Peak(s):  Sultan Mountain  -  13,368 feet
Date Posted:  02/12/2023
Date Climbed:   02/11/2023
Author:  123tqb
 Sultans of Skiing   

Sultans of Skiing

  • Date: 11 February, 2023
  • Peaks: Sultan Mtn.
  • Route: East Ridge, Northstar Couloir
  • Mileage: 6mi
  • Vertical: 4000ft
  • Time: 7.5hrs
  • Partners: Drake, Kieran

I made the late decision to join the CU Backcountry Club on the Silverton trip after peeking at CAIC's forecast for the weekend. LOW? In FEBRUARY? That's practically unheard of in this day and age in Colorado! Conveniently at right about the same time I was sent Jort's report on skiing the Silverton Skyline ( by a friend, and seeing those (admittedly, way fitter) guys skiing such big stuff convinced me I needed to get down there ASAP.

Thankfully Drake and Kieran let me join them in their plans to ski Sultan Mtn. I was scrambling to find a group to go with the morning of. In the chaos I hadn't realized that my beacon had been left on from a past trip, so of course we had to drive the ENTIRE five minutes back to town to grab my replacement batteries! I'm still baffled by the accessibility of such awesome terrain in this area. Following this minor blunder we re-did our beacon check and followed the graciously-given skintrack that Jorts and gang had put in a few days prior. I don't think it's ever felt easier to crank out two thousand vert like we did that day. Before we knew any time had gone by we were at treeline, with absolutely majestic views of the Weminuche and the surrounding peaks.

Making our way above treeline onto the ridge. The VIEWS!

Pretty quickly thereafter, at about 12,200', we came across a thin spot with a bunch of exposed rocks. The snow had turned to stiff windboard, and I had trouble edging my way across without slipping down into the steep gully below. Being on a splitboard and seeing my struggle, Drake decided to pull out his axe for this section. Soon though, we were all reunited on the flat ridgetop. We fueled up for the remaining route ahead, now able to see the couloir in full.

Steep windboard made for some sketchy skinning.
Northstar Couloir in full view between the summit and the cliffs to the right.

We weren't skinning for much longer before we came across the notch Jorts talks about in his report: a (10-15ft) 5.4 pitch to remain on the ridge. We changed out our skis for crampons and picked our way towards it. I mistakenly made us descend a bit off the the north thinking there'd be a mirror pitch on our side of the notch, but it turned out we could've walked all the way up to it pretty easily. It looked easier from the bottom than it actually was, in my opinion. There was a piton hammered in at the top, undoubtedly for a follower who couldn't make it up. We all three made it, though later decided that we maybe shouldn't have taken the risk with it in the first place.

Coming back up from my detour off the ridge.
Drake at the top of the notch, Kieran still below.

We decided to keep booting the rest of the ridge, since it was just as, if not more, efficient than transitioning back to skis. The rest of the way up was basically just easy Class 2. When we got closer to the summit we stopped to make some decisions about the descent. Primarily, what we were going to do about the cornice and inevitable wind slab that would be found below it. Drake spotted a potentially safer descent into the couloir to the right of the big cornice, which didn't seem as wind-loaded. I wasn't so sure, but agreed to check it out after we summitted. We finished up the last bit of vert before heading over near the cornice to make a decision.

I love some good hero shots.
The last bit of ridge was just a bootpack up firm-enough snow.
Trying to decide what to do about the huge cornice looker's right of the summit.
And of course, the classic "summit, kneeling down, with ice axe in hand" photo.

While Kieran gave directions from a spot he had a good view, I cautiously approached the edge of the cornice where it intersected the vertical wind lip below. Taking out the inclinometer, I got 32° for the very top, and an average in the high 20°s. Drake ended up being right that I would be perfectly content to ski it, and it looked to be wind-scoured anyways. We put on our skis for the descent, and began going down following the wind lip. We stopped to decide where exactly to drop in. We picked a spot below the cornice that was hopefully far enough down to have less wind-loading, and I did a ski cut across it to an island of safety. Nothing. When Drake followed my same line, he felt a collapse as we all heard a loud whumpf. Yikes! Without much else to do at this point, and hoping that at least the slab would break below his fit, Kieran did the same. Luckily for us, nothing slid. Scary stuff. The rest of the couloir posed no real safety concerns, and was a mixture between wind-affected snow and dense powder. Inchworming down the couloir brought us to the basin, where we could let up and ski out the trees (skier's right to avoid the gully near the bottom) back to the car.

Northstar Couloir. Go skier's right in the trees to avoid the gully.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
02/19/2023 22:28
I really enjoy the pictures of Silverton down below surrounded by snowy peaks

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