|onte Cristo Ski Circuit
Pride Glacier, Ski Descent
On April 24th, 2004, Dave Burdick and I skied the couloir that drops NE from the 7400-ft notch on the NW ridge of Mount Hardy. (The summit is at 8040 feet, and is incorrectly marked on most USGS maps.) We approached by ascending the west slope from the North Cascades Highway. The entrance to the couloir was blocked by a 20-ft overhanging cornice, forcing a rappel. The upper 200 feet were steep and a little tricky, then the remainder was mostly a 40-degree gully between big orange rock walls. Conditions were powder with hard ribs of frozen snow mixed in. The run is almost 2000 feet from notch to valley bottom. We returned to the road by climbing above Methow Pass and traversing to the enjoyable SW slope of Hardy.
On March 25th, 2005, in great conditions, we skied a second 40-45 degree couloir that drops from the next notch, just a couple hundred yards to the NW of the previous one. Though very narrow in spots, it was a little more straightforward, and in a beautiful deep curving slot for most of the 2100-ft descent.
Summit Chief Mountain, North Face, “Alpine Chicken,” New Route
On April 24, 2004, a week after the first ascent of Summit Chief’s North Face by Dave Burdick and Colin Haley, Rolf Larson and I climbed a line to the climbers’ right of the original route. We began by soloing a half pitch, then placing ice screws for a belay. We belayed five pitches of challenging climbing with marginal protection, constantly getting bombarded by spindrift. This put us on a snowfield about one pitch below a steep and relatively ice-free headwall, three-quarters of the way up the face. The wall looked a lot steeper and thinner than the rest of the climbing. Plagued by doubt, we decided to traverse right into the adjacent gully system. A traverse pitch and a couple more rope-stretching bold leads saw us to the west ridge.
From there we traversed right and back left up a rocky but less steep west-facing couloir to a rock belay. Two more short pitches, including a very bold lead by Rolf up an exposed and loose arete, led to an exit move onto snow that put us back on our original line on the North Face, some distance above the blank headwall. One more snow and ice pitch with some simul-climbing got us back onto the west ridge.
From there, the ridge to the summit was blocked by more steep rock pyramids. Due to these obstacles and the late hour, we decided to bail a few hundred feet from the summit. We made one 30 m rappel to a snowfield on the south side, downclimbed another 30 m, then traversed over to Colin and Dave’s second rappel anchor and rappeled down a running waterfall to the descent couloir.
Neither of us was satisfied with the circuitous nature of the upper pitches and we didn’t tag the summit. The route could definitely be improved. We used a handful of cams, some nuts, blades, LA’s, and 5 or 6 screws of various lengths including stubbies. The rock on the climb is terrible and we spent a lot of time scraping off snow and ice looking for decent placements. We dubbed the route "Alpine Chicken" after the rotisserie chicken that Rolf packed in to our bivi site.
When I skied the Price Glacier with Ben Manfredi in May 2003, he initially suggested a descent of the NE Chute, but due to the yawning bergschrund at its base, we decided instead to ski the Nooksack Ridge headwall. A year later, on May 13, 2004, I convinced Ben Kaufman to return with me to try the chute. We left Seattle by 8 p.m. and hiked the Nooksack Cirque trail through the night, reaching the glacier shortly after dawn. We passed closely beneath Nooksack Tower and traversed the upper glacier to the NE Chute with little difficulty. The snow in the couloir was sloppy, but not so deep as to be a problem. Reaching the top of the couloir at noon, we decided not to climb to the top of the North Shoulder due to an ominous cornice and responsibilities in town. The 40-degree couloir provided excellent skiing on the descent.
A week later, on May 20, 2004, I returned with Ross Peritore to attempt a more complete descent. I really wanted to ski both the summit pyramid of Shuksan and the NE Chute from the top of the North Shoulder in one big day. Approaching through the night again, we climbed to the highest skiable spot, less than ten feet below the top of the North Shoulder (8657 feet). We had time to make the summit of Shuksan, but the snow was already a little too sloppy in places and a storm appeared to be brewing. We agreed to ski from that point and Ross had a scary brush with a wet slide during our descent.
The Price Glacier has not yet seen its ultimate ski descent. There are a few more features of interest, but in my mind the ultimate descent would start at the summit of Mt. Shuksan by skiing the 500 vertical foot summit pyramid, then schussing across the Crystal Glacier, dropping onto the Price from the saddle between the North Shoulder and Nooksack Ridge, and finally skiing directly down the tongue of the glacier to Price Lake. That would be nearly 5,200 vertical feet of steep skiing with only one small traverse.
La Petit Cheval, “Spontaneity ArÊte”, New Route
In June, 2004, while driving to another climb near Washington Pass, Larry Goldie and I made a spontaneous decision to explore a nice-looking line opposite milepost 165. The climb follows the west-southwest buttress of the easternmost of three prominent rock outcroppings that grace the north end of the northward extension of Kangaroo Ridge. (This formation should not be confused with what Bryan Burdo calls Black Horse, which faces east, more into Willow Creek. Beckey refers to Black Horse as White Horse in Cascade Alpine Guide, Vol. 3, Second Edition, p. 292. The rocks in question are on the west side of the ridge and face SR-20 head on.)
