As with all of Brent and my adventures, they begin with a simple text. Neither of us had any particular mission in mind so we came up with a short list and weighed our options. It came down to a chute near A-basin, a line off Quandary Peak and Buffalo Mountain. We really could have done any of the three but with Buffalo Mountain towering over I-70, I had been eyeing it for some time as I had been driving passed it on the regular for a few years now. And so the goal was set and the planning had begun.
After some initial research, we found Silver Couloir and started looking into it more in depth. Brent had then remembered that a friend of ours had mentioned that adjacent to Silver was this little known chute called Elvis's Crotch Couloir that is a bit technical but a lot of fun. Being as that is right up our alley, we started discussing a plan and determining if the timing and conditions were right for an attempt.
Forecasts for the day were mixed. Some suggested that with the wind, the snow might not soften up too much. Others suggested that it might be too warm for the snow to really firm up overnight and we would be dealing with the potential for wet slide avalanches. There was no way to be sure without simply getting there and assessing. Neither of us having been up there in the winter, this made us a bit uneasy as it was a unfamiliar to both of us. As a result, we decided to forego the easier route of following a skin track along the ridge of Buffalo and instead go up Silver Couloir so we could be sure conditions for the descent would be safe.
We plotted our route as follows... Start at the Ryan Gulch Trailhead and head straight for the base of Silver Couloir. We would then ascend up Silver and assess conditions along the way. If we encountered any red flags we agreed we would turn around and get out of there. This would also give us a view into the exit of Elvis's Crotch to get an idea of what we would be dealing with. Once atop Silver, we would hook over the top of looker's left and find the entrance to Little Elvis Couloir. We would follow Little Elvis until we found the entrance of Elvis's Crotch along the rider's left of Little Elvis, drop into Elvis's Crotch and then funnel out into the lower section of Silver. From there we would simply backtrack to the trailhead. It seemed simple enough and we were set to meet at the Ryan Gulch Trailhead at 8:00 am the following morning.
Morning came and I was running a little late only to find out Brent was running very late. So as I took my time getting geared up near the trailhead, a couple of guys pulled up looking to tackle Silver Couloir. They were following the skin track up the ridge and told me they looked forward to seeing us on their descent before taking off. Then another pair pulled up with the same plan. Not that I trusted the expertise of total strangers, but seeing other people with a similar goal in mind did make me feel little better about our plan.
Brent arrived around 9 and by 9:15 we were on our way. We followed the established path until the intersection where you can split off left and ascend the ridge. Here we continued forward and tried to stay high left so we could snowboard the downward sections as much as possible as we were going to lose some elevation before getting to the base of Silver. It was a little dicey but we were able to ride a decent amount of the approach from there.
Once at the base of Silver, we stopped to take our first snack break and take stock of the situation. It was fairly warm, the snow was soft and the sun was strong. Not ideal but still not enough to deter us from our objective. And so we began our ascent. It wasn't long before we noticed some pinwheels in the snow off to the lookers left in the trees. They were pretty fresh, most likely from the day before, but also a direct result of the warming of the rock faces they stemmed from. Once again, not ideal, but not enough to call it.
Our initial climb was on the far looker's right side of the couloir. It was in direct sunlight and the snow was a bit softer but it gave us the best view into the exit of Elvis's Crotch as we passed it on the way up. We got to just about parallel with the exit and took a pretty good look into there and it we could tell we were in for a lot of fun on the way down. Right around here was about as far as we felt comfortable climbing the looker's right side of the couloir. The snow was getting wet and heavy and we saw some more pinwheels from the day before off the rocks above us to the right. We traversed to where Elvis's Crotch funneled out to and took another quick break.
While there, a couple of skier's were making their way down Silver. It was the second pair I saw head up the trailhead. We estimated that we weren't too far away from being about halfway up Silver and that the rest of the climb shouldn't be too bad. And so Brent and I continued, taking turns leading.
Choosing the best line up proved to be a bit tricky. We tried straddling the edge of the shadow cast by the large rock wall lining the side of the couloir. This seemed to have the most consistent snow that was firm enough to not be post-holing too bad. The consistent snow was constantly interrupted by sections where we'd punch through the surface layer to the hard and slick base layer. This was definitely cause for concern as the slope was getting fairly steep but still not enough to turn us around.
