A highly aesthetic snow climb with eye popping views
On May 9, 2009 I spotted this peculiar cross shaped couloir during a failed attempt at Potosi Peak's North Couloir. After consulting the map it appeared to be in the vicinty of Governor Basin. Risky snow conditions prevented us from investigating the couloir further on that trip but the image of that lovely cross was burned into my memory and would not soon be forgotten.
On July 11, 2009 Dominic & I got married in Yankee Boy Basin while the Secret Cross watched over us, reminding us it that it was still awaiting our visit. Picture courtesy of Estelle Andrews.
After a broken little toe threatened to postone the Secret Cross until next year I wasted no time in getting down to Ouray when it healed. Here were are at last, the Secret Cross is in our sights!
Kevin pauses to check out the impressive St. Sophia Ridge and Mount Emma.
The previous day's storm prevented us from making an attempt at the Secret Cross but it left a blanket of beautiful white snow... well worth the trade.
As we near the base of the Secret Cross, Cirque Mountain, Teakettle, "Coffeepot" & Potosi Peak form an incredible backdrop.
Potosi Peak during a beautiful sunrise.
Approaching the base of the Secret Cross is exhilarating morning light.
Mount Sneffels looking mighty fine.
Dwight takes the lead up the couloir. There is several inches of new snow but the lower layer is not frozen and the new snow has actually bonded fairly well, a pleasant surprise! Conditions are nearly ideal.
Mount Sneffles watches as we begin climbing the apron toward the couloir (12,300 ft).
View up the Secret Cross from near the bottom.
Dwight pauses as the couloir begins to take us in.
The couloir becomes deeply inset and we find ourselves between two impressive walls.
The walls of the couloir are largely made up of interesting pillars.
It feels like we're in a huge hallway.
The slope of the couloir is consistently around 40 degrees.
Kevin traverses the couloir following Dwight's chosen path.
Dwight takes a left at the cross to check it out. It ends at steep cliffs.
Dominic appears to be enjoying the couloir.
Dominic, Kevin & Jean pass through the center of the cross. The slope was steepest here at 45 degrees.
Dwight's feeling great and decides to lead the entire couloir. Go Dwight!
The couloir continues to shock and awe.
Dominic, Kevin & Jean work their way up the top portion of the couloir.
Dwight nears the top of the Secret Cross.
Unlike many other couloir climbs, the angle actually relents a bit near the top.
Kevin and Dwight at the exit of the couloir. Nice pinnacle!
Jean tops out of the couloir (13,000 ft).
Kevin and Jean at the end of the ridge extending north from
"T5". This is where the couloir tops out. What now?
The pinnacled ridge is not a viable route to the summit of "T5" but we were anticipating that.
My heart leaps when I spot a reasonable route down from the pinnacled ridge on the west side. Downclimbing 700 feet of 40+ degree snow isn't exactly my idea of a good time. Here Kevin tackes one of two minor scrambling obstacles on the descent.
Dominic, Jean & Dwight climb down from the pinnacled ridge.
St. Sophia Ridge as seen from upper Governor Basin.
Traversing several hundred feet below the pinnacled ridge on the west side.
We expected to have to traverse to near the Mendota/T5 saddle but spotted this little couloir leading more directly toward the summit. Dwight coined it the "Double Secret Couloir".
Kevin's turn to lead. The couloir is again about 40 degrees.
Jean climbs up the huge bucket steps.
This second couloir is short but scenic.
Jean tops out of the couloir. The exit involved a short 4th class step.
Approaching the gentle summit of "T5". I wonder if anyone has taken this route before?
The clouds are building as we near the summit but we're extremely thankful for the weather window we were blessed with.
Unranked Mendota Peak. We'd hoped to pop over for a visit but the weather is making me nervous.
Kevin leads the way to the Mendota/T5 saddle, our planned descent route.
We forge ahead toward Mendota Peak but the ridge ends up being more time consuming than anticipated. We decide to save it for another day and return to the saddle where Jean is patiently waiting.
Dominic poses at a nifty little lookout.
Because of all the new snow and unknown conditions we decide to rope up for the initial descent from the saddle. It ends up being fairly easy.
View from high in Governor Basin.
We enjoy the hike out on easier terrain.