Chatyn-Tau: Southeast couloir descent
Jun 29
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Ice, bad visibility, steep angles . . . all the ingredients necessary for ‘real’ big mountain skiing

One of the perks of living on the Coast, is that my winter was filled with many steep lines. But I encountered amazing snow conditions all winter, so every descent was pretty mellow. Powder allows a lot of people with a wide range of abilities to enjoy steep skiing. Whereas the top of the couloir on Chatyn is a sheet of ice.¬†You can’t fake it here. Technique has to be airtight.

Although my legs have decided to cramp on me and I can barely stand, I’m excited for the descent. Time to put the past winter’s experience into action. Besides, jedi steep techniques use mostly gravity and not much energy from the body.

A skiff of fresh snow sits on top of an ice crust that edges cannot penetrate. Things are very steep, but it’s hard to gauge since the visibility is so bad. I immediately lock in to the ‘French double pole plant’ turn. I love it for serious steeps. Turn after turn I realize I’m on my game. There are no missteps. Falling is impossible . . . feels good.

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Just above the crux (even getting to the crux is a bit cruxy . . . )

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Staring into the abyss

Except for the unrelenting steepness, the upper couloir goes smoothly. I reach the crux first and replace skis and poles with crampons and ice axes. After a seemingly long and careful transition, I start front-pointing my way down towards the steep ice wall. On the near vertical sidewall, a small sluff rips down the runnel. From above Peter gives the OK that the runnel will be clear, and I quickly scamper back down and up the other side. I soon have the skis back on, and making uber steep turns on the softer sun-affected sidewall of the couloir. I’d been eyeing this section on the way up and was itching to make turns on these confined slopes, past frozen waterfalls and debris spines.

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Peter down-climbing the crux

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Finally some visibility

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Clouds come in again.

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The slopes relent once out of the couloir

As we got lower, the visibility improved and tensions began to release. Once out of the couloir, the turns were easy, but we still had to navigate all the ‘schrunds and down climb ‘schrund #3, with a short 10 foot drop into soft snow.

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Once in camp, we collapsed. We ate a lot of our leftover food knowing our objective was completed and the trip was done. I emailed home on my Inreach, telling the good news.

This line was interesting. I’ve skied steeper, longer, and been more exhausted before. But combining the overall steepness, the length, the multitude of objective hazards, the icy conditions, and horrendous visibility, it’s certainly one of the most committing lines I’ve done. We believe that it’s a 1st descent. Peter was gracious in giving the ‘complete’ descent to me, as I made turns down as much of the line as possible. He also believes it to be the most technical descent done to date in the Caucasus Range. Very cool.

3 Responses to “Chatyn-Tau: Southeast couloir descent”

  1. joe says:

    Nice line, little question for you if that’s ok – Is the weather in May always this bad in the Caucasus Range ?

    Cheers

  2. Trevor Hunt says:

    Hey Joe,

    For the record, I was there from April 29th to May 23. It was my first time there, so I’m no expert. From what Peter told me (who goes multiple times per year), this year was especially bad for weather. If you looked at a official weather history, May isn’t supposed to be the sunniest of months, but from Peter’s experience it is usually the best for ski mountaineering. Any earlier (April) and you are still dealing with winter storms. Weather-wise we probably showed up a little early, but that was because we had time constraints. Probably better if we went late May early June, but then we would have been dealing with a very low snowpack (it was a very low snow year). I’ve heard that in the summer months you deal with a lot of surprise thunderstorms as well. If you look at the Caucasus on a map, it’s in such a unique spot on the continent, that it gets a lot of strange weather.

    Overall the weather wasn’t that bad, more sun than rain. We had lots of great weather when riding buses and on approaches to the mountains. We just got unlucky on summit days. Our style of trip (3 mini expeditions in 3 different zones) also made it hard for us. Usually I would just stay in one zone and wait for the good weather. But it was great seeing so much of the country in so little time.

  3. joe says:

    Thanks for the info. I’m looking at going climbing there next May-June so that’s why I asked, from what i have read July-Aug is the best weather for climbing but as you have said that time of year is no good for skiing. I’m from NZ so strange weather is pretty standard for us. Thanks again

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