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McGown North Couloir

Introduction    |     Trip Report Pictorial     |     Descent Video     |     Postscript

Getting to “All In”

Why the guide? This was the first question that was posed after I posted in “Boise Area Backcountry Skiers and Riders” on Facebook that I was looking to put together a guided climb and ski of this classic couloir in the Sawtooth Mountains. It is a fair question, and using a guide on these types of adventures may not be for everyone. Sometimes there are very specific reasons, based on the nature of the objective. In other cases, I would submit that there are some general reasons why a person should consider using a professional guide. I will revisit this list of “reasons” at the end of the post, (for those interested in reading that far), but first let’s just focus on the objective – a successful ski mountaineering adventure in the North Couloir on McGown!
I’ve had McGown on my mind as a potential ski mountaineering objective for a few years now, but I always seemed to find something else that caught my eye, or diverted my attention. As this year’s spring skiing season approached, I brought this adventure out of my brain’s unorganized storage closet, brushed off the cobwebs and tried to recruit some partners to defray the cost. All of these recruiting efforts eventually fell thru and I was left with the decision to fold, or go “all in”. It looked like everything should be lined up for this, so the “all in” decision was made.

The Trip Report in Pictures

I’m at the Stanley Lake turn-off on Highway 21. Chris is there with his sled to make the 4 mile slog into the lake an easy 10 minute ride. (Reason #1 for a guide; easy access to sled transportation)!

McGown and the North Couloir are visible as we depart from the lake inlet area, where the sled is parked.

After a short skin thru the meadow, the route winds up the a forested area. There are lots of areas to get “stuck” in here. (Reason #2 for a guide; getting thru the trees and drainages efficiently).

Leaving the heavy forested area, we get some good views of McGown, towering above us.

Taking a quick break, here is the view to the northeast.

Views of the couloir from the bottom of the apron where we take a break and refuel.

We have skinned up the apron, to the bottom of the couloir. Time to transition to the bootpack!

Bootpacking shots, (Reason #3 for a guide; The guide leads the bootpack, saving my energy).



The view to the west at the top of the couloir. The Hanson lakes, where I have caught some nice trout, are visible across the canyon.

The view to the north from the top of the couloir. We are less than 100 feet directly below the summit.

The one skiing action shot that we had. I am approaching the lower sections of the couloir. The descent is recorded on GoPro, (see the YouTube video)

Success! Looking back up at our route. All smiles at this point

The exit was “survival skiing” in wet mush thru heavy timber. We knew it would be, so it doesn’t erase our smiles.

Mission accomplished!!!

Video TR of the Route

Postscript

So, “why the guide”? In general, I opt for a guide when I’m doing a big objective that I haven’t done before. I see their value as reducing risk and increasing the probability that I will be successful. I learn things from being the lead and/or going with trusted friends, but going with a guide is like enrolling in a advanced level course. I always learn new climbing techniques, route selection, and avalanche/safety skills. If you are a weekend warrior, such as myself, I would highly recommend a guide in these situations.
Objectives like McGown, require lots of planning, logistics management, route selection and risk management. As I assess my experience on this trip, I am convinced that my likelihood for success would have decreased dramatically if I had not done this with the guide. I have been on outings with Chris Lundy, (Sawtooth Mountain Guides). He and I know and trust each other. Providing the sled ride in and out was a huge contributor to success and his lead all the way up the couloir on the bootpack was also a major contributor to my success. This was definitely a “Type 1” adventure!

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