Mountaineering – Skywalker Couloir & Arapaho Traverse, IPW, CO

Summit of South Arapaho
Kent, Clare, Doug, and Tilden on Summit of South Arapaho

The Arapaho Traverse
The Arapaho Traverse, Taken from South Arapaho

Topo Map for Skywalker Couloir and Arapaho Peaks
The Topo Map for Fourth of July Trailhead and the Arapaho Traverse

Doug tells me that he and Kent are planning to climb the Skywalker Couloir. Then he adds the phrase, “If you want to come, you’re welcome to join us”. Oh boy! It’s an offer I can’t refuse. This classic snow climb has been recommended to me by several other Colorado Mountain Club members, and when it’s “in”, it is a “must do”. Tilden is invited as well, so that makes a strong party of 4. Perfect!

Before the climb, I’m a little nervous. I haven’t done any snow climbing since Rainier’s Emmons Glacier route, almost a year ago. Furthermore, Rainier only had one short section that was steep; a 50 ft section which was probably around 40 degrees. We were at that crux in the middle of the night. I wasn’t sure how I’d do in daylight with full knowledge of what I was getting myself into! Plus, Skywalker has a much longer steep section than what I experienced before.

I contacted my friend Robert, who has done both climbs (Rainier and Skywalker) to find out what he thought of the cruxes of both routes. Robert described to me what it was like, comparing and contrasting each. It was his opinion that I would be fine and he said I should not hesitate.

So, I didn’t!

Doug and I leave Denver on Saturday, early evening. We drive up to the Fourth of July trailhead and park the truck. He sleeps in his truck and I bivy outside. I’m excited for my first bivy of the season. The forecast for Nederland says a low in the low 50s. So, I pack a wool blanket and my sleeping pad, thinking that will be enough. However, I forgot the trailhead is a good 1,000 ft higher…so immediately I’m shivering. I put on all my clothes and manage to drift off around 1am.

It’s o-dark-thirty, and I hear Doug making breakfast. On a couple hours of sleep, I feel a bit groggy. Going through the motions I wonder how our day will go. Will I be able to do the climb? I steal a handful of Doug’s breakfast gorp. Thank goodness it has roasted coffee beans in it!

Tilden and Kent meet us at the trailhead. They’re about 30 minutes late, but I’m okay with that…since I’m still Ms. Sleepyhead.

Off to Climb Skywalker Couloir
We set off for our climb at 4:51am.

Daylight is Upon Us...On the Way to Skywalker
26 minutes later, the sun starts to rise. I strip off my insulating layers and enjoy the long sleeves. Summer is definitely coming!

Sneak Preview of Skywalker Couloir
1 hour into our hike, we get a glimpse of the Skywalker Couloir

Looking Back Towards 4th of July TH
Taken from the same place, looking back towards the trail head.

Approaching Skywalker Couloir
Skywalker Couloir! Excitement abounds. Doug, Kent, and Tilden lead the way.

Looking Westward at Jasper Peak
Jasper Peak and Mt. Neva from the same spot as the last picture.

Skywalker Couloir - Oh The Joy!
Getting closer to the climb! We do quite a bit of scrambling before we reach the toe of the couloir.

Halfway Up Skywalker Couloir
Halfway up Skywalker. Taken at 7:50am, three hours since we left the Trailhead.

We Have Company...Crowded House on Skywalker Couloir
From the same spot, looking down. We have company! 4 people are climbing below us. One of them has skis.

Kent on Steeps of Skywalker Couloir
Kent cruises the crux of the climb. Everytime I looked up, I was staring into the bottom of his crampons. I’m happy Kent was above me, because I had total faith he wouldn’t slip. This guy is an animal on the steeps!

Tilden on Steeps of Skywalker Couloir
Looking down at Tilden. Taken at 8:20am, about 3.5 hours from the trail head. Tilden was so helpful and encouraging to me the whole climb. I’m so grateful he stayed with me while we ascended and helped give pointers about crampons and technique. What a guy!

Skier and Climber Exit Skywalker Couloir
The Skier, followed by a nice climber. They caught up to us on the Couloir, mainly because Doug spent a bunch of time improving the steps on the steep bits. Doug used his ax to make the steps bigger and flatter. I was happy he did this, even though chunks of consolidated snow were raining down on us. One of them hit my helmet with a thud…glad I had a brain bucket on!

Climber Exiting Skywalker Couloir
Nice climber guy topping out on Skywalker. I told him I would post his picture, but it’s been over a month now, so who knows if he’ll ever see it!

View South From Top of Skywalker Couloir
View from top of Skywalker Couloir. Taken at 8:30am. Gorgeous!

After Skywalker, we hike over to South Arapaho and take a short break. The skier takes our group picture on the top. Kent doesn’t want to do the traverse with us, so he heads back to the car. We say a quick goodbye and then Tilden, Doug, and I take off for North Arapaho.

As we scramble over there, the clouds start accumulating. At this relatively early hour, it could go either way. We take the risk and go for it.

Because of our weather predicament, I dare not take photos on the way over. It’s a big rush and goes by in a blur. We see the orange arrows pointing us to the first up climb. Then, we walk over snow along the top of the ridge. Then, we did a 4th class down climb similar to some of the down climbs we had on Ellingwood Ridge on La Plata. The kind where there are multiple ways to go and everybody can pick their path.

Then, we get to the final ascent for the summit. We meet a guy who is hiking in micro spikes and has no ice ax. We collectively agree, he is either a bad a$$ or an idiot. We all have both and are happy for it!

We reach the summit at 10:30am. The sky looks threatening. I take a few pictures, grab a handful of food and we run back across the traverse.

Tilden on Summit of North Arapaho
Tilden on the Summit of North Arapahoe

Nervous Climbergirl on North Arapaho
On Summit of North Arapaho.

Foot Dangle from Summit of North Arapaho
Foot Dangle

Doug on North Arapaho
Doug on North Arapaho.

We make it back across the traverse, and over the top of South Arapaho. The weather deteriorates as we descend. Somewhere around 12,000 ft, the skies open up and we are treated to graupel and thunder.

Overtaken by Thunderstorms on Slopes of South Arapaho
Overtaken by the storm.

We hike at a fast pace through a deluge of precipitation. Even my waterproof stuff starts to leak through. Around 30 minutes from the trail head, it all stops and we get a chance to shake things out. Kent is waiting for us at the trail head and we get a moment to revel in our success.

In ~8.5 hours, we climbed Skywalker Couloir, did the Arapahoe Traverse, and hiked back to the car in a storm. Not bad! Another fantastic mountain adventure with my buddies!

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