A week of bluebird had me holed up in my office at the computer. Managed to get out one day and ski off the very small yet striking feature of Mt. Fee’s west face. Now it’s time for some medium high-altitude skiing out East.
The epic high pressure continues . . .
After a week of sunny skies and melt-freeze temps, the snowpack has settled nicely. During the week’s two previous missions we tested the snow pack and it was time for something bigger.
After years and years of skiing the steeps, the adrenaline certainly doesn’t surge like it used to. But when the North faces set up like this and I begin to realize the possibilities for ultra-steep descents, I feel something akin to nervous giddiness. The stability, the angles, the exposure . . . oh the places I could go.
Luckily some friends pull me back to the land of ‘regular’ descents. Jon Johnston has something big cooking. No firsts, but nevertheless an adventure as long and steep and sustained as anything out there. The North Face of what some call Shangri-la.
From Pemby, we’re accompanied by Tobin Seagel and Chris Christie. The sun’s long gone, as we snake our way deeper into the range. 50km of backroads and logging roads leads to snow. From there we jump on sleds and head even further upcountry. We finally stop at an old open-air A frame crawling with mice. I choose to bivy on the snow. The stars are insane. Sleep is difficult with an almost 7000 foot steep line looming.
At 4am, we crawl out of our bags and begin the morning routine. Tobin pulls out a giant bag of Nester’s hot-cross buns. He’s obviously travelling in style.
Soon we’re heading down another logging road, negotiating forests, avy paths, glaciers, and finally boot-packing the steep South Face. On the summit, the spectacular 360-degree views include the king of the Coast: Waddington. We talk of history. Legends like Beeker and Jack Hannan, who were integral for us to be here.
We skate-ski across the perfectly flat summit. With the steep roll-over looming, it feels like dropping off the edge of the Earth. The 6000+ feet of steepness before us nullifies perspective. Average backcountry descents clock in at around 2000 feet, so it was useless to access memories and compare with other mountains. A huge mid-fifties spine-riddled face leads to cliffs, ramps, glaciers, and then thousands more feet of cliffs, dead-end couloirs, fluted faces . . . all random chaos spilling out onto the mellow glaciers beyond. Taking turns, everyone heads down while I just enjoyed my position, perched on a powdery spine. Conditions made the turns easy, so it was time to relax and truly enjoy one of the great descents of my life (obviously not too relaxed!). We meet up at a steep arête. Jon signals for me to traverse higher. He just laughs as I inch my way towards the precipice. Words can’t describe what it feels like when confronted with a view like this, in conditions like this. High fifties spines melting into a perfect face. I’m soon linking turns . . . turns that should only exist in Alaska. My sluff quickly accumulates to a thunderous roar. “Enjoy the playground but keep it under control, since this playground sits many times higher than the tallest skyscraper.”
We all swap turns, smiles on our faces. At each stop, I crane my neck searching for the steepest available spines. A quick traverse, and I’m on another mind-blowing adventure. More spines, faces, and gullies finally lead to the exit slopes. We hit some stiff snow on occasion, but otherwise it’s powder to the bottom, and creamy corn snow on the sun-affected slopes back to the logging road. Usually faces of this magnitude have lower slopes decimated with avalanches and rock-fall. Somehow it’s been perfect. On my way back to Squamish, my old beater of a truck breaks down on the highway. I have to laugh. All that perfection had to balance out at some point.