Trip Report: Skiing The Sickle Couloir in Idaho 4/3/2015
Having skied Mt. Moran and The Grand within a week of each other, I was very hungry for more. Things in Idaho looked enticing, so I started putting out feelers for conditions, road closures, and the usual information. It was all lining up nicely, so I called up Justin once again and told him that we should meet up in about a week in the Sawtooths. The weather looked awesome, but then I sprained my ankle, and things looked dicey. I spent the week resting, icing, compressing, and elevating, hoping that things would come together.
Wednesday evening, I put on my ski boots and jumped around, trying to get my ankle to hurt. It didn’t, so Thursday morning I called up Justin and told him all-systems go. The plan would be to meet at Redfish Lake at 5:30 AM on Friday, April 3rd and ski the Sickle Couloir on Horstman Peak. A few hours of driving later and a comfortable sleep in the car, at least for me, we were adding the final touches to our backpacks, ready to head out.
The road to Redfish Lake was closed but dry, so we packed our bikes and rode the two and a quarter miles in to the trailhead. After we ditched our bikes in the woods, we started walking in hiking boot. We did this for longer than I anticipated and this helped us make quick work of the wandering we had to do. Three miles as-the-crow-flies of easy bushwhacking and few stream crossings led us to where the trees opened up. By this point, we had started skinning, but we then booted up the short steep part to the flat spot at the bottom of the couloir. As we crossed the flat spot at the bottom of the couloir, all we could do is get excited. The snow felt really good.
Once we entered the Sickle itself, we proceeded with caution. The snow was deep, and after trying to get it to move and failing, we practically swam up it. At least a foot of fresh snow made boot packing slow. I owed Justin a bootpack from Moran, and he happily obliged to let me take the lead for a good portion. The couloir was steep enough that it felt more like swimming up a wall than hiking. Justin whipped out his phone and measured the slope angle to be 53º. It certainly felt like it. After topping out and looking around in amazement, we got our stuff together. Because I’m slow in transitions, Justin beat me to being ready to ski, and he took it first.
This was classic couloir skiing. Steep, narrow, incredible snow, huge walls on each side, and a beautiful location got us very giddy. Through the first section, we both took one hop turn at a time, letting the sluff settle down a little bit before making the next move. I had skied this steepness before, but never with this much snow. Most of the hop turns consisted of a pole plant, a jump turn, and then realizing that the hand you planted downhill was now in the snow. It was incredible.
The second section of the couloir was worth the entire day and drive alone. It was steep, still in the confines of tall walls, but opened up just enough to link turns. The smiles were big, and we were only anticipating the third, lower section.
Things mellowed out to somewhere in the 40º range and the snow was good. The couloir opened up, so we opened it up. On our ascent, we talked about how fun it would be to exit the couloir like we had been shot out of a cannon, so we did just that. There was a nice runway to land ourselves on after feeling like we were fighter jet pilots with our hair on fire, and big high-fives were had. My facial muscles were pretty darn strained from the smile that ripped across my face. After the general kook-out session, we skied down through the trees and retraced our steps.
Being able to ski the Sickle in the conditions what we had was being given the greatest gift that Idaho could have ever given us. Having been inspired to ski this line from the 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America book, we got curious as to why the classic line wasn’t the main face of Horstman Peak. Then we skied this couloir, and the reason was clear. It’s hard to get a good picture of it, but it’s a phenomenally aesthetic couloir. It’s also an incredibly fun couloir to ski down, in an incredibly beautiful area. We couldn’t have asked for more as we chowed down on some pizza in the town of Stanley afterward.
Here’s a video, the excitement is clear
-Park at Redfish Lake, if the road is closed, park near the entrance
-Snowmobile or bicycle will shorten time on road considerably
-Take a right up into Fish Hook Drainage
-walk towards the mountain, approximately 3000 vertical feet elevation gain from lake
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