all that was ! Touch it and die .
And yes mounting the avalanche debris was disconcerting
Yet relieving at the same time. I've made four ascents of this couloir
Soloing the right hand smear on a cold May morning one time
Edit: a Great route but be wary of hot temperatures after snowfall
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 26, 2014 - 07:08pm PT
Thread from 2011 accident:
http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/1483073/Sad-news-from-Split-Mountain
ElGreco

Mountain climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 26, 2014 - 08:23pm PT
Even though I never knew them, the loss of Allison and Kip makes me very sad...

It's also clear that they had top notch avalanche training as well as a ton of experience and mountain sense. A friend of Allison's posted recently that it was likely snow from the faces above that swept the chute. So even if you can assess snowpack stability in the couloir, it's not the whole story. The event made us think twice this weekend.

Stewart, what time of year and conditions are conducive to climbing this in your experience?
Stewart Johnson

climber
lake forest
May 26, 2014 - 09:24pm PT
Lots of acreage above the narrow throat
Suns hits the top first thing
Pick a cold period
Leave lake at 330 am or midnight from
Car
ElGreco

Mountain climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 27, 2014 - 12:04am PT
Thank you, sir. We'll have to try again another time.
looks easy from here

climber
Ben Lomond, CA
May 27, 2014 - 01:48pm PT
Sorry for the thread hijack, ElGreco, but how were the mosquitoes out that way?
ElGreco

Mountain climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 27, 2014 - 01:58pm PT
Non-existent. Beautiful up there. Hardly zipped up the bag at night (which is not so great for the ice, of course). Red Lake is mostly melted out.

Sunrise above Red Lake, May24, 2014. Photo: G. Peridas
Sunrise above Red Lake, May24, 2014. Photo: G. Peridas
Credit: ElGreco
CAC

Gym climber
Clairemont
May 27, 2014 - 03:41pm PT
Took me three trips up to Red Lake to find enough ice in that couloir to climb. The day we climbed it the ice was running with water and my partner finished off what ice was left when she followed me - we could hear it crashing down behind us. Further up the couloir we were plugging away in heavy wet snow when out of the corner of my eye I saw something moving to the side of me. A giant slush avalanch was almost noiselessly flying down the couloir, a few feet to my right, carving a deep channel as it went.

One of the closest calls I've had in the Sierra...
looks easy from here

climber
Ben Lomond, CA
May 27, 2014 - 03:43pm PT
Awesome. Thanks. I'm going to be up at Temple in a week and a half, and I was sweating the bloodsuckers. Early season rocks!
ElGreco

Mountain climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 27, 2014 - 03:57pm PT
Damn, CAC. Not what you want to encounter up there. We climbed the neighboring St. Jean in just such a channel.

What time of year was that, and what were the conditions like?
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