The Sickle Couloir on Horstman Peak

Pretty belated, but I was just going through some pics and it reminded me of how cool this line is- despite skiing it in less than all-time conditions.

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The Sickle from the Fish Hook drainage

Approximate date: May 26, 2009

There are a lot of epics in the Sawtooths, but for whatever reason the Sickle has always stuck out in my mind a bit.  Maybe it’s because you can see it from Stanley, or maybe because it’s such an awesome sliver- either way, it’s a good one for the Idaho hit list.

Drew and I set out one day in late May to see if we couldn’t find some descent snow still remaining in the upper reaches of the ‘tooths.

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The approach

Referred to as the most aesthetic peak in the Sawtooths, Horstman Peak rises to 10,470’ and is defined by the Sickle Couloir.  Usually conquered in two days in the winter, the couloir provides a rather lengthy day in the spring due to the approach.  Highlights of the five-mile walk into the basin included me collapsing a snow bridge and falling into a creek up to my waist, countless post-holes in isothermic snow, and Drew loosing his balance and testing his self-arresting skills.

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Base of the couloir. Things look good, right?

At the base of the couloir things looked promising: it seemed that the snow in the shade was still frozen and there was what looked like a previous boot pack.  Once we got inside the couloir, however, things were not so reassuring.  What we perceived to be an old boot pack was nothing more than a debris trails from a large rocks that had rolled down the couloir- this was both frustrating and unnerving.  To make matters worse, snow had frozen, but only the top couple of inches.  Thus, while you could kick-in with your boot, the moment you transferred weight you’d immediately post-hole.

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Half way up the couloir, when things start getting really harry

We pushed on despite the marginal conditions.  Midway up the couloir things went from bad to worse.  The snow had frozen much deeper and, while it would now support weight, it was virtually impenetrable- even with an ice axe..  Scrambling up the 45 plus-degree top section, the light was just beginning to heat up the snow on the top twenty feet of the couloir- we’d at least have one good turn.

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The final steps where we started getting purchase again.

The Sickle Couloir is walled in for about 1,000’, varying between 45 and 55 degrees.  Given that sections of it were so frozen they were impermeable with an ice axe, I’ll admit that we were a bit puckered as we dropped in.

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The first, and only good turn.

Dropping in, I admit I was pretty puckered. The majority of the couloir was steep, narrow, had few safety zones, and was made up of coral. Needless to say, if you fell, you were going for a ride, probably pin-balling to the apron. We made the call to ski with ice axes in hand for self-arresting reasons.

The first turn, which had been baking in the sun for about an hour, was buttery.  The next twenty turns, however, were nothing short of terrifying.  The combination of steep, runneled, and boilerplate snow through a walled-in couloir tested our survival skiing skills.  We eventually made it to the apron that had been heating up in the sun for quite some time now, and made some more natural turns to the base of the snowfield.

As I said, the Sickle is one of many epics in the Sawtooths, particularly if the conditions are right…or so I hear, as I’ve never come close to hitting it right.

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