After five turns I have to make the decision. Leave the relative safety of the spine I’ve just climbed, or head out onto the face. The expansiveness is brutal. Full commitment. “Live in the moment . . . calm the mind . . . live in the moment . . . calm the mind . . . live in the moment . . . calm the mind.” My mantra to infinity.
Whistler Heli-ski company dropping clients to ski the valley behind. Click to enlarge.
I’ve always operated under ‘loose’ plans. Scenarios are constantly changing and rigid plans are for tourists on Everest. But this ski line really wasn’t planned at all. My partner had to bail the night before and since it was supposed to be bluebird, I headed out for a recon mission. If the line was possible, I’d come back with a crew to document it. But in the end it was meant to be done the pure way: solo with no photographers or film crews.
I’d been eyeing this line for a few months, but the angles didn’t add up for me to have confidence in its skiability. Each time I’d pass by on random ski missions, it just looked scarier and more improbable. I had to see it from the other side! See if it could be climbed. See if that summit cornice could be dealt with.
Recon tools of the trade: ABS pack, 2 ice axes, alu crampons, Billy Goat Tech Ascent plates, and my trusty Dynafit set-up.
Once in the alpine, I had to navigate a long ridge for a couple of hours with my line in plain view. It was perfect for studying the angles, the spines, possible routes and exits. The snowpack was very stable, but there was 10cm of blower that had fallen the night before. Things looked promising, but I still had no aspirations for skiing it. It just felt great to be in the hunt. With skins on, I traversed under a cliff near the middle of the face. I decided to transition to climbing mode and feel out the North facing snow. After a couple of recent missions on the Duffey, where I encountered some spooky conditions, it was great to be back on the more bomber Coastal snowpack. I motored across an easy lower face, to reach the access to the main upper face. I made my way up a small spine and then onto the face. Some of the steepest snow climbing I’ve done. It wouldn’t have been possible without my Billy Goat plates.
The ramp to access the face. Steeper than it looks.
The snow was deep and even with the plates I was still wallowing up to my chest. Both ice axes were used to haul myself upward. Whippets would be pointless toys here. I had time on my side, so there were long moments between steps where I would just stare out onto the face. The snow on the face seemed perfect. I decided to head to the top, but even then the plan was just to ski down my climbing tracks and leave the face early.
I stayed on the spine because the face was too much for the mind. Even the spine steepened and rolled so that I could only see 30 feet above me. Once I travelled that 30 feet, I could only see another 40 before it steepened and rolled again. The line just gradually unfolding like this was mesmerizing. I laughed at my situation, since I knew the Sherpas were filming their latest Hollywood blockbuster ‘Into the Mind’ over on the tracked-out slopes of Blackcomb. “How come nobody wants to see inside my mind,” I joked out loud.
As I climbed higher, the exposure increased. I removed my leash from my ice axe on my right hand. If something cut loose, I would theoretically hurl myself off the right side of the spine, simultaneously pulling the ripcord on my ABS avy bag. This would send me off a couple 30 foot cliffs below instead of the several hundred footers out left. Realities must be faced with pure logic. Interesting thoughts indeed . . .
I accessed the summit via a ramp between 2 cornices. The sun hit, and the South side had a mellow slope for me to relax. Minutes later I was doing my first ski cut on the face. It was stable. During each turn, the 10cms of fresh would sluff easily. I’d just stop and watch it slide out of sight. The face rolled away considerably, so that at any one time I could only see about 30 feet ahead of me. All the cliffs below were out of view and ceased to exist.
After those first five turns, the decision came. Leave the party early or crash the supermodel VIP lounge. I chose the latter. A few turns later, several spines came into view. One of them was my exit. I chose one that looked inviting and headed towards it. Things looked promising as I could see it exited onto my lower bench that would allow me to escape the bottom cliffs. But not before I had one of the most epic spine skiing experiences of my life! A couple more exposed benches, mini-spines, and an air lead me to the safety of the bowl below. My sluff had created knee deep pow which I carved all the way to the valley.
Boot to knee deep pow on lower part of the line. Turns keep on going beyond the picture
I then toured up the South-facing side of the valley. An hour later I was perched on a sun-kissed ridge looking at my line. I turned on the music and just reveled in the heightened awareness.
A half hour later, in honor of the other Trevor, I turned on some Zeppelin and started the long slog home. Listen to Led Zeppelin 3: ‘since I’ve been loving you’, and you’ll get a sense of my mood.
It’s hard to be concerned about whether it was a 1st descent or not. Just honored and humbled to have made turns down such a slope. But talked with Coastal heavies, Eric and Jia who called it very probable. Foon called it a Gretzky (99.99% sure). Speak up if you know otherwise.