The Overlooked Couloir is the lower NW Couloir on Nez Perce, topping out a few hundred feet above the East/West Hourglass’s and sporting a sustained 50 degree slope for over 400 feet, above a cliff with a low crux – no falls accepted – an interesting consolation prize, and first personal descent, in the South Fork of Garnet Canyon.
Drunk on high-pressure I was compelled to return to GTNP no more than 15 hours after leaving it… with a work shift in-between. The day before I enjoyed a mostly solo tour between Garnet Canyon and Glacial Gulch, bagging 7,500 feet of worthy skiing. Today, after lifting produce boxes at Barrels & Bins for the first three hours of my morning, I was headed back to Garnet with an open mind. My ideas swirled between north facing short approach fare. The lower micro-couloir west of the West Hourglass? Spaulding Peak? Who knows – let’s just ski something!
An 11:00AM start saw me to the Meadows at 1:00PM. These late morning starts are quite the novelty – people tend to look at you funny with an ice axe on your pack, heading up canyon, so late in the day. A quick scan of the South Fork left me disenchanted with the small Nez Perce couloir, and unexpectedly infatuated with the Zoro Face. “The Zoro”, the Northeast Face of Cloudveil Dome/Spaulding Peak, is a wicked party-trick ski line that requires the perfect combination of stability and ski-ability to be considered. I say “party trick” because a ski descent will usually require some seriously convoluted traversing at a few points, but for a brief period late-winter the first bisectional cliff will chock with enough snow to become highly intriguing. Fall line would require a multi-hundred foot rappel into the South Fork, or, better yet, a hairy snow ribbon to the east could provide passage off the face. Full disclosure, all the above beta comes from my frothing mind – good luck finding a trip report, or anyone in town who has painted turns on this often ogled face.
However exposed the lower ramp was, I figured I might as well give er’ the good old college try. I kicked a skin track to the eastern toe of the Zoro, stashed everything but the bare essentials, switched to spikes and began up the slim ramp. Two feet of unconsolidated snow, with a firm crust beneath, felt sort-of secure-ish as I began the westward traverse above the initial, and quickly growing, cliff band. Immediately the slope angle caught my eye. I made it all of 150 feet across the face before my axe plunged to stone – dust on granite slab. I was faced with two options, down-climb across the lower edge of the cliff over an old wind-slab crown, or attempt some low-angle drytooling with a single aluminum axe. I chose option three – stand down. Had I a rope and partner attempting this traverse could have made more more sense, but perhaps this line is most feasible late season when firm snow is adhered to the rock surface. One thing is for sure – no one was making a continuous ski descent of the Zoro in these conditions.
Dismayed with my feeble attempt on the Zoro, but proud of the ability to show restraint, I immediately pivoted to a logical consolation prize – the lower Northwest Couloir of Nez Perce. The entrance to the line was a metaphorical spitball away, and I took no time in collecting my belongings, skiing a few hundred yards downstream and beginning my ascent. Without any given name, I felt Overlooked Couloir was fitting. For every hundred skiers that has laid eyes on this thing and said “that looks cool”, maybe only half of one has skied it, or less. The Overlooked is far from a destination line, an abrupt 500 foot weakness lying just east of the Nugget approach couloir (Cloudveil North Couloir) terminating on the western ridge of Nez Perce and easily blending into the matrix of intriguing Garnet lines as ‘just another patch of snow’. However, a closer look reveals a very real close-out couloir that maintains a testy slope angle of fifty degrees (+/- 2 degrees) for 400 feet! As I climbed through the low choke and proceeded into the no fall zone, wallowing against knee deep snow with a sprinkling of wind-buff atop, I smiled – this was going to be interesting.
Topping out the west ridge of Nez Perce was beautiful as expected, a marvelous bluebird scenery of Teton splendor in every direction. The bootpack itself was unconsolidated bottomless torture – but here we were. I clipped in and got straight to the business, a half dozen gentle powder turns before the pronounced rollover, which felt eerily like an abbreviated version of the Tallboy Couloir, with added no-fall flare. Battling a manageable breakable crust I hucked my first real jump turns of 2023 and enjoyed every single one. Soft snow kept the flow rhythmic, while the odd density change kept the brakes engaged. Watching slough from your skis cascade over a cliff in first person is mentally centering to the tenth degree, and as I traversed right and exited into the apron my muscles loosened about as much as my face smiled. What an unexpected delight!
The rest of the 4,500 or whatever feet of skiing to the valley floor was marginal at best, with a few very brief moments of brilliance. Per usual, winds had scraped the South Fork to breakable glass. The canyon bottom was chunky and beginning to re-freeze after the warm afternoon sun, and by the time I hit Bradley Lake I was beyond sick of skiing. 13,000 feet of vert in 36 hours, with 6 hours of work in-between and no take out food? A good time. Winter returns this week – but spring energy is in the air.
The Overlooked Couloir is probably not a destination couloir, unless your really an obscure tick-lister. However, it does provide a reasonable consolation prize if a desired route up canyon is out of condition. Located just east of the popular North Couloir on Cloudveil Dome, most commonly used as the approach for the Nugget Couloir, the Overlooked will typically have a skin track to within 100 feet of the base, but almost never tracks! This line earns stars for quality north-facing snow, a beautiful summit, consistent 50 degree steeps and a stimulating close-out cliff that demands awareness and respect. Stars are lost for relative shortness and, depending on the way you look at things, the terrain trap at the bottom. Alas, I’d call it a quirky and worthy micro-ski-mountaineering back up plan for those that enjoy technical, spicy, beautiful, skiing!
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Ski mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing and all other forms of mountain recreation are inherently dangerous. Should you decide to attempt anything you read about in this article, you are doing so at your own risk! This article is written to the best possible level of accuracy and detail, but I am only human – information could be presented wrong. Furthermore, conditions in the mountains are subject to change at any time. Ten Thousand Too Far and Brandon Wanthal are not liable for any actions or repercussions acted upon or suffered from the result of this article’s reading
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