The South Couloir of Colfax

South couloir on Colfax peak On June 18th I teamed up with the inimitable Erin Smart for a Cascade ski adventure. With a ski season that began in mid November, I knew I shouldn't be expecting too much. But I simply had to have the old spatulas out one last time before dusting off the rock shoes and flip-flops.

Erin suggested we take a gander at the south couloir of Colfax peak. A satellite of Mt. Baker, Colfax and its neighboring black buttes provide a craggy, alpine backdrop to the gentle Easton glacier route. Erin had been working in the area quite a bit, and she promised me we could ski from the car.

We made a midnight start and indeed wore skis from the car. A few hours of crunching through breakable brought us up to the toe of the glacier and firmer snow. Without too much fussing we found a direct route to the Baker-Colfax col (familiar to those who have climbed Baker via the Coleman-Deming route).

Steep, firm snow led up and down a few false summits, and a little head-scratching yielded the correct entrance to our couloir. Our timing was perfect: the sun was just about to start hit the couloir, and we were in position to ski it with just as much warming as we chose.

But things proved more complicated. After a clear night, this full-south funnel of a couloir was bone hard. Unfortunately, a strong east wind was keeping things cool near the ridge crest. We knew the lower couloir would be softening rapidly, while the upper stretch was staying hard. So we ended up with two options: scary hard up high and pleasant below, or pleasant up high and scary soft below. We chose the former.

Nobody fell, so nobody died. In the condition in which we found it, the couloir had a rocky choke down low, and we had to traverse out to skier's left near the bottom. We both agreed that this stunning line would be even better in fatter conditions. I am under the impression that this was the second descent of the line; Martin Volken, Mason Stafford and Matt Schoenwald first skied it in May of 2006. All photos courtesy of Erin Smart, whose fine work you can view at