Peak(s):  "V 5"  -  13,156 feet
Date Posted:  05/19/2022
Date Climbed:   05/07/2022
Author:  supranihilest
 A Visit to Grandma Bettys (Couloir)   

While snooping around for alternate routes up "V 5" I came across "Grandma Betty's Couloir" on Google Maps, of all places.

This 67KB JPEG definitely needed to be compressed into oblivion.

Why there's a named couloir on Google Maps I can't say, and I wasn't able to find any information at all about it. I almost wonder if someone added it to Google Maps as a joke. Perhaps it's a Silverton locals thing. In any case, it looked viable on Google Earth and I figured it would be fun to try something that I knew nothing about. I got up at 2am and drove from Ridgway to the Silverton side of Ophir Pass, parking where Boggy B and Kylie did when they climbed "V 5"'s east couloir (visible as the deep cleft in the photo above). I could have driven further but I was in my Civic and the point where I stopped was an icy stream crossing. Shallow, but still too icy for my comfort. I hiked up the road and ran into a bobcat (didn't get any pictures in the dark, sorry) and eventually dropped off the road towards Middle Fork Mineral Creek, where I crossed to the south side on a snow bridge and encountered a soupy hillside covered in the namesake minerals. The water here must have been warm because the hillside was completely melted out and soggy, a disgusting mix of orange and white slop. I carefully crossed the slope, making sure to touch it as little as possible.

That's not snow, that's mineral growth. I now have 37 toes from walking through this.

I continued straight up the drainage on solid snow, the creek burbling beneath my feet. Eventually the sun rose and I was treated to views of South Lookout Peak at the head of Paradise Basin.

A bit blurry, a lot mean.

The snow in the basin continued to be great as I turned south towards "V 5", which I expected to be a giant lump. From the Clear Lake side it is, but from Paradise Basin it's quite rugged.

"V 5" and the couloir I would climb just right of the summit block.

There were numerous couloirs on the ridge west of "V 5", any of which could have been Grandma Betty's. It's not like there was a sign. The point on Google Maps is farther west than the line I climbed, but I'm still going to call it Granny's, OK? Leave poor Gamgam alone!

Lookout Peak from Paradise Basin.

I dropped my snowshoes, which ended up being useless the entire day, donned crampons, and got out my ice axe. The couloir didn't look hard, and there were a bunch of ski tracks down it but no steps that I could see. I began up, mixing French technique and front pointing. Sometimes I sank in a few inches but for the most part the snow was icy and stiff. I had expected the snow to be total garbage so I was happy not to be postholing at 6am.

Starting up. The snow isn't reflecting the sunrise, that's a nasty dust layer on everything.

The climbing was straightforward and I found a three-way split at the top; left branch was dry talus, right branch an overhanging cornice, and the middle branch juuuust right (a totally vertical but short cornice). My, Granny, what big couloirs you have!

Summit block. There were a couple of other couloirs that wound across the face that might be fun to check out.
Three branches.
Left and middle branches. I took the middle. The right branch is immediately to my right.
The cornice, which was about three feet high and required swinging my axe and inching my way up it.
Looking down the couloir from the top.
Ulysses S. Grant Peak.
Twin Sisters through US Grant. Vermillion Peak, the highest peak in this area, is just right of center and looks tiny from here. Clear Lake is on the right.
Zoom of Fuller, Vermillion, and Golden Horn.

From the top of the couloir there wasn't a direct line up the summit block. I had to traverse around on the south slopes in order to gain a gully described in other trip reports for "V 5". Snow on the south slopes was in terrible shape, with an icy crust on top prone to randomly punching through to the knee or deeper.

Slight descent on the southern traverse.

There were two options for gullies to gain the ridge, both mostly on snow. The left-hand option wasn't visible until I was underneath it, but I took it because the right option was quite a bit steeper.

Right option, which was too steep for my liking with one axe. The left option goes around the rock in center and up towards the prominent V-notch.
Start of the left option.

This gully was more moderate, but a bit drier. I started out on snow, then transitioned to dirt and rock, then back to snow, and finally to rock in the upper gully. I kept my crampons on for the entire ascent and descent despite this since I didn't want to waste time gearing up and down repeatedly.

Better snow than on the south slopes themselves.
Upper gully. Loose and steep but nothing more than Class 2+.

Reaching the top of the gully deposited me directly on the summit ridge. The summit was just to the north, with what looked to be another small notch. Ultimately the notch ended up not really being anything, and I was soon on the summit.

