Glenwood/Signal (“Sporting Couloir”)

Signal from Richland McDonalds, showing couloir

Signal from Richland McDonalds, showing couloir

Signal Peak (or Glenwood, depending on who you ask), at 11,226′ stands a fairly impressive 6,000′ above the Sevier River valley, with an interesting, cliffy upper face. In the summer it is an easy hike from one of the dirt roads on the high plain to its north and east. With these roads still closed for the winter, one must look at other options, the easiest probably being a hike from somewhere on the Monroe Mountain road.

However, there is an obvious and more “sporting” alternative: two couloirs stand out from the northwest face, the right-hand one leading nearly to the highpoint of the ridge (the actual summit being farther back). The base of both couloirs is best reached from somewhere along Thompson Basin Road. In retrospect, one should cross the ravine leading from the couloirs fairly low down and follow the bench to its north to reach the base of the face.

I camped somewhere above 8,000′, below the final switchbacks leading to the radio towers, near a fire ring and a trough of nasty greenish water. With only 3,200′ of gain on the menu, it sounded like an easy day, even for a slow early-season Dirtbag. Foolish me! Snow climbs always punish a lack of fitness, and 2,000′ spent punching shin- to knee-deep through crust was perhaps a bit more pain than I wanted. At least the crust helped me start my usual summer collection of shin damage…

Expecting plenty of cross-country travel, I was initially elated to find some nice game trails leading in the right direction. However, nearing the base, I discovered that I was on the south rim of a deep, loose ravine leading to the base, and that the snow in the forest on the rim was unholy posthole-y.

For some reason I decided to contour into the ravine, dodging intermittent cliffs and looking longingly at the easy, dry terrain on the other side. After much side-hill postholing, including some crawling to increase my surface area, I reached the stream at the bottom, and had an easier time reaching the split between the couloirs. The left-hand one looked steeper and perhaps more consolidated, but it led well left of the summit, so I stuck to my original plan.

Then the misery began. It had not been especially cold overnight, and while the snow in the couloir had a decent crust, it was not well consolidated. I wandered back and forth trying to find a more solid path — in the center, near either wall, in old slide paths — but eventually gave up and settled for the tiring double-stomp technique. I amused myself by launching a large snowball, which gained incredible speed, and by climbing two short and avoidable steps — a 6-foot patch of ice and a 10-foot vertical mixed section.

Reaching the top, I was disappointed to see a long, undulating ridge covered with posthole-prone snow between me and the summit. The crust was softening, but I managed to plot a careful course that avoided the worst. Further softening on the way back made it less pleasant, but I had little choice.

My plan for the descent was to take the long ridge back to the radio towers and pick up the road. This turned out to be fairly long, with many ups and downs, and often a choice between soft snow and loose side-hilling, but a network of elk trails made it bearable. With snowshoes, it might have been faster to glissade one of the chutes on the north side of the ridge and return through the woods.

On the drive out, I met a cool older couple with an ATV who had been living on the road for 30 years. After wintering in Richfield, they were spending time camping and exploring in the many surrounding National Forests. In the past, they had backpacked all over the United States, even using pack goats for awhile.

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