Cascade Johannesburg Couloir
April 16, 2009

Nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose - a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.
~From Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


Story By Christy Kinney/Photos by Jason Hummel

April 16, 2009

Being recently unemployed certainly has its privileges. The first being that I can sleep in late and watch the Price is Right. The second being that I can climb and ski almost every day of the week! There is one day during the week that I have dubbed my “Adult Responsibility Day”. This is the day that I apply for my required “3 jobs per week” unemployment quota. So far I have applied for positions such as ‘Mayor’ and ‘Brain Surgeon’. Keep those unemployment checks coming, Obama! (God forbid that I get an interview for one of those positions. That will most certainly be a separate trip report).

Day 1: Wednesday April 15, 2009


Jason is ringing the doorbell. I jump out of bed, attempt to tame my hair, and run to the door to greet him. Thankfully, I had packed the night before and was (somewhat) ready for the trip. Our objective? Four days climbing in the Eldoraldo area. I pull on a pair of sweat pants while simultaneously brushing my teeth. Jason, meanwhile, is tossing my gear into the back of the ‘Exploder’. I hop in the drivers seat, as anyone who has been in the passenger seat with Jason driving is apt to do. Our plan is to meet Kyle*

from Montana/Alaska/Bellingham in the Eldoraldo parking lot at 9:00am. After a cup of 7-11 coffee and a banana, I am feeling pretty human. We continue on.


We meet Kyle in the parking lot. He has such a positive, outgoing attitude. Jason and I throw on our packs and head toward the creek crossing. I am not stoked about this, as I have a problem with moving water. There are supporting photos to prove this. Anyway, the next two hours include the three of us ‘schwaking through the forest trying to find a trail. At some point, many hours into our endeavor, we decide to proceed down the mountain. Our reasoning? Isothermal snow conditions would most likely prove to be a deathtrap in the boulder fields.

In the parking lot, we say our good-byes. Jason and I are ready to pull out of the parking lot to go home when we see Dan approaching on foot. He has nothing but exhilarating things to say about skiing the CJ Coulior, and gives us some insight on the route. Jason, however, is noticeably apprehensive. Being oblivious (which is one of my most endearing qualities), I have no idea why he is so reluctant to go for it. He gives me a stern warning on ‘sudden avy conditions’, and ‘point of no returns’ on my part if I screw up. These are avenues I have no inclination of exploring. So, of course, I urge Jason to take me.

Day 2: Thursday, April 16, 2009


Crispin* wakes us at 5:30am. I scramble out of bed (aka: the back of the ‘Exploder’), and pull on my ski pants and a Smart-Wool T-Shirt. I check the seal on my Camel –Bak (it only takes one Camel-Bak mishap to result in ultimate catastrophe, as I have learned on many an unfortunate adventure.) Jason and I get our shit together and begin to set out. Our goal today is a leisurely tour up to Sahale, Boston Basin, and vicinity. Neither Jason nor I can ignore the glorious, looming line beckoning us from Johannesburg, however. I have heard of this line before. It is the CJ Coulior. This is no intermediate route, from the history I have gathered. From Dan’s account, the line is IN. Because I know Jason better than he knows himself, I know he can’t resist this either.

And so, our adventure begins…

We begin the climb at the base of a hard packed avalanche debris field about one week old. The debris field spans the whole base of the valley. That must have been one hell of an avalanche to witness! I am always in awe of what Mother Nature can deliver. I can hear the rumbling of avalanches and watch as a waterfall of snow and ice cascade down a rock face in the distance. Jase and I pick our way up the debris field and I survey the sight above me. The entire route is shaded by two adjacent rock faces. One rock face is in direct sunlight and is subject to loosened ice and rock. I can hear Jason swearing as he is pummeled by rock and ice pellets. I am pummeled as well, but don’t complain as much. (Plus, I have a helmet on. I am clearly much smarter.) Jason calls over his shoulder; something about losing my teeth from a bullet array of tumbling ice. I keep my mouth closed and my head down.

The next two hours find us negotiating onward through varying snow conditions. At some point, I discover that I am trapped in a hole of waist deep powder. Every step I take finds me sliding back to the same place. I am exhausted, frustrated, and completely worn out at this point. Jason is urgently coaxing me onward, explaining that hanging out in a runnel for too long isn’t such a great idea. Duh! Like I want to be in this position! I power through the deep hole and continue climbing up toward a much steeper section. Jason and I carefully negotiate this section, traversing over a small knoll. We are about 200’ from the top of the route. I make sure to secure solid foot placement, as there are snow layers in varying degrees of consolidation beneath us. Jason gives me an earful on possible scenarios if conditions suddenly turn against our favor. I concentrate on maintaining a clear head and steady, even breathing. It kinda helps to tune Jason out, too.

We are measuring our progress on the number of “Dan Turns” that remain in front of us. I soon learn that Dan skis in long, sweeping arcs that are comprised of approximately 100 average human steps. The Hummel’s and Helmstadter’s of the world may be able to accomplish this in 50 steps or less, however. I conclude that I am about five “Dan Turns” from the top of the route. Soon, we find ourselves on sunny slopes in knee deep, beautiful powder.

The top!! Finally!! Jason has me plod through another 20’ of heavy snow for a “cool photo”. Little does he know that my legs feel like Jell-O and that this last 20’ feels like slogging through molasses.

Summit photo. Gulp of water. Skis locked in. And we’re ready for the descent! My heart leaps into my throat as I gingerly peer over the side. This is by far the steepest, most sustained descent that I have yet to place my skis upon. Jason watches me keenly as I toss out a couple of turns before he is satisfied that I won’t fumble and hurl myself 3400’ to the bottom of the route. It is only possible for me to throw a couple of turns at a time, as the slough is heavy enough to pull me down with it. I stick a turn and wait for the slough to slide by before throwing another. My legs are burning as I continue to jump turn-wait-jump turn again down the coulior. Snow conditions are nearly perfect and the descent is exhilarating. Finally, we reach the bottom of the route. I am pleasantly surprised to find the hard packed avy debris field melted out and (somewhat) easily ski-able.

I look over my shoulder to contemplate the route that I have just climbed and skied. What an adrenaline rush! It is a lovely thing to look back on where, thankfully, deadly ice pellets and quick-sand-powder holes are virtually un-viewable from this distance.

Later, over a Corona with lime and greasy chicken fajitas, I sum up our adventure as follows:

Top Ramen, M&Ms, hot cocoa and fuel for the climb? $40.00

Full tank of gas? $35.00

Roll of duct tape to fix the gear ruined by my precarious crampon placements? $5.00

Unemployment during glorious Spring climbing season? Priceless!!

Thanks, Jase for another great day!! Let’s stay unemployed forever, shall we? J


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