Park at milepost 165 on SR-20, at the west (uphill) end of the large pullout. Find the trail dropping steeply down the bank and into the highest stand of big timber. Follow the well-defined trail across Early Winters Creek at a logjam and up to brushy cliffs below the crag. There are two sections of fixed rope to help with short tough spots.
The route itself is a moderate arête climb and one should stick to the ridge except where you want to follow better rock slightly right or left of the crest. This climb will give novice leaders a fun outing with great pro, comfy belay ledges, and fairly short crux sections. Take a standard rack to 3.5 inches and a single 60m rope. The sense of commitment is limited, since one can bail out to the descent gully in several places. We found no sign of a previous ascent.
Descend by either rappelling the route, which is equipped with sling anchors, or doing one 80-foot rappel into the gully to the south and scrambling down.
On June 4th, 2004, Matt Peters and I made a ski descent of the narrow curving couloir that drops NE from the Magic Mountain ridgeline, a quarter mile NW of the summit. We made the approach via Pelton Basin and then up the couloir, taking about five hours from the last Cascade River road gate. We had somewhat sloppy conditions in the 1300-ft couloir, which is just under 45 degrees for most of its length. We started down around 9 a.m. An attempt a few weeks earlier was thwarted by significant rockfall and soft snow in the late morning hours. From the bottom of the couloir, it is another 1400 feet to Pelton Basin.
Mount Torment, Northwest Face, Ski Descent
On June 4, 2004, Andy Dappen and I skied off the summit of Mount Torment down the Northwest Face. We approached the route via Torment Col. From Torment Col, we skied down to 5,800 feet near the entrance of the Moraine Lake Couloir (this had been skied by Volken, Marge Wheeler, and Casey Ruff on May 15). We had to climb out of the couloir onto the lower northwest glacier. This was around 5:30 a.m. and the sun was already hitting parts of the face. With concerningly warm temps, we hurried to the summit of Torment. The face had been flushed clean a couple of days earlier by sizeable avalanches, so conditions seemed quite safe. We reached the summit a little after 7:00 a.m.
Putting on skis on the summit of Mount Torment was certainly a thrilling moment. The top 100 feet are committing (rock-speckled 50-degree snow), but once we were on the glacier proper, the descent turned out to be quite reasonable. Getting from the northwest face back into the Moraine Lake Couloir required a quick rappel. From there, the 40-degree Moraine Lake Couloir would link the 2,400-foot descent into a 3,600-foot descent right to the lake.
We think the line is sporty, but not insane. Overall, a great ski mountaineering adventure.
On June 2, 2004, Corey Bloom, Sky Sjue, and I took advantage of a brief midweek window of stable high pressure to meet Cyril Benda on the north side of Adams. On June 3, after a quick afternoon climb up the North Cleaver, Corey and I skied the east face of the cleaver onto Lava Glacier, while Cyril and Sky climbed higher and dropped into an intricate gully threading through cliff bands on the west side onto Adams Glacier, which they dubbed "Stormy Thursday Couloir."
The next morning, June 4, Jason Hummel and Sam Avaiusini joined us at camp. The six of us set out up the North Cleaver after a leisurely mid-morning start. Our northeast-facing objective needed plenty of time to soften and turn to corn. The weather was perfect: clear, with minimal winds and a freezing level around 11,000ft. We reached the summit plateau near 11,800 ft around 2:00 p.m. and prepared for the descent. Helmets, harnesses, and skis were donned, but the ropes stayed in our packs. We traversed east below the gaping bergschrund at the head of the Lyman Glacier, with difficult skiing on the frozen sastrugi of the summit plateau, and dropped over the convex roll into the unknown. Sky led the way, handling the lion’s share of the routefinding. Snow conditions immediately improved to smooth wind-packed snow and eventually to good corn.
We made several key routefinding choices near 10,400 ft, where a pair of rock cleavers divide the Lyman Glacier into three separate streams of ice. We dropped into the icefall of the middle stream (in the Cascade Alpine Guide, Beckey calls this the “Lyman Glacier South Portion” ). Steep traverses and smooth ramps led through the most heavily broken portion, with the gradient exceeding 45 degrees at times. As Jason and I stopped at the end of a short traverse, a large building-sized serac calved free in slow motion only 50ft in front of us, then tumbled out of sight below—right towards where Sky had skied a minute earlier. A shaky, nervous descent brought us down to Sky, who had been setting up to take photos when he saw the serac fall. He had grabbed his pack and skied out of the slide’s path with seconds to spare. We all regrouped in a safer area below the icefalls. A quick descent through the rock-studded lower portions of the glacier brought us to Lava Ridge, followed by a mostly flat traverse across the Lava Glacier. Soon we were back in camp, thankful to have escaped the icy maw of the Lyman Glacier and rejoicing in a spectacular, awe-inspiring, and unexpectedly simple ski descent of this magnificent route.
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