There’s no point in denying it: Horseshoe Mountain’s Boudoir Couloir is a flat-out classic. I’d already climbed it in 2011 as one of my first snow climbs, but when Speth suggested it for this weekend, I had no qualms about returning. This April is all about getting into shape for the Skillet Glacier, anyway. If a route has snow and vertical gain, I probably won’t say no.
We were forced to park about a mile short of the standard starting point at Leavick due to lingering snow. A few poor souls had tried to drive a bit farther. Carnage ensued. Three-foot-deep tire tracks, busted wooden boards, a wrecked tow strap and, of course, their abandoned vehicles. All that to avoid walking an extra five minutes. Human nature is a funny thing.
Speth and I were walking by about 7:30 a.m. My memory had blocked out the difficulties of the approach, and for some reason I thought it would only take us about an hour to reach the base of the couloir. In reality, including the extra slog to Leavick, it took us three. A little less than a mile from Leavick is a road that branches off left and crosses Fourmile Creek. Follow it as it switchbacks up a couple hundred feet to break treeline, then make a straight shot for Horseshoe’s namesake amphitheater. Many options exist to reach the base of the couloir. Gerry Roach’s guidebook suggests angling to hiker’s right around two small lakes. As the lakes remained solidly frozen, we took a more direct line straight across.
We reached the base of the couloir around 10:30 a.m. I’d normally be nervous about starting an east-facing spring snow climb so late, but the temperatures were mild and a stiff breeze kept everything firm. Speth hadn’t even used snowshoes for the approach. While gearing up with crampons, helmets and ice axes, we were joined by fellow 14ers.com members BKS (Brian) and eskermo. Brian also had his 2-year-old labradoodle, Charley.
Being an English nerd, I was absolutely tickled by the company of a poodle named Charley. Surely his owner must be a Steinbeck fan? Actually, no — it was a total coincidence. Charley was a joyful companion, and I used the encounter for the title of this blog entry. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, famous novelist John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, etc.) wrote a travelogue in the 1960s about a year-long road trip across America with his full-size poodle, Charley. Travels with Charley is one of my favorite travel books. Contained within is the quote, “Dogs are a bond between strangers.” How true is that?
We started switchbacking up the apron on perfect snow. Our boots were sinking in to about lace-level and the crampons bit hard. It was much more relaxing than the first time I’d climbed Boudoir on bulletproof névé.
An intermittent old boot-pack existed in the middle of the couloir. I tried to use it at times, but given the moderate angle and great snow conditions, switchbacking was much more efficient.
In addition to being an aesthetic line, what makes Boudoir special is the spectacular setting. Horseshoe Mountain’s entire east face is a half-moon of near-vertical cliffs. Boudoir offers the only easy passage. Rest breaks were passed giddily spying other potential snow, ice and mixed lines in the breathtaking amphitheater.
What else makes Boudoir a must-do? The direct finish over a mini-cornice onto the summit plateau. Immediately above the exit is a remarkably intact old mining cabin, which we crawled inside to escape the increasing wind. Views of the Sawatch, Sangre de Cristo, Tenmile and Mosquito ranges did not disappoint. We ditched our packs and most of our gear inside the cabin before strolling over to tag the true summit.
Normally I would have suggested walking off the standard Northeast Slopes route, but the Skillet Glacier will require downclimbing snow up to and including 50 degrees. I figured I might as well practice walking down moderate/steep snow as much as possible. It was still a bit firm for easy plunge-stepping. Once we were through the constriction and the angle began to relent, we popped off our crampons and glissaded the rest of the way in a matter of minutes.
We followed our tracks out and reached the car only two hours after leaving the summit. Glissading is awesome. The wind had even kept the snow remarkably firm for an April afternoon. No waist-deep postholing in snowshoes necessary. A perfect spring day. We did have a bit of difficulty finding a dining option in Fairplay given the Easter holiday and my low-carb kick this month, but we eventually settled in at McCall’s Park Bar. Let’s just say a 1/4-pound buffalo burger with no bun and a side salad is no match for a post-hike appetite. It’s going to be a long month…