Corie: We've been trying for months to get on this route and the weather bit us in the ass at the last minute on both occasions. Thankfully, with (mostly awesome) weather in the forecast and nice, cold temps up high, we lucked out on this weekend. We drove up to Timberline on Saturday morning and were skinning by 5am, surprised and pleased at how few people were in the parking lot. The Palmer snowfield was a sheet of crusty ice and the wind ripped down on us all the way to Illumination Saddle. Ski crampons were a must and travel was slow- even as we traversed onto the ZigZag glacier.
Looking down on the Reid Glacier from Illumination Saddle.
We made our way into a nice, relatively wind-protected pocket next to Illumination Rock where we put on harnesses, roped up, and prepped to descend onto the Reid glacier. Previous TRs had indicated that the bergschrund was coming in and a few folks had fallen into the sucker on their way up to the Reid Headwall. We decided 'better safe than sorry' and prepped for soft snow bridges.
Illumination Rock, as viewed from the base of the Leuthold Couloir.
After a brief attempt at downhill skinning onto the glacier, we transitioned to crampons and packed our skis over to the base of the couloir, eyeing the Reid Headwall on our way over and finding frozen, solid snowbridges that made for quick travel. A couple hundred feet up Leuthold, we ditched the rope, laughed about taking all of our gear for a nice hike (again), and solo'ed our way through the choke and to its top. Aside from a 100' section of ~45° AI, the entire route was firm, sticky névé that made travel quick and easy. There was a series of melted runnels we had to climb in and out of (which were full of soft, fluffy snow!) and those were the crux of the route–at least for me since they were simply awkward. By the time we climbed out of the hourglass and were making our way toward the summit, we were in the sunshine, enjoying the views, and joking around about how crappy the skiing was going to be.
Left Photo: Approaching the hourglass, the narrowest part of the couloir. Right Photo: From above the hourglass, looking back south. The couloir drops down and to the right in the bottom of the photo.
Traversing the summit ridge above the old chute was a little bit soft but still made for easy travel (it was honestly the most engaging part of the entire route). With the exception of a group of climbers cresting the top of the left variation of the Pearly Gates, we had the summit to ourselves. We down-climbed the right variation in an effort to avoid the congestion and found easy, low angle down-climbing, surprisingly given that it didn't look like anyone had been up that way earlier in the day! The descent was uneventful and marred by horrible skiing. The bergschrund at the base of the gates was beginning to open (it was maybe 1/2" wide in places) and was easy to avoid. After recent warm weather, however, that sucker is likely to present some issues for weekend south side traffic jams.
Enjoying the steeper sections of climbing. More ice, less snow :)
Andy: The Leuthold Couloir has been on the list for a while now and we were stoked to finally score some good weather for a proper go. As Corie mentioned, the skin up to Illumination Saddle was wind-swept hardpack and ice, making for slow going. However, this gave us hope that the route would be in good condition with firm snow and limited wallowing. We arrived at the saddle in a little over two hours and deliberated on traversing on skins over to the start of the Leuthold or walking. Initially we attempted skinning, but the snow was too firm and walking provided better security which resulted in faster travel. It may be possible to downhill ski and traverse over to the base of the couloir but I doubt it would be faster, especially with the extra transition.
Left Photo: Topping out the couloir and heading towards the ridge. Right Photo: On the ridge, heading up to the summit.
The climb itself was surprisingly casual. Mostly uphill snow walking with a few steeper sections that felt more like actual climbing. It was nice to have two tools for these bits, but I’m sure experienced ice axe wielders could make do with one. We traversed over several large spines and runnels, with the biggest one forming on the climber’s left of the hourglass. These would make skiing the couloir very difficult, but were easy to climb through. Once through the hourglass, the angle eases and it’s beautiful uphill travel with large rime and ice sculpted towers on either side. We followed the couloir nearly to its end, trending slightly left at the top. This put us on a broad ridge, which we followed up and right, landing us on the summit ridge. This ridge is very aesthetic with dramatic cornices that are easily avoided by traveling on the climber’s right side of the ridge, above the Old Chute. Overall, the Leuthold Couloir was a super fun climb and a great option to avoid the south side shenanigans.
Does it get any better than this?
- 1.5 liters of water each
- SUUNTO Watches (GPS)
- 40m 9.1mm rope
- Harnesses & ATCs
- Crevasse rescue gear
- Skis, AT Boots, Poles
- Steel crampons and two tech tools
Total Time: 8h30m
Total Distance: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,741'
Andy's Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/974179498
Corie's Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/974081863