Skiing Muir's East Buttress — Page 11

Mount Muir - Dave Skiing the Exit Couloir

The Exit Couloir

The exit couloir, as the name implies, provides the essential function of escaping us from the hanging snowfields on Mount Muir's southeast face and connecting us (eventually) to the base of the mountain.

Without it, we'd be needing parachutes to get down. As exits go, however, I can most emphatically tell you this one leaves something to be desired. Snow exists here at the margins of what is skiable, all of it hung high above the doomsday zone of the rock garden and other, nameless but most certainly not forgotten cliffs far below.

Looking for the Exit Dave Atop the Exit Couloir Skiing the Exit Couloir Nearing the Rock Garden

Here too, the route's aspect shifts from southeasterly to east and even northerly.

That shift, plus the couloir's high, narrow walls, means the snow quality here will be far less friendly. Sticky winter powder clings to our ski bases, and many of the shadowy patches are now refreezing, becoming alarmingly hard.

We go back to work, passing down and through the upper exit's choke point, down-climbing, skiing, or side-stepping as conditions and/or prudence (such as it is) dictate.

Below us waits the rock garden, ensuring that each and every move is an honest one.

To escape the cliff below the upper Exit Couloir, we must traverse back across the awful rock garden, thereafter rejoining the skiable lower part of the couloir, which will take us all the way through the remainder of the east buttress.

As I watch Dave cutting fearless turns above the dead-end cliff below, I can't help admiring his extraordinary skiing skills—on Tele gear no less!

In contrast to my quite a bit more timid and measured passage, Dave I must say is skiing the crap out of this couloir.

What I love about Dave as a ski mountaineering partner is that, whatever mad scheme I propose to him, he's always willing to give it a try. What I hate about Dave is that, whatever mad ski mountaineering scheme I propose to him, he's always willing to give it a try. Beyond a doubt, however, it is our partnership that has made this day possible.

Even the dreaded Rock Garden seems unlikely to stop us now. Though I'm trying not to get ahead of myself, I'm starting to dare to dream we'll soon be standing at the base of this mountain, looking back up at the incredible tower of the east buttress, having completed the most unlikely and extraordinary ski descent of certainly my and perhaps even both our lives.

next: Over the Rainbow

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.