Months of anxious excitement have finally come to an end, like waiting patiently for your number to be called, ours finally came. with a large storm hitting on Friday December 11th we knew our window was limited and need to get out and start the project ASAP. If the storm came in as strong as it was forecasted avy danger would rise and conditions would be less than superb. Austin made the call that we needed to get out the Day before the storm and thus Thursday December 10th 2015 our odyssey began.
On wednesday night the plan was made that I (Bill J) would meet Austin at his place in Boulder at 6am then we would load up his car and head across town to pick up John Dickey who was going to accompany us. Once we loaded the car and were off on Highway 36, we made light conversation about not sleeping and that each one of us was restless in anticipation of the kick off of the project.
We pulled into the Glacier Gorge parking lot around 7am there was a strong westerly wind and spindrift was blowing off the surrounding peaks. The plan was to skin into the South basin and access Otis’s south facing couloir called “Flour Power”. This couloir was named in 2009 by a group of climbers after what they thought was the first ascent. However this line was climbed several times back in the early 1970’s by Glenn Porzak who holds the first ascent. This line is listed in Rocky Mountain National Park; A Comprehensive Guide to Scrambles, Rock Routes and Ice mixed Climbs on High Peaks by Richard Rossiter.
We packed a light alpine rack, an 8mm rope and one ice tool each as the Porzak Couloir holds a 15 foot section of ice (WI2) that would make for a fun crux on the line. We started off from the Glacier Gorge trailhead, John took the lead knowing the winter shortcut that leads to “The Loch”. As we made our way through the short cut we noticed a nice line coming off of the direct east face of Otis. The entry split the middle of two gendarmes that resembled monolithic goalposts, this led to a steep face finishing in a tight straight couloir, we would keep this in mind as a back up.
We reached “The Loch” and made a surreal push covering clear frozen lake surface all the time fighting the torrent of the westerlies roaring down from Andrews Glacier.
Once past the “The Loch” our excitement grew as we would get our first glimpse of the Otis south face that holds the couloir. We took a break and fueled up for what we anticipated being an aesthetic mixed alpine route. We packed up and skinned towards “The Gash Headwall” and our disappointment began to grow, couloir after couloir was barely filled in, if at all. We reached the base of our intended climb and with a disapointed sigh realized that this would not be the day for this line as it held very little snow.
We made a quick decision to make our way up to Andrews Tarn and see what the higher basin looked like. With the roaring winds we decided to scramble up a gully just to the west of the Porzak Couloir in order to be sheltered from the wind. We slowly scrambled our way up through loose scree and some postholing. Reaching the base of a small granite headwall 200 vertical feet below the summit ridge we decided to take a break in the last mildly gusty area on the mountain. Once packed up we crested the ridge and were immediately hit with a locomotive of jetstream induced air. We slowly picked our way the remaining quarter mile to the summit, each one of us were knocked down by the force of the wind at least once.
We made the summit around 2pm, with a jovial spirit we snapped a few summit pictures and prepared for the decent. At this point we knew that the southern couloirs were not in so we made the choice to go ski the east ridge then the east face.
The summit and the East Ridge were a conglomerate of sastrugi and wind blown granular snow. each turn was more survival than skiing, one soft turn quickly changed into a jarring wakeup of boiler plate. We Made our way down the East Ridge and made a last quarter mile scree hop to the landmark gendarmes marking our line.
Dickey dropped through the gated gendarmes and scouted the line, when he yelled it was good to go we knew that the wind and the constant adjustment to our plans would be worth it. The entrance to the line required an awkward down climb through the guarded rock towers to a five foot wide snow bench which would allow us a platform for clicking in.
Once clicked in John Dickey cautiously dropped into the steep entry slope getting a good feeling for the snow he skied to the first agreed upon safe zone. I dropped next and set up just to the skier’s right of the line to gets shots of Austin. I set up on the side of the snow and rocks and gave Austin the thumbs up and he dropped. Making a series calculated jump turns we rendezvoused in the safe zone.
Picking our way through rock bands and softer snow we made our way to the start of the narrow, steep couloir that we spotted earlier. The line required a rappel to access the line and we could not see it from where we would have tied in. It was nearly 4pm and the daylight was quickly waning, not knowing the conditions of the line and that the exit would require some bushwhacking we decided to forego this since there was only thirty minutes of daylight remaining. We continued to skiers left and skied down to Lake Haiyaha. This included some steep trees and and open powder field.
The group skied out from Lake Haiyaha in the last remnants of the day, making our way to the Bear Lake trailhead. Although our vehicle was a mile away at the Glacier Gorge trailhead, we chose to walk back to the car at Glacier Gorge via the road rather than the winding trail as we figured it would be easier in the dark. Luckily some kind soul gave Austin a ride to the car and he was able to drive back and pick Dickey and I up. We did it, we started the long awaited project.