Pearl Couloir, CO Trip Report: Soft Corn Skiing on One of the Classic Descents of the Elks

Clay Malott | BackcountryBackcountry | Trip ReportTrip Report
The Pearl Couloir
The Pearl Couloir. Photo credit: Stuck in the Rockies

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Report from Monday 12th April 2021

The past few weeks in Colorado have been incredibly warm and have done wonders for our snowpack. The warm temperatures have reversed the vapor pressure gradient and have allowed most of our persistent weak layers to gain strength and mostly disappear. It’s objective ski season, where the snowpack is stable enough for most lines to go. The line that we decided to try was the Pearl Couloir, dropping off the summit block of Cathedral Peak, sitting at 13,943′.

The Pearl is a famous, aesthetic line in the area, and one of the classic descents of the Elks. 

All systems were go for a push on Monday, April 12. There was a hard freeze overnight and temperatures were forecast to be warm, which allows the snow surface to soften up.

We left the Ashcroft parking lot at about 5:40 am. The skintrack was easy at first, meandering through some mellow aspen trees. We continued making our way up the Pine Creek drainage. For the most part, we stuck to the summer trail that leads to Cathedral Lake. There was some tough sidehilling involved, which is never fun at 6 am on rock-hard snow!

Touring up towards Cathedral Lake, with Malamute Peak in the background. Photo credit: Clay Malott

We reached Cathedral Lake at about 7:30 am and got our first decent look at the Pearl. It was tucked behind some ridges that blocked the full view, but we could see enough to assess the cornice at the top, which was our biggest concern for the day.

The Pearl Couloir (just to the right of the summit block) seen from Cathedral Lake. Photo credit: Clay Malott

We continued northeast of Cathedral Lake, following a skintrack that led to Electric Pass. We veered off in the basin in order to position ourselves underneath the couloir.

We took our skis off and put them on our packs, put on our boot crampons, got out our axes, and began up the couloir. The booting was easy at first, but the line gradually steepened to a sustained pitch of about fifty-degrees.

Making our way into the bottom of the couloir: the easy part! Photo credit: Nate Rowland
Ascending the Pearl. Photo credit: Nate Rowland
Booting. Photo credit: Nate Rowland
Ascending through the crux underneath the cornice. Photo credit: Nate Rowland

We topped out at about 9:40 am, almost exactly 4 hours after we began the climb. Not a terrible pace for six miles and 4,500-vertical-feet. We transitioned in the saddle at the top of the line and began our descent.

Stopping to assess sloughing on the descent. Photo credit: Nate Rowland
Author Clay Malott descends the Pearl. Photo credit: Nate Rowland
The Pearl Couloir with the majestic Elk and Sawatch mountains in the background. Photo credit: Nate Rowland
Soft turns down the Pearl. Photo credit: Nate Rowland

The snow was a bit tricky because it hadn’t quite softened up to our liking; there were still some frozen chunks of debris in spots, but for the most part, the snow was definitely manageable. A bit punchy here, a bit frozen there, we found all sorts of snow conditions. 2,200 feet later, we wiggled down the apron to the basin below Electric Pass.

From there, we put our skins back on and made the roughly 1,000-foot climb to Electric Pass. The wind had picked up, and we hastily transitioned and began descending to get out of it. The snow was surprisingly soft and wintry, and we found some spectacular turns.

From there, we descended mellow, corny east faces down towards Monument Gulch, where we skied some tight chutes down back to the car at Ashcroft. Overall, we did 12 miles and 6,000 feet, a solid spring objective ski!

Avalanche Forecast

Monday’s avalanche forecast. Credit: CAIC

Weather Forecast

Upcoming weather forecast for Aspen, CO. I spy snow! Credit: NOAA

Photos

Dropping in off Electric Pass. Photo credit: Clay Malott
Nice snow on north aspects near Electric Pass. Photo credit: Nate Rowland

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