Sayres Benchmark via Grand Central Couloir & UN13440

Date Climbed: June 18, 2023

Trailhead: La Plata

Trailhead Access: 2wd

It’s couloir season, so I have to do couloirs, right?

We were on the trail at 4:00am to try to get Grand Central before rocks started falling off, but looking back I’m not sure it was early enough.

The initial part of the hike is on the La Plata Standard route, which has an excellent trail. Boy did it fool us as to how the rest of the approach would be.

After a few miles we diverted off the nice, cushy trail and started our bushwack that would define the rest of the day.

View of Sayres Benchmark in the distance

Willows, followed by willows, followed by snow field, followed by rock field, followed by willows. I’m not sure if there was any sort of established trail that would have made our lives easier, but if there was, we didn’t find it.

All I remember is getting smacked in the face by miles of willows. Finally, we arrived at the based of the couloir by 7:20am. I had wanted to be on the summit by 9am, so we quickly transformed into couloir mode by putting on our crampons, helmets and extracting the ice axes. The lower down (north facing) part of the couloir was nice and stiff, with only an inch or two of sinkage into wet snow.

However, as we ascended the lower section we heard rocks starting to tumble in other parts of the basin, adding to our haste.

As we reached the center of the couloir, a few snowballs would fall down here and there, reminding us of the melting snow.

About where we transitioned to the northwest facing aspect of the couloir, we started postholing up to our knees in some places. Very much not ideal. And more snowballs tumbling down at us.

Near the top of the couloir the grade got a bit steeper, (but probably no steeper than 50 degrees at most), I felt the top plate of snow collapse as I stepped on it. I wasn’t a huge fan of that so I traversed over to a band of rocks and decided it was better to go mixed climbing style than stay on the snow.

After some class 3 mixed moves and thin, intermittent snow patches, we were finally on the ridge and could breath a sigh of relief. The plan was to traverse over to UN13,440 so descending any snow was out of the question.

The saddle before Sayres Benchmark was still covered in deep snow, but was well-consolidated. A quick walk to the summit gained us our first ranked 13er of the day.

We took a long food and drink break up there as we didn’t do as much fueling as we should have on the approach and climb.

You can see our tracks in the snow from the peak

The ridge over to UN13440 was pretty uneventful. Classic class 2 type stuff, except some areas were covered in a couple inches of recent snow. It was temping to just zoom down the mining road we passed along the way, but you can’t just forgo these “easy” 13ers once you’re up on the ridge.

The final part of the ridge over to UN13440 actually got quite fun, going at class 2+ in some places.

Looking back at Sayres Benchmark from the peak

At the summit we were both pooped, but little did we know just how bushwhacky our adventure down would be. Descending on a northwest-facing ridge from the summit, we made quick progress with most of it being alpine tundra. And down through the trees wasn’t too bad either.

The tricky part was getting to the South Fork Lake Creek road because in the way stood South Fork Lake Creek, which was much beefier than it had appeared to be from above. If we could only get to that road, our walk out would be so much easier.

But the road would never happen. Instead, we bushwhacked northeast, parallel to the river and road the whole way. At one point I tried to cross the river in my socks, but the current was so strong I bailed.

So for several miles we trudged through willows, forest and marsh. At one point we encountered a moose and had to extend our journey just to give him a wide berth (which you can even see on the GPX).

Finally, we intersected the La Plata Trail and were able to take that back to the car. What a day.

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