Airline Couloir still holding snow in the Snowy Range in Southeastern Wyoming
Galen Woelk of Laramie has been sending me pictures all season of some of the lines he’s skied and the potential for exploration in the Medicine Bow Mountains of southeast Wyoming. The Snowy Range is one of the ranges in the Medicine Bows and consists of a long ridge line that holds some really cool lines and may warrant a road trip in the future. Here he speaks of his July 4th celebration, skiing Airline Couloir.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Thought you might like to see what has been going down in my own private Wyoming down here in the Snowy’s.
Not sure how many times this couloir has seen a descent, but I know of at least a couple over the last 15 years. Reasons are varied and it is seldom in condition, as the cornices wreak havoc, the runnels are generally horrendous, and the entrance is typically impossible to ski cleanly without rope work.
The skiers right-fork entrance is at least a 60 foot rap or a 20-30 foot air into the couloir is always possible…yeah right! The entrance yesterday, on the skiers left side, was expected to be a dicier rappel, but since June 29, a very large chunk of overhanging cornice fell, allowing for the belayed entrance. I actually wanted to ski the main left-fork on the 29th, but the risk of being underneath a large section of overhanging cornice, even for the 10 minutes it would have taken to transition, was too risky.
The condition just 5 days later was impressive. In the headwall picture, you can note the shadow in the cornice, which was created by a very nice little ledge that formed from the break of the overhanging section, along with some melting. Talk about a buffed stance to prepare for the ski. It could not have been any nicer, especially on a holiday.
I call this the Airline Couloir, I think Orin and Lorraine Bonney call it something else in Guide to the Wyoming Mountains and Wilderness Areas: Climbing Routes and Back Country, and I suspect Ray Jacquot (of Laramie…and inventor of the North American Front Point) calls it something else. After you finish the ski, you can spend hours perusing through the wreckage of the commercial DC10 that crashed into the face in 1955, killing all on board (I think 55 people). They cleaned the airplane from the face right next to the couloir by rigging explosives and blowing the plane up and off the face…to the talus field below. Remnants of one of the airline engines are still submerged at Look-Out Lake pictured at bottom of couloir.
As can be imagined, finding people in Laramie motivated to ski in the summer is always difficult. When you add in the little fact that they should bring their harness, they quickly bail. And lastly, in these parts, not as many individuals have the solid skills. The last thing I ever want to do is put someone in over their head. In this case, the exit is fairly scary because of the very steep double fall line, with a runnel that appears about 10 feet deep and 2 feet wide, not to mention the mid-summer-snow-boilerplate conditions.
This year, our wet May provided for outstanding smooth conditions. As you can see from the pics, July skiing is seldom so nice off the top. So decided I to ski the right fork on Friday a.m. before work and the main fork yesterday, to celebrate the 4th and clean the relatively large anchor I had built on the 29th of June.
I would rate these lines as both being: I, 1,250, 45, RP/SS based on the RRS (Romeo Rating System). The SS being for the somewhat dangerous exit past the runnelled choke at the bottom. Yesterday I could have downclimbed without aid into the main fork (skier left) entrance and onto the face of the cornice, however, the rock is so loose and icy that I rigged a rappel and used it to belay my downclimb. Enjoy!