Peak(s):  Mt. Sneffels  -  14,155 feet
Gilpin Pk  -  13,694 feet
Emma, Mt  -  13,581 feet
San Joaquin Ridge  -  13,460 feet
Date Posted:  05/22/2022
Date Climbed:   05/13/2022
Author:  Jakomait
 Path of most resistance   

Have you ever seen a picture of San Juaquin Couloir? No? Well then go google an image of it, I'll wait here while you do that.

Cool, huh? I'm not a bro-brah skier, or even a gapper Jerry for that matter but I do love me a good couloir climb and this had me drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I had a hard time justifying a 6 hour drive for just that but a stellar weather window and a well deserved vacation day came together for a 3 day San Juan Couloir Extravaganza. My first objective hazard was surmounted through dumb luck on my drive over to the San Juan's the evening before when I came upon the HWY 50 construction past the Blue Mesa Reservoir. Oblivious to their lengthily road closures throughout each day I arrived at 7:15pm to an alternating traffic stop that had me rolling through a few minutes later. What I didn't realize was after 7:30pm each night the road was fully closed until the next morning! Phew, that would have been a grumpy unplanned bivy if I had been just 15 minutes later!

The next morning I awoke before dawn outside of Ouray and was on my feet before 5 to get in as much of my route on good cold snow. I tend to not plan my routes too well and just try and link peaks based on what I see in front of me. On this trip my goal over the next two days was Cirque, Gilpin and Emma and then figure out a way to link in the Snake Couloir. I cruised up Cirque Mountain by sunrise and had a great view of Teakettle and Coffeepot to the east.

Teakettle, Coffeepot and Potosi Pk

Next I scurried over to the ridge towards Sneffels and dropped down some random couloir to get access to the north side of Sneffels to find the mega classic Snake Couloir

Elevator down!

Conditions were great up the Snake Couloir and I trudged up to the top easy-peazy

And part way up the Snake Couloir
Looking up the upper half of the Snake AKA Dogleg Couloir

The couloir end just shy of the summit and deposited me in the sun for the first time in the day. A short scramble was necessary to reach the tippy top of Sneffels that ended up being a bit trickier than I expected in the softening snow. I was hoping for some ice to sink my axes into but it was all just mushy snow and loose rocks.

final summit scramble to the top of Sneffels

On the top, the view from the summit was awesome gazing over the snowy San Juan's and I lingered up there a while admiring all the rocky peaks and trying to recount how many of those piles of rocks I've stood on top of. When it was time to go down, my rough itinerary was originally set to wrap up head back to my truck but on the way down spied a happy little couloir up the north face of Gilpin. It was so inviting I figure I might as well go say hi right now!

Gilpin N Couloir is the lower blue arrow. The upper ride is the San Joaquin Couloir I would do in 2 days.

Taking a closer look, the top looked uncertain but I wasn't going to solve any of its riddles from the valley floor so I went up to take a closer look.

Me likey! Not too sure about the top

Getting all up in it's business, the bulk of the line was smooth sailing but as I expected, things got complicated at the top. I was most concerned with the oppressive cornice guarding the summit ridge but that turned out to the be easy part to deal with. The rock band below was almost vertical choss and the snow above it must have been bought at the dollar store. It was really thin and weak from the sun. There was nothing for the pick of my axe to grab and even driving my handle in to the deepest parts gave me as much confidence as my pet squirrel trying to file my taxes. I had to cower up underneath the cornice as high as I could to find the final scraps of snow that were left and I didn't dare try to tunnel like a mole through it for fear of cement like snow on the cornice breaking free and tackling me down to the valley floor. From there I had to dance left over the void below me and sneak past the cornice where it wasn't paying attention to my shenanigans.

Pic from after I climbed it. My tracks are the furthest left that top out on the left most portion of the cornice
You can see my tracks under the cornice that shuffle left.

After the summit of Gilpin I followed the sketchy east ridge over to the first continuous patch of snow I could find to get the hell out of there. The ridge is a stack of rocks resembling an infinite pile of poker chips that slide out from underneath you every time you do so much as to blink. At least you have amazing views to look at while you are inching your way across this death trap. I actually planned these peaks in snow to hopefully avoid the crumbling rock but I probably missed that window by at least a month this year.

Don't let the pretty picture fool you, this damn ridge has been set to evil.

And off the ridge and back to the truck. That wraps up day one.

Day One. Strava or it didn't happen!

Day two I just zipped over to tag Emma then hung out on the summit until the security guard told me I was loitering and had to leave.

Day 2, summit of Emma
Easy stuff

With the short day I did some mountain biking around Telluride and then scoped out the start of my Day 3 adventure in Ophir. Another 4am wakeup call had me wondering why I can't vacation like normal people. For a moment I was looking for an excuse to sleep in but I couldn't find one. Boots on and up, up and away!

Another awesome sunrise. Ophir having a snooze below the Wilson that are doing some showboating in the sun.
The approach from the south ended up being way better than I had guessed looking at the crowded topo lines the night before

The approach straight up the south face of the San Joaquin Ridge was way more pleasant than I was expecting with wide open aspen forest non-bushwhacking and secure footing on tundra above that. The final rock band added some hotsauce to my burrito and after picking my way up and over I finally found the other side of the ridge into the Telluride ski area. Down into the basin, presto! the San Juaquin Couloir came into view. I was never able to find the epic vantage point you can google that brought me here in the first place but the route was everything I was hoping for. Long, steep and continuous!

This was the best view I could get
About 2/3rds of the way up. Props to all the honches that ski this sick bird!
Top of the couloir. Anyone know the significance of this?

After topping out I was too lazy to take off my crampons to stay on the ridge proper and just plopped down another couloir and across the east side of the ridge. In hindsight, it was not a sweet navigation choice since the snow was a big deep plate of mash potatoes tipped very sideways.

Don't do what Donny Don't does

After swimming through some of the softer sections of snow I topped out on San Joaquin Ridge soaked in more amazing views and munched m&m's under another perfect sky.

Keeping my color matching game sharp. You never know when the Queen of England might arrive.
San Joaquin Ridge

Wrapping up I traversed across the ridge until I found a good path of continuous snow and marched my way down to the trees. I stumbled across a big network of secret mining roads that were not on Caltopo, strolled passed some unmapped secret yurt residences and back to my vehicle.

Ophir Pass enjoying a few last days of tranquility before the jeeps take over.
Tools of the trade

And that was that, a great trip with 6 peaks and 5 mega couloirs. That puts me at 163 peaks in the top 200 bicentennial list and feelin' stoked for more time up in the mountains.

Day 3 with some teleporting at 0.7mi

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Boggy B
05/23/2022 22:23
Sweet linkup!
Gilpin's N couloir (usually the middle line) is a popular route after the cornice falls off.
The skis in the San Joaquin chute are a memorial:

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