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This climb was conceived in 2014 after a spring tour of Storm Peak and East Storm via the Gnar Couloir. Looking back up Velocity Basin, we saw potential for a snow climb on the north face of East Storm. But the obvious couloir in the lower part of the face appeared to be a dead-end, with no discernible path to the upper slopes, and so the idea was relegated to a list of things to check out "some day."
Last weekend, hoping to put together a quick morning snow climb, we remembered Velocity Basin. A photo online hinted at a passage connecting the lower couloir with the upper face, so we decided to give it a shot.
We were able to drive to the usual pullout one mile up CR 52 and scout things before starting. A towering cornice perched on the ridge directly above the lower route, and though not too concerning at 6 am, it would provide some motivation to move quickly. Since the route was unknown, we packed some extra gear: a skinny 70m rope to fold for a short lead or retreat, and an alpine rack.
The hike into the basin was short and sweet; soon we put on our crampons and started up the couloir that splits the lower north face of East Storm. The narrowing couloir steepened as we pounded our way up a deep, icy runnel. Half-way up the face, the route turned sharply to the right. This was the passage we had been hoping for, and a stretch of very steep snow led to an open slope, capped on the west side by a long snow arete.
Up to this point in the climb I had been having a load of type 2 fun, feeling very anxious over the prospect of the couloir terminating against a wall of choss high on the face and a subsequent unpleasant retreat. But now, directly above us was the narrow chute we had seen from below--perfect! The confidence that it goes immediately upgraded the experience thus far to pure bliss.
Here also we noticed tracks in the snow above indicating a recent ascent. Considering the popularity of Velocity Basin and the naming of its major couloirs, it seems fitting this route should have a name. Does anyone know it?
We angled up into the chute, which is just a few feet wide in places, very steep, and keenly exposed. This led to another open and relatively mellow slope below the summit ridge. We cruised up this and pulled onto the ridge around 8:30.
The summit was only a dozen yards away, but it took at least five minutes to get there wading up to our britches in preposterous slush. Concerned about conditions on the descent, we started down the northeast ridge after a few minutes. Bypassing the significant headwall via downclimb of a steep south-facing slope proved to be the mental crux of the day. We then walked the undulating ridge to casual slopes leading west down into Velocity Basin.
All told, this is one of the more consistently steep snow climbs we have done in Colorado, and the engaging route and interesting features makes it a classic in our book.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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