I've wanted to try this route for over a year now and was hopeful that a smash and grab attempt right after the highway opened on Thursday would see good conditions.
Kelsey and I made the drive from Seattle, starting at 5am on Saturday and started the approach around 9am. It was overcast and relatively warm, but not so warm that I was concerned about the route melting, especially given the lack of direct sun and cloud encapsulating Cutthroat. The snow was very firm near the car, so we decided to leave the skis and boot our way in. It was easy going up to tree line, but at that elevation, the crust was gone and we began post holing. At times it was knee-to-hip deep and we traded off turns in the front until reaching the couloir. Despite the slow conditions, we arrived at the base of the couloir in about 2 hours from the car, which felt strange since the book suggested a 2.5-4 hour approach. Our first look up the couloir was a bit baffling. Two deep runnels were gouged into the snow. It looked like water had rushed down the couloir, eroding the snow and creating bobsled runs 4-5 feet deep. Guessing that this might have washed out much of the ice, but not knowing for sure, we scampered up to have a look.
The first 2-3 pitches of the route were all steep snow which became more consolidated as we got higher. At the short step below the real pitch of climbing, we stopped to assess. The ice in front of me was completely sun-baked and aerated. I couldn't find a place where an ice screw wouldn't just push straight in without needing to turn. Bummer. The ice pitch itself also looked anemic. I compared my picture later to the one in the guidebook and reaffirmed that these conditions just weren't going to go without serious, unnecessary risk.
So we bailed. And drowned our sorrows in Winthrop with a nap by the river, burgers, and beers. Not so bad.
My Sunday plan of the Early Winters Couloir was also dashed by exceptionally warm temperatures, so we lapped the Southwest Couloir on South Early Winters Spire a few times early in the morning, skinned up to the Birthday Tour col, and had some great turns back to the car by noon or so.
These classics will have to wait until next spring, I guess.