Marble Creek Cirque:
North Face of the Triad:
Kumquat Couloir Ski Descent

20 June 2007

Triad North Face, Cumshot Couloir Twenty-five hundred feet of Cumshot Couloir from the notch to the bend. From the summit to its left via the West Face would add an extra 500 vf; to the valley floor would add another 1500 vf.
Photo by S. Verdina, 2007.07.07

Whence comes Kumquat? Rhymes with cumshot: etymology without apology.

The Triad, originally named the Three Dicks by its first ascent party (which included three guys named Dick), is a formation of small, craggy peaks when viewed from the south. But the north aspect drops dramatically into Marble Creek Cirque, much like Johannesburg drops toward the North Fork of Cascade River.

West Face West Triad West Face

The Hummels and I skied the very steep (albeit short) West Face of the West Triad (Little Richard) from close to its summit in March of 2005. Shortly thereafter, Dr. John Roper sent me a late-season photo that showed a mind-blowing line on the Triad's North Face. Some clever soul - not me - dubbed the line Cumshot Couloir, an appropriate name for the money shot off Three Dicks.

Cumshot Couloir: It's the gem of Marble Creek Cirque: Three Dicks' worth of the finest pearl necklace of salacious snow seductively straddling prurient peaks. Dropping from a saddle just west of the westernmost (and most diminutive) Dick, Cumshot Couloir proves that sometimes the smallest come biggest.

Damn that thing needed a good skiing. I made four attempts between January and April. The first one saw my dumb ass shivering in the woods of Marble Creek Cirque with Casey and Jason, maybe a mile and a half from Cascade River Road, realizing that it wasn't going to happen that way, then waiting by the creek until dawn. Priceless quote from a hopeless Hummel: "I think I'm getting the flu." Can we go home now?

Shortly thereafter, nursing a Beck's and meditating on maps, I noticed the crease of Lost Marbles Couloir dropping into the cirque from the Hidden Lake Peaks area: a worthy line in and of itself!

Eric and Pete get honorable mention for exploratory suffering down a debris-filled Lost Marbles Couloir to look around the cirque before we ran home with our tails between our legs.

Ross and I skied incredible blower down Lost Marbles Couloir in late April; then I spent hours being as scared as I've been climbing a windloaded deathtrap.

Anyway, good conditions and coverage on Da Magic SLoop sealed the deal. It was time to drop the marbles again.

Dan, Phil, and I left the Eldorado Trailhead at 6 am and charged the steep hike to the talus fields. Dan just migrated to the great northwest from Colorado. "What do you think about Johannesburg?"

A little more slogging and it was finally time to change into ski boots. Several marmot sightings and the possibility of some scrambling down from Eldorado-Triad Col had us putting our shoes into our packs.

Triad from east East Dick and ET Col

Finally at the ridge crossing below Eldorado, the Triad looked farther and higher than my wishful thinking would have had it.

Two hours later, we ski westward from the high saddle next to the East Dick to get around the lowest rock on Little Richard.

Another marmot sighting, a mistaken col, and some deep slush step-kicking put us in prime position for a game of marbles. What are conditions like at the top? The views are vertiginous: A very steep 4k separates us from the bottom of the cirque. The snow has a nice melt-freeze crust with corn on top, but there is also a disconcerting unconsolidated two feet loaded below that from last weekend's weather. I wouldn't even consider dropping into this puppy if I hadn't climbed it previously. It also helps to have skied a steep slope with similar aspect the day before. We have a rope and time, so I decide to make some test turns over the steep top roll on belay.

Ready for test turns
Ready and willing to play human avy probe to harvest the sweet juice of this forbidden fruit.

Roped skiing for stability tests I stomped my jump turns extra hard to test stability.

Stomping a few jump turns into the top roll convinces me that the snow is stable enough. "All right, Phil, take me off belay!" I stuff the rope into my pack and enjoy the special ambiance of Marble Creek Cirque. Dan and Phil get to "free it."

The top consists of several hundred feet of steep skiing directly above a 2,000 ft cliff. A little lower, after lots of sluff management and exposure ogling, we head leftward to get in the gut.

Steep Skiing Dan skis the steep upper slopes, airily perched above big cliffs.

Looking up How's it going up there, Phil?

In the gut, now that we've lost elevation, the snow is really great corn. I can't get enough of those exhilirating post-stress turns. The couloir is steep and long, its walls are tall, and the snow is quite nice. It just doesn't get any better than this.

Phil in the couloir Phil, all in there

Dan harvests a Ripe Kumquat The Kumquat is ripe.

Sky rappels from Eldorado-Triad Col.
Rappel from Eldorado-Triad Col

We're all very wired at the bottom. What a line! Even after the buildup of five attempts, the deed itself still exceeds expectations. Now we need to climb 2.3k to the col atop the Triad Glacier. At the col, I spot a nice rap station and the ledge-scramble to get there isn't too bad, although the skis on the back don't help. Tennis shoes are nice.

The return to Cascade River Road goes uneventfully. Now, if only I could ski this superb descent from the true summit to the valley floor for a sustained 4,500 ft some day....

Washington Ski Map