Words and Pics by Rob Hopkins @notrobhop
These things always start too early.
Sitting in the passenger seat of Mike’s car waiting for a seemingly endless freight train to finish rumbling across the road in front of us, I tried to stay awake by imagining what it would be like to be in good enough shape that I could climb and ride lines like this one really quickly. Like, quickly enough that I would be able to get up at 7AM instead of 3AM, and still be back at the car by 11AM.
Maybe one day. But probably not.
Soon enough we were gearing up under a perfectly clear sky that was absolutely overflowing with stars. With no clouds in sight and the moon barely visible on the horizon we were treated to an epic view into the depths of the universe. This had to be the most beautiful start to a ski tour I have ever had, and I found myself stopping every 15 minutes or so just to take it all in.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the contrast between the epic beauty of the sky above us and the tunnel-vision inducing misery of grinding our way up this awful approach. This approach sucks. On a failed attempt last year I had the same experience here. Both times it started out with soccer ball sized chunks of avalanche debris and slowly transitioned to a steep and icy little slidepath that is just steep enough that you feel a bit ridiculous skinning it, and just mellow enough that you feel like an idiot taking your skis off and bootpacking it. Mike opted to feel like an idiot and I opted for the ridiculous method, and we both had a bad time, reaching the top simultaneously anyways. I really hate that approach.
If nothing else at least it’s straight forward.
After that grind was over we were treated to some mellow skinning to the base of the couloir and then a quick jaunt up to the top. The couloir itself is actually significantly shorter and less intimidating than what it looks like from the highway, the only trouble we had was with one of the cliffs midway through the line, which unlike the others, you could not bypass by walking over snow to one side of it but rather had to climb up and over a little ice step of maybe 4 feet. We did bring crampons just in case, but they were all the way in the bottom of our bags so both of us opted to do it in our Verts, and were quite surprised at how well they stuck in the ice after a couple aggressive kicks each. I mean I wouldn’t recommend them for Slipstream, but they did the trick on this short ice step with a nice soft landing below it.
Just below the cornice we did notice a windslab forming, but it was small, weakly formed and not very reactive at all, and we were both pretty confident that it could be managed safely, so one at a time we cautiously made our way across it and toward the menacing cornice guarding the top out. We were happily surprised to find that the cornice could be very easily bypassed via a hallway on the left side where the cornice doesn’t quite meet the rock wall.
We topped out around 11AM with an overcast sky and sub zero temperatures, and from the top of the couloir it looks like you could fairly easily reach the true summit of the mountain, but the riding looked crappy and mellow, and I needed to be at work 3 hours ago, so we decided to ride down from there.
Neither of us trusted the windslab near the top, so Mike found a safe spot to watch while I did a ski cut to clear out the slab, which was a little bit too effective, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
The remainder of the line was excellent high quality riding, with deep snow and lots of fun cliffs and wallrides along the way to keep the dirty park rat that still resides deep inside my heart entertained for the full length of the line. Even some of the approach was fun to ride, with little pillows and cliffs everywhere.
Though the bottom half of the approach was still awful.