The endless deep powder of December was fun, but nothing can replace high alpine action. Finally snow conditions and weather cooperated this past week. I was still groggy from too much Christmas food and mild Mount Washington terrain, and it took a bit of effort to switch gears. So what to do with this bomber snowpack? 2012 was the year of Atwell for me, so why not finish off the year with one more descent?
After frequenting the West Face so many times I try not to become too complacent. But when you round the corner and see the massive ramparts, spines and snow faces shimmering in the moonlight, any notion of complacency is soon erased.
A solid start time of 4am had me skinning in the high alpine under a semi-full moon. Sort of forgot that the sun takes a while to rise on December 30th. Travel was fast, and my hip-flexors were enjoying the lack of waist deep powder. On my earlier missions I had spotted one last line to the right of the Georgian. It was a little shorter than it’s brothers (Georgian and Squamptonian) but had some interesting features and several unknowns. Mentally, the dominant factor with this line is that it hangs above a large cliff at the bottom, with several thousand feet of cliffs, seracs and steep snow below that. So all climbing and skiing has this added spice. Also, an incredible rock tower blocks the view of the center of the couloir, and I had no idea whether there was enough snow to squeak through. As with the other lines near it, the exit ramp at the top looked incredibly thin and steep. Would it be skiable? Certainly enough factors to peek my curiosity and warrant another trip into the West Face arena.
After some balanced moves benefiting from long legs, I surmounted the shrund at the bottom. From far way, the features around me looked small, but amongst it everything seemed very large and imposing. The snow was nice and climbing was slow due to knee-deep foot pen. I branched off right of the main couloir and headed towards the steep arête. Gaining it was an exercise in ridiculously steep wallowing. Climbing the steep arête in such deep snow was testing my comfort level. As soon as possible I dashed across the face into my main couloir. The fall line angled straight off the cliff below! Things choked and iced up beside the rock tower, but there was enough snow for skiing.
Climbing the main couloir was straight-forward, but the top exit ramp was still blocked from view. I was impressed with the consistent steepness of the couloir. Rounded the corner and encountered a perfect and steepening exit ramp to the summit ridge. The snow was still deep with some interesting layers so I desperately wanted to get the climbing over with. As with all ski lines in heaven, this one ended with no cornice, just a steep ramp that lead to a 5 foot wide perch on a snow mushroom. The Northeast face dropped off the other side. After enjoying the sun for a few moments, I made my first turns back down the line. I soon realized the unbelievable quality and stability of the powder. What an amazing feeling, having powder that steep with minimal sluff. With a surge of confidence in the conditions I headed out onto a steep arête for a few turns. The exposure was amazing. The rest of the turns in the couloir were totally enjoyable, yet each one was conservative due to the cliff below. Traversed over to the lower arête and made wonderfully steep turns down it.
After exiting the final couloir, I still had several thousand feet of committing skiing. After some nice turns and negotiating the many seracs (things are still quite bare) I ended up near the lower half of the Siberian, with the Siberian’s classic ice cliff still showing a few hundred feet above. When I first skied it over 10 years ago, the conditions were icy down low. So to shred it in perfect powder was so cool! Very little avy activity allowed me to crank large turns all the way down the lower slopes towards tree line (usually riddled with debris and massive runnels sometimes 40 feet deep)
Several hours of skinning and traversing brought me back to safety. I reached the truck about 14hours after starting. Pretty much the most enjoyable steep descent I’ve had. It’s such an aesthetic line with perfect snow conditions.
For the tech nerds out there, my setup was Dynafit Huascaran skis 177cm, Dynafit Superlight bindings 185g DIN 10 (the best ski mountaineering binding ever . . . period), and Dynafit TLT5 Performance boots with the power straps and tongues removed of course ☺. Bring on the fat ski / ultra-light boot and binding combo revolution!!! The future.