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August 10, 2009Posted by on
With spring temperatures and fresh snow into June and for those willing to slog a little further, summer is merely an option in the Sawtooths. While most of the Custer County population was content drinking PBRs on the lake, we had our eyes set on the remaining snow in the Chockstone Couloir at the northwest end of Redfish Lake.
The Chockstone Couloir, or the Boy Scout Couloir as it is known locally, prominently divides the Grand Mogul, which overshadows Redfish Lake and serves as the backdrop for countless family photos throughout the summer. Besides the roughly 1,000 vertical feet and 40-50-degree pitch of the couloir, it is distinguished by a large piece of granite lodged in the middle of the route. This chockstone is the crux of the route on the way up, offering a 5.5 pitch of rock and ice depending on the time of year. On the way down, it’s either a sizable, must-land mandatory, or a section of rapelling depending on how ambitious one’s feeling. Either way, the route offers a challenging snow climb and rewarding ski descent well into summer.
Up at first light, we began the approach as our campmates-other skiers from the Sun Valley area-were considering calling it a night. The hour and a half bushwhack and scramble across scree fields to get to the snow and loaded down with ski and climbing gear, served as an appropriate warm up for the climb. Gearing up at the bottom of the snowfield, a big-block engine size piece of rock released from the top of the couloir and cartwheeled to our position at the bottom sending us running. The incident provided the necessary motivation to gain the protection of the chockstone as quickly as we could. As the lower half of the climb is particularly walled-in, one can’t help but feel somewhat vulnerable. From the chockstone, Bryce led and set several pieces of protection through the zone of loose rock, rotten snow, and generally untrustworthy conditions. Feeling exposed while climbing the crux, we both scrambled through as quickly as we could to the general safety of the snow above. With a somewhat faded sense of urgency after the crux, we completed the roughly five pitches to the top at a more leisurely pace, summiting just as the snow was beginning to turn.
The sense of accomplishment that could be expected was somewhat absent at the summit. Instead it was replaced by an unspoken anxiety about dropping into a no-fall zone for our first turns in several months, hoping the gnar switch still worked. Luckily it did, and the steep turns at the top of the couloir lent themselves to April skiing rather than July skiing. While there was big talk-mostly by me-at the campfire the previous evening about sending the mandatory chockstone section, on the way up we deemed that it would be reckless, stupid, and virtually impossible to stick Confident with my rapelling abilities, I chose not to put my crampons back on. I can now attest to the fact that in ski boots, on smooth, wet granite, one has little control over the direction that he or she rappels, and is mostly at the mercy of gravity. After I had clumsily reached the bottom of the pitch and Bryce rapelled, we continued down the lower, more sun-baked, section of the route. Skiing as far as we could on what was quickly becoming less and less skiable snow, we reluctantly swapped our gear when we realized we’d exhausted the snow. Within two hours of reaching the summit we were back at our camp to greet our awakening campmates. While sitting on the lake and drinking PBRs may have not sounded too good to them at that particular hour, it sure sounded great to us.