Climbing Colorado's Fourteeners
Class 3, Steep, Snow/Ice in season (a classic route)
From Bottomless Pit: 2.0 miles, 2,470 feet
From Barr Camp: 8.0 miles, 3,950 feet
From Devil's Playground Trailhead: 7.0 miles, 4,170 feet
From Manitou Springs Trailhead: 19.2 miles, 7,400 feet
The Y Couloir is the premier mountaineering route on Pikes' north face. It is centrally located on the north face and is slightly steeper and harder than the Railroad Couloir. The Y Couloir offers two branches near the summit. Snow conditions are best in May and June. You can sometimes find alpine ice here in July. Preview conditions from a distance before committing to this climb.
Use either the Bottomless Pit Trail Approach or the Rumdoodle Ridge Approach to reach Bottomless Pit at 11,640 feet. Angling slightly to the east (left), climb south into the snow bowl in the center of the face at 12,600 feet. Curve to the west (right) and climb the well-defined couloir to 13,400 feet, where the two branches of the couloir diverge.
The west (right) branch of the Y Couloir is the easier choice. The last 600 feet provide vintage Colorado couloir climbing. The angle remains a consistent 45 degrees. You top out abruptly at 14,000 feet at the road's last switchback, on the west end of the summit plateau. Use caution: You may surprise a motorist.
The east (left) branch of the Y Couloir is steeper, exceeding 50 degrees in places. It also has rock bands that can add considerable difficulty. A large rock band is almost always present at 13,500 feet, just above the junction of the two branches. Smaller rock bands will appear in the last 500 feet as the couloir melts out. When in good condition, this is a scintillating finish. The east branch ends with some Class 3 scrambling and tops out just west of the large Olympic Memorial, where many motorists mill in summer.
Summit tourists who try to fill up Bottomless Pit by tossing rocks down your route are usually unaware that there may be climbers below them. Nevertheless, the rocks are a huge hazard for climbers. Tourists are most likely to trundle from near the Olympic Memorial; the Y Couloir will catch more of these rocks than the Railroad Couloir. Consider being dropped off and climbing early from a bivouac in Bottomless Pit. A very early start from Barr Camp is another good alternative. In any case, wear a helmet.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication