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It’s been an unequalled backcountry ski season for me, with perhaps too much time (impossible!) spent skiing Rocky Mountain National Park. But living the last five years quite far from backcountry skiing has caused me to leap in fully here in Colorado. Places like flat, humid Houston, where I spent two years, and historic Philadelphia, my place of residence for another three before Colorado, caused me to desire backcountry skiing with ever more devotion. Underneath all that, my many years spent carving up Montana’s mountains wouldn’t let me forget my skiing roots.
|Hallett Peak from Flattop, East Ridge on the skyline. We skied this from the summit to the couloir on the left side of the photo (fall line options from summit proved to all cliff out dramatically).|
So with over twenty days spent ascending and descending much incredible terrain this season, and avalanche danger moderating a bit for spring, it was time to up the ante. Hallett Peak has some stunning lines, so Eric Borch and I skinned in with ample anticipation. Flattop Mountain’s East Face, also dubbed the Banana Bowls, is a low-angle approach that is virtually avalanche free and allows jaw-dropping previews of many descent possibilities like Tyndall Glacier, Corral Couloir from Flattop Mountain, Ptarmigan Point Cirque, and Notchtop Mountain’s couloir and cirque.
While I had skied a number of these lines already, several of them had yet to feel the arc of my skis. Menacing cornices, deluging dark storms, alpine climb cruxes, obvious avalanche danger, and a good bit of solo touring had often dictated relatively conservative route choices for me this past winter.
But this time Eric and I readily picked Hallett’s South Face, which holds plenty of challenge and adrenal gland overstimulation. That coupled with the fact that our hoped-for line and eventual exit drainage, Chaos Canyon, were essentially a tabla rasa of unknowns narrowing our choice to a route we had scoped anxiously for the better part of the morning ascent.
After capturing many summit photos and gulping requisite refreshments and food, we prepped for our couloir. The East Ridge immediately led us to the slot on the North Face: steep, narrow, and just committing enough with a choke to keep things energized.
|Looking down the route. Above crux.|
The crux could have involved a bit of air to satisfy purist protocol, but we opted to down climb this stricture instead.
|Mark above the crux.|
Below the couloir, we arced late-May glop through Tyndall Gorge and all the way to the car, with scarcely a dry patch to be found.
|Looking up Dead Elk during our exit from Hallett.|
Views of the seminal and oft-mentioned chutes Dead Elk and Dragonstail Couloirs revealed many ominous wet slides trundling dense snow pinwheels and occasional rocks above Emerald lake. Thankfully our route kept us free of such danger, and we’ll likely be back soon.