Lowe and Saari's "Hellmouth Couloir"

Corrections and additions for Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone.

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Lowe and Saari's "Hellmouth Couloir"

Postby TomTuriano » Mon Jul 18, 2005 9:02 pm

Before Hans Saari died in a ski mountaineering accident on May 7, 2001 in the Alps, he mentioned to me that he and Alex Lowe had skied a very steep and exciting couloir on Peak 10,031 (1988 Mount Blackmore quadrangle) in the northern Gallatin Range. This rugged volcanic peak sits between the forks of upper South Cottonwood Creek about 1.5 miles southwest of Mount Blackmore.

(Learn more about Hans Saari at http://www.exumguides.com/news/hanssaari.shtml)

I didn't ask him any details because I was focused on the "Select Peaks." Saari told me only that he had named it "Hellmouth Couloir," so I have always wanted to learn more about their descent.

When I climbed Blackmore on October 7, 2001, I looked across at 10,031 and saw the long couloir that graces the north face of the mountain and I immediately assumed that that must have been what they skied.

Image
I assumed that they had skied the red line. (Photo courtesy of Terry Cunningham.)

Recently (July 2005), I have been corresponding with Terry Cunningham of Bozeman and Kris Erickson of Livingston. Cunningham has been actively petitioning the USBGN to officially apply the name "Alex Lowe Peak" to Peak 10,031, and Erickson was one of Saari's main ski partners. Together we have come to a very interesting conclusion about what Lowe and Saari actually skied that day in May 1997.

Based on clues and ideas that came mostly from Erickson, it appears instead that they skied the blue line in the photo above and below.

Image
(Photo courtesy of Terry Cunningham.)

Some of the clues that led us to this conclusion are as follows:

1. Erickson remembers Hans mentioning that the Hellmouth Couloir wouldn't appear to be a "skiable feature" to most people. The red line certainly appears skiable, while the blue is much more radical.

2. Hans told Kris that he and Alex first noticed the feature from Elephant Mountain, which provides a better view of blue than red (purple would not even be visible at all).

3. Erickson remembers that Saari had told him that they had to rappel over a chockstone at the bottom of the couloir. There is a giant chockstone visible along the blue line in the photo above. There are other chockstones in the immediate area (For example, the purple couloir in the photo above has a chockstone at its bottom.), but they are considerably smaller and most likely buried by enough snow to not be enough of an obstacle to force Lowe and Saari to rappel.

4. Erickson pointed out that the blue line is much more of a ski mountaineering feature as opposed to the red line, which is more of a "butter run." Lowe and Saari would have been more intrigued by the technicalities of the blue line.

Kris Erickson added: "I'll be interested to see if anyone has anything else to add to the equation. I by no means consider myself to know all on the issue, but am just trying to shed some light on what now seems to be an intriguing mystery for us all. Amazing how time can allow little details to slip away. Its a good thing there are guys like you writing it all down. Kudos!"

Thanks to Erickson and Cunningham, and of course Lowe and Saari, I feel pretty confident now which couloir is "Hellmouth Couloir." Hopefully, with help from the USBGN, Peak 10,031 will be forever known as "Alex Lowe Peak." The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is slated to make a final decision in September or October of 2005. At the time of this writing, there still are a few issues that Cunningham is corresponding with the USBGN about, but the decision is mostly in their hands at this point. If you would like more information about Terry Cunningham's petition to the USBGN, please contact him at tcunningham@mcn.net.

Read the sequel to this at: http://www.thomasturiano.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=84

Thomas Turiano
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Hellmouth Couloir

Postby worleyman » Fri Nov 04, 2005 2:27 pm

Hey Thomas,
Having been on both Elephant and Blackmore several times, it seems the bigger line is the one most people would want to ski. Guess I didn't really pay attention to Hellmouth Couloir. Looks like something Hans certainly would have relished. It has the elements he looked for in a descent.

Mark Worley
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Hellmouth Couloir revisited

Postby TomTuriano » Sun Feb 12, 2006 8:41 pm

Inspired by the recent naming of Alex Lowe Peak, and the history of Lowe and Saari's "Hellmouth Couloir" above, Kyle Christenson and Patrick Lawrence of Bozeman recently trekked up South Cottonwood Creek to make the probable second descent of "Hellmouth Couloir" on January 29, 2006. Christenson was on free-heel gear, and Lawrence was on a snowboard.

It is possible that Christenson and Lawrence's ascent of the couloir was a first ascent, as it is unknown if Lowe and Saari climbed the couloir before skiing it. Given that they had ropes and equipment, and had pre-scoped the line from Elephant Mountain, it is most likely that Lowe and Saari climbed the route before skiing it.