The summit is where the snow is, not the rock. The tiny notch is between the two bumps.
Looking back down the summit ridge. The ascent gullies are on the viewer's side of the snowy point in the middle.
South Lookout Peak with US Grant on the left and the ridge north of Ophir on the right skyline.
San Miguel. White instead of the usual red.
Weminuche Wilderness.

Not wanting the snow to get too soft on me I quickly returned over the summit ridge to the gully and scrambled back to the south slopes, then crossed them on mushy snow to the top of Grandma Betty's couloir.

Looking down the gully.
Thin snow atop ice in the gully - this was the part I had to be most careful on.
South slopes with Clear Lake on the right.
Tower that marks the top of the couloir.

I quickly plunge stepped the 600 or so feet back to my snowshoes, happy that the snow in Paradise Basin was still very supportive.

Caption Here

I kept my crampons on before trudging down the snow-covered moraines. While descending I noticed a trail across the drainage, which I hadn't seen in the morning. I made my way over to the trail instead of following the creek down, and took my crampons off here.

Trail that leads back to Ophir Pass Road. The road is quite a bit farther than it looks.
Initially dry trail.
Panorama from the trail, with "V 5" just right of center.

As I followed the trail around to the east and then northeast side of the hill sporadic snow patches became large snow patches which became solid snow. At this point in the day it was soft and sometimes punchy, but steep enough that my snowshoes wouldn't have been much use either. The road was tantalizingly close but it felt like it took forever to get there as I entered the forest where the snow became even worse. Eventually I just went straight down to the creek on snow, since the completely dry elevation gain from the creek was less effort and less time consuming than the slop on the hillside.

All the visible snow on my side of the creek was pretty crummy.
Glissade down to the creek and back up mercifully dry ground.
Finally back on the road. Easy walk out from here.
Far more snow on the hillside (right) than expected given the initial dry trail.
The gross mineralized water coming out of the hillside. It's literally iridescent.

I trudged back to my car on the road, being passed by a truck going down and a biker going up. Yay spring! The road was pretty wet given the rapid melting, but I stayed dry enough. I couldn't see "V 5" when I got back, but I was happy with the route given that it was short, fun, and an unknown. Best of all is it kept me off the loose junk of the San Miguel. Though the route from Clear Lake is easy enough in summer (probably one of the easier San Miguel 13ers) this one, like Boggy's, is a fun snow climb for those who have that within their abilities! I might not have gotten Grandma Betty's famous chocolate chip cookies, but I got the next best thing - a new snow climb to a fine thirteener summit.


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Trailhead: Ophir Pass Road

Total distance: 6.67 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,570 feet
Total time: 5:10:37
Peaks: One ranked thirteener

  • "V 5", 13,156'


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Ophir Pass Road Bottom of Couloir 1:51:17 1:51:17 7:01
Bottom of Couloir Top of Couloir 0:32:22 2:30:29 0:00
Top of Couloir "V 5" 0:33:21 3:04:00 4:16
"V 5" Bottom of Couloir 0:40:34 3:48:50 0:00
Bottom of Couloir Ophir Pass Road 1:21:47 5:10:37 Trip End

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39

Comments or Questions
Looks nice
05/20/2022 09:43
This one looks 'just right', not too steep which makes me nervous. Thanks for another report, you've added a good deal of snow climb beta in the past few weeks.

That snow
05/20/2022 10:35
sure looks dirty. Looks like a fun day in the San Juans. (Is there any other kind?)

Nice climb but bad snirt
05/20/2022 11:38
@Andrew: Yep, this one was pretty moderate overall. With better coverage and better consistency (especially on the south slopes and trail deproach) this would be a great line, and far less traveled than other options.

@Eddie: The dirt/dust out here is insane. Pic #23 of the ridge north of Ophir that's all snowy? I climbed "V 3" from Ophir just a week later and the ENTIRE RIDGE was dry top to bottom, no doubt because of the dust's heat absorption.

Boggy B
05/20/2022 12:08
Weird find on Google. Nice way to explore and pick your own route.

Interesting note on the dirty snow: Since the dirt attracts heat you'll get more melt under the dirt when it's sunny, creating a thicker layer of frozen snow after radiative cooling. If you then descend after several hours of sun, you should find the dirty patches supportable. Dirty snow in a drainage/creek bottom is usually cruiser even after many hours of sun.

05/20/2022 15:36
Thanks, Michael. My curiosity got the best of me on this one and it paid off. I knew I should have gone down the drainage I'd come up, it was bomber in the morning but that damn trail pulled me in like a siren's call!

New reports!
05/24/2022 15:28
Love seeing new snow climbs in the San Juan, maybe next year the snow pack won't be so toasted and dirty! Looks like you've been having fun out there!

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