Revised: see above post! The lower couloir has been skied before by Eric Pehota, Trevor Peterson RIP, and Steve Smaridge RIP in 1992. My my route is a major variation from the South summit. Since over 50% of the line is new, I’m calling it a first descent (Hunt variation).
After a month and half of dealing with a sprained knee, I decided I was well enough for a late spring mission. Got a little more than I bargained for . . .
A 3am start, had me on Brohm ridge well before sunrise. I had convinced myself that this was just a recon mission – to get a read on the remaining snowpack. I made my way across Dalton Dome and was soon climbing the tight confines of the Armenian Express. Somehow my innocent recon had gone sideways and morphed into a bid for one of the South Coast’s longest and most committing ski lines. Oh well, shit happens . . .
A couple hours of feverishly climbing the rock peppered, lower couloir brought me onto the upper face about halfway up the line. My pace relaxed but the slope steepened considerably. My legs were tiring. Luckily, skiing on DyNA’s, Low-techs, and Nanga Parbats reduces the need for fitness. Another 1.5 hours and I gained the top of the face. To ski from here would still be a considerable undertaking, but I yearned for the summit. A beautiful ridge climb followed, with diverse angles from 40 degrees to short sections near 60. The exposure of the Southwest face was impressive.
Having skied the dark and daunting West Face of Atwell four times now, I can confidently say that topping out on the easier sun-kissed slopes of the Southeast Face is a wonderful feeling. In this case, I rounded the steep headwall of the Southwest face and was welcomed by the sun on the South ridge. Another ½ hour of climbing brought me to the South summit. The main summit reminded me a little of Waddington’s unskiable summit, so I was satisfied with my snowy perch. I skied several hundred feet down and along the South face and South ridge. Things had corned up nicely. I found a nice cleft under a rime feature and slept for a few hours, in the hopes the West face would warm. Certainly the best views of Squamish and Howe Sound that I’ve ever witnessed.
Finally I had to pull the trigger. With a line this long in elevation, conditions vary much from top to bottom. I knew the top would still be a bit too firm, but I also knew that the bottom couloir would already be very active with stone fall and wet slides. With a ski pole in my left hand, and an ice axe in my right, I slowly committed to the Southwest face. Every inch of movement was precise, due to 3000 feet of cliffs below. This section can be seen from almost anywhere in Squamish – very cool! Made my way to the precipice of the West face. 30feet of 60 degree bulletproof upped the focus level another notch. 20 more minutes of tense skiing brought me down to the top of the main face. From there I had a wide-open face and 2 inches of firm but grippy snow. I was surprised at how sustained the steepness was. Even when things relented near the top of the bottom couloir, each turn needed to be deliberate. The snow deteriorated near the bottom of the couloir, but by then it was just a dash to get to the safety of the treeline. After two more significant skinning ascents, and some very iso-thermic traversing, I made it back to my starting point on Brohm.
Round Trip: 15.5 hours car-to-car with sled up Brohm (3 hours of that were sleeping on the top, and engaged in the fetal position in the trees at the bottom).
Summit: 2600+ meters Treeline: 1400meters (Almost 4000 feet of skiing – I kept my skis on the entire descent)
The descent was made more technical due to the firm conditions, but climbing the massive upper face in powder would have other potential problems. In going solo, the priority is always to minimize avy possiblities. Getting powder is farther down the list. Another rewarding Squamish experience I won’t soon forget. Total satisfaction. Ski season over. Endgame.