Bloody Bike & Ski — Page 6

Bloody Couloir

Climbing Bloody Couloir

The angle steepens once I pass beyond the mine tunnels and enter the snowy gully between Bloody Mountain's north buttresses. I spot a faint boot trail and veer toward it.

Climbing in the footprints is much easier than breaking trail myself—though the steps occasionally vanish, obliterated by recent wet slides. The snow is unexpectedly quirky: a blend of winter snow (from a recent storm) and poorly-consolidated spring corn.

Bloody Couloir - First Pillar Ice Axe and Crampons Bloody Couloir - Second Pillar Bloody Couloir - Measuring Steepness Looking Down: Steep!

Mixed in are frozen Rollers (balls of snow) of various size. This is not the kind of surface that makes for favorable skiing. It also merits a close look for safety considerations. I note that the snowpack, in general, is well settled, and fluid, rather than brittle.

The surface is frozen into a thin crust, and when I probe beneath, I find the density below generally increases the lower I dig.

My somewhat primitive assessment is that the primary danger today will be radiation-related—as the sun warms the snow, it will destabilize.

Given the cloud cover above, the shadows cast by the couloir's cliff-bound walls, and my early start, I expect to be up and down before any problems materialize.

As for the skiing, perfect corn snow would be nice, but I'll take what I get. Anything but ice is my motto on the steeps.

So the climb continues.

No discussion of Bloody Couloir would be complete without mentioning the region's spectacular coloring.

The dark rock of the buttresses and pillars bear veins of red, yellow, orange, and gray.

With the sun hidden, these colors have been mute.

But, as I slowly gain altitude, the sun begins to poke out from behind the cirrus clouds above, and the colors spring to life.

My approach route is visible below, with the Laurel Lakes a vivid blue in the distance.

The angle through the couloir's midsection strikes me as moderate: in-bounds expert.

I pass the pyramid-shaped First Pillar.

Now, Bloody Couloir's two main options are clearly visible, divided by the Second Pillar.

The gully to the right of the upper pillar is noticeably steeper than the main couloir, to the left—but how steep is it?

Wanting to get more objective route information this season, I've begun carrying an inclinometer. When I get well into the steeper upper section, I stop and take a measurement of a representative section. To this point, I've felt quite comfortable with the angle in the couloir. I don't expect to measure anything over 45°

Three readings later (to get an average), I'm surprised to learn that Bloody Couloir's crux approaches 50°. That's steep enough to spook me. I take a careful look down the hill, contemplating the suddenly-apparent exposure. Yes, I think to myself, there is a bit of air down there, after all.

Self-induced vertigo aside, it's time to finish the climb. I kick steps up the couloir's remaining two or three hundred vertical feet, filled with anticipation of the ski descent ahead.

next: Summit Views

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.