A little after about halfway up the couloir I depleted my water. Expecting a 5 hour day at most, I only brought 1 liter with me with the hopes of saving some weight in my pack. Boy was that quite the rookie mistake. Luckily Brent had some left but was also getting pretty low. Expecting the ascent to not take much longer, we pushed on. Around here was when the climb started getting a bit tough. It was steep and the sun was really beating down on us and draining our energy. With little to no water left, we were also hesitant to eat anything for fear of dehydrating ourselves by having to digest anything.
We kept pushing up Silver, telling ourselves that we would see the top once we got around the next rock feature a couple hundred yards ahead of us. We looked to the next rock feature after rock feature until it started becoming comical in a cruel sadistic sort of way. It was very hot, and our pace slowed quite a bit. We were going maybe 50 feet at a time before stopping to catch our breath. Realizing that we had underestimated the day, the only thing keeping us going was each other's reassurance that we were almost at the top of the couloir.
My notes for the day have since disappeared so I cannot say exactly how long but this seemed to continue for multiple hours. It got to the point that as much as I wanted to see the top after the next rock feature, I simply had little hope that I actually would. It was actually starting to get later in the afternoon and so we gave ourselves cutoff times to turn around that we completely disregarded. Having already come so far, albeit pretty ill advised, the fear of failure had us push on.
Eventually we were finally able to see the Y shaped entrance at the top of the couloir. We were still few hundred yards from the end but at least this time we were sure it would be the end of our climb. It wasn't until we were about 40 ft from the top of it that we realized where it actually ended. It must have been at least 5 pm at this point, so with little time to waste we took the last few sips of water that Brent had saved and quickly got ready for the descent. Somehow on the way up Brent's phone and GoPro had died in his pack and we were relegated to only mine. We chalked it up to it just being 'one of those days' and didn't really have the energy to care. Having just climbed around 3,000 vertical feet in the direct sunlight with very limited water, we were pretty drained.
With Brent leading, we started making our way to the entrance of Little Elvis Couloir. Upon entering it, we had a pretty good idea of where the entrance to Elvis's Crotch was and Brent actually down-climbed to it while he directed me to keep a high enough line to be able to make my way around the scree fields. Approaching Elvis's Crotch I began to get very nervous. The snow leading up to it was actually very firm and a bit difficult to edge and looking into it you could see it was steep and tight. If we were to drop in, we were fully committed.
We agreed to go for it and with ice axe in hand we took turns dropping in. I was initially very hesitant and careful until I got a feel for the snow and to our delight(and my surprise) it was very good snow! We continued one at a time down Elvis's Crotch and all of a sudden all of the frustration on the ascent was well worth it. Rather than try to explain, I'll let the video do the talking.
We shot out of the bottom of Elvis's Crotch and continued our descent to the bottom of Silver. Happy that the hardest part of the day was behind us, we started our hike out. This is where things got interesting. We were dehydrated, exhausted and probably a bit delirious and disoriented. Somehow we missed where the trail turned right and back uphill towards the Ryan Gulch Trailhead and continued straight. It took us quite some time to realize our blunder. By then, it was simply too late to backtrack to where we should have split as it would have added at least a mile to our hike out. Since the skin track we were following was pretty firm, we decided to continue following it in the hope that it would eventually cut back towards the trailhead.
After probably another mile or so, we came to the conclusion that we needed to simply stop following it and post-hole through the woods. I was able to get just enough cell reception to check where we were on Google Maps and we had quite quite a distance in the wrong direction. We had quite a bit of post-holing to get back to our cars. This was type 2 fun to the fullest. It has been a month since and I am still having trouble laughing about it as it was downright miserable.
Eventually we made it back to the trailhead and our cars. It must have been around 7:30 at this point as it was already getting pretty dark out. Although the day did not go as planned, I am still happy with how it turned out. It tested us on multiple levels and we were up for the challenge.
Also, living just outside New York City I don't get to access lines like these often. These were the turns I dream of. The kind that challenge you mentally and push your snowboarding skills to the limit. The kind that I've been wondering if I could handle if given the opportunity. It definitely wasn't the cleanest line, but I honestly don't care. It was a major stepping stone for me personally and I am proud of that.