Although Christenson and Lawrence were unable to ski from the summit, their story and photos are incredible. It is great to have this look into a descent that Lowe and Saari experienced together seemingly so long ago:

http://trex2.oscs.montana.edu/~kylec/hellmouth_couloir.htm

Thomas Turiano
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Cunningham questions Christenson

Postby TomTuriano » Mon Feb 13, 2006 8:54 pm

Kyle:

Thomas Turiano forwarded your e-mail and web link to me. Congratulations on the ski descent! I was involved with the mountain-naming process of Alex Lowe Peak, so I have a real interest in the subject. I was able to uncover VERY little information from Alex and Hans about their descent of Hellmouth Couloir, so I had to assume a lot. It seems, from your experience, that the necessary rappel(s) are not around the chockstone, but down a rock face. I think everyone assumed the rappel was around the chockstone given its prominence in the couloir.

A couple of questions:

1) How would you rate it?

2) There are two prominent "humps" atop the mountain and I believe topo maps show the eastern of the two to be the true summit. I placed a summit register near the eastern hump in a small rock cairn. Did you happen to find it? If so, I'd like to see if you recall how many people have signed it since it was first placed there.

3) Do you have any other photos to share?

Congrautlations again.

Terry Cunningham
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Christenson provides details

Postby TomTuriano » Mon Feb 13, 2006 8:58 pm

It was the most technical mountaineering climb either of us have attempted so it is hard to relate it to anything. The couloir below the two rappels was very skiable, I would estimate the average slope to be about 45 degrees. There is a choke on the skiers left of the chock stone, which is just over ski width and pushing 50 degrees. But it is also at the bottom of the couloir, so it doesn't feel exposed.

The northeast ridge/shoulder coming off of the summit to the couloir receives a lot of wind, creating poor skiing. Although the pitch isn't too bad, It is very rocky and would be some what difficult to ski. On the way up the ridge felt like class 3 scrambling, with a couple of class 4 moves. The top of the couloir would be the most manageable part, but the exposure of being above a cliff would be unnerving. The top is about 100 ft wide and about 40 degrees.

The first rappel is very easy, with a number of large trees to anchor off of (assuming a 60m rope). The second rappel requires more work to find anchors. There is one small rock nose at the bottom of the first rappel, well above the second rappel, which we used. There is no ice for a V-thread.

Image
The two arrows show the locations of the two rappels.

The couloir is quite steep in between the rappels, so the snow sluffs off creating thin snow packs in much of that section. There is a lot of faceting in the snow pack, making a snow bollard more difficult. As I scanned the surrounding rock for cracks, it did not appear that there were many places to set protection.

The smaller dry-tool climb was pretty easy and short, I would guess it to be 5.5 and 15 to 20 feet long. The second was significantly more difficult, and longer. It was never vertical, but it was steep. 5.6 or 5.7 would probably be close.

The eastern hump is the true summit, as far as we could tell. There is quite a bit of snow on the true summit, so the cairn and summit register were probably buried. We also did not look below the summit to the south or the east, which would be a reasonable place to put the register.

Kyle Christenson
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More on Hellmouth

Postby TomTuriano » Fri Aug 24, 2007 12:45 pm

I received this email from Terry Cunningham on 8/23/07:

Thomas:


I hope this finds you well. I am planning to hike up to Alex Lowe Peak this Saturday (my first trip since the mountain was officially named) and it occurred to me that I never fully closed the loop with you on Hellmouth Couloir.

It turns out that Jenni found some photos that Alex had taken of his ski descent with Hans. Alex took the photos, so Hans is the only person in the photos, except for one photo where we see Alex's shadow as he takes the photo. What's cool is that the photos confirm the fact that what Kris Erickson surmised was Hellmouth Couloir is actually the line they skied.

There's a great shot of Hans perched in front of / on top of the hole that's created by the huge chockstone in the couloir. He's peering through the huge hole that's created and there's no doubt that this feature is why they named the feature Hellmouth Couloir.

And, in terms of corrections about the route: I had assumed that the rappel they made (Kris' notes of his conversation with Hans indicated that there was a madatory rappel involved) was to get around the chockstone, but in fact the rappel is necessary to get from the summit to the couloir.

Anyway, just thought you'd like to know that the photos confirm the line as Hellmouth Couloir. As a double-check, we asked Kyle Christiansen (who is one of the few people ever to have stepped foot/ski into that couloir) to look over the photos and he confirmed that the couloir in the photos is the same one Kris Erickson had guessed was Hellmouth.

Regards,

Terry Cunningham
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