The first night at splitfest we listened to a presentation from guide Andrew Klotz, author of Cold Smoke: Skiing Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Andrew gave us a few tips and places with satisfying lines in the area. A few of the others from the Silverton Splitfest had gotten in a few days early and also had beta on the good and bad. The San Juans are comprised of five wilderness areas with nearly six million skiable acres. Aside Alaska, there are no mountains in North America with the same enormity and rugged terrain as the San Juans. The options are nearly endless.
Sometimes you just get really lucky finding suitable partners. I met Shane and Matt at the Silverton splitfest. The three of us would be testing out John Keffler’s amazing Phantom Bindings (I will have an in-depth review of these up soon). We decided to ride together since hardbooters are typically looking for high altitude couloirs. We meshed pretty well and had an awesome few days. Shane and Matt, were both rocking an AT boot setup. Shane rides a Voile Mojo with Scarpa Maestrales, and Matt rides an Icelantic (essentially a Never Summer, just a different top sheet) with the Scarpa Rush. We decided on Grand Turk via the Wishbone Couloir approach.
The approach started at Highway 550 on a turnout around 10,475′. The route is pretty straight forward. Once the entire cirque comes in to view – the approach will be on a southwest aspect. On the apron of the couloir, the right leg of the Wishbone will be obvious. There is also an inviting line on the couloir that goes straight up to the right; this leg gets steep just out of view and will put you in to a shallow cliff band above.
The right leg of the Wishbone is an approach angle around 25-30 degrees average. The steepest angle I found on the inclinometer was 34 degrees which is an area about two-thirds of the way up – where a cornice on the left wall of the couloir awaited like hang-fire. Easy to circumvent though.
Once we broke the ridge, Shane dug a hasty snowpit right around 12,700′ so we could see what was going on in the snow layers for stability. The week prior the San Juans had a dust event. The dust layer was buried about 20cm from the surface. Below that layer a bullet-proof ice layer. I should note here, when the isothermic reaction hits that layer I would imagine there is going to be a mass-shedding event. Typically snirt (dust) accelerates the snow-melt, and this will be no exception. There is a heavy layer that blew in from New Mexico / Arizona. For the most part there was good stability. We decided to go for it.
The ride down was just amazing. The snow was isothermic below about 11,000. An amazing day overall! This is a relatively easy approach and fun descent back to Highway 550.
When I go back, I would like to drop Grand Turk form the north. We thought about it since we had a vehicle staged on Highway 550 headed to Ouray, but we didn’t have beta on the area just past the drainage. Another day.
Below you can clearly see the Wishbone Couloir approach just to the right of the Grand Turk summit and the relation to Sultan Mountain. I will not post GPS tracks publicly, but if you would like them, just shoot me a note.