#SkiTheBig3 — Tent Testing, Ice Walking, Skiing

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | June 2, 2014      

Aaron Diamond

After weeks of ice and slog, Aaron finally finds some good snow.

After weeks of ice and slog, Aaron finally finds some good snow.

I woke up surprised. The tent wall isn’t flapping and smacking me on the side of the head like it had been doing for days, and I heard the pattering sound of light snow falling on the nylon. No wind and new snow at the tent city known as 14,000-ft Camp is a recipe for a couple things: pandemonium on the fixed lines above, hidden blue ice, and most importantly for SkiTheBig3, powder skiing while acclimatizing.

Our plan for the day was to go up the headwall on Denali and climb the fixed lines to 16,000 ft, then hang out until we got cold and head back down. Typical program if you’re being careful about the altitude. Second on the agenda was to see how much snow had covered the blue ice around the fixed lines and up near the Rescue Gully. After all, the idea here is to ski, not test our ice tools.

With a leisurely 2 pm start we headed out of camp and up the ski hill. There was about 8 to 10 inches of new snow. We followed a steep skin track eerily similar to the agro straight-uphill routes found around the Tetons and Wasatch.

At the top of the ski hill the skin track heads straight up towards the fixed lines. Jordan and Anton gave chase while Evan and I set a more mellow track, switch backing up towards the lines. About three quarters of the way between the top of the ski hill and the bottom of the fixed lines the slope angle increased and the new snow was no longer deep enough to keep us off the icy firm surface underneath. Skinning became increasingly difficult and exhausting, so we transitioned to crampons and joined the boot pack.

At the bottom of the fixed lines I realized my ascender was somewhere in the back of my Subaru in Aspen. $%^&*!!. I climbed past the first couple of pickets (the anchors for the fixed lines) before giving in and allowing myself to piggy back off Evan’s ascender. I attached myself with a long loop of webbing and we started up in unison. I’m sure we looked like the junk show we (I) was. My head was a couple feet behind Evan’s back, and if we lost our rhythm my split board would knock his pack.

We made steady progress up the fixed lines as a couple guided parties made their way down. I can only imagine the explanation the guide had to give his clients as to what they just witnessed. Topping out a little bit after Jordan and Anton we donned puffy jackets and sat down to take in the view.

The vert covered by the fixed lines was too icy to ski so we downclimbed.

The vert covered by the fixed lines was too icy to ski so we downclimbed.

As we ate and drank the skies cleared enough to allow us glimpses of the slopes above the Autobahn (see map) and all the way down to 14 Camp. After a half hour or so we headed down the lines. Unfortunately it hadn’t snowed enough to cover the ice on the fixed lines so we descended with crampons. Jordan, Anton, and Evan used their ascenders, while I rigged a klemheist (friction knot) that I had to untie to pass every piece of fixed gear.

Anton likes this way better than walking down ice.

Anton likes this way better than walking down ice.

We began skiing at the bottom of the fixed lines. Powder! Aside from a couple wind stripped areas the slopes served up creamy dreamy supportable fluff. True “type-1 fun” on a trip made up almost entirely of “type-2 fun” was extremely refreshing. We hooted and hollered as we slid past teams descending on foot. Like most good times it was over much too quickly and we were skating past tents, CMC’s and the smell of early dinners in camp.

We all felt terrific at 16,000 feet and are hoping to head to 17,000 feet or more tomorrow. Like everything out here the weather will dictate what happens. The forecast is for clearing weather and with any luck we will have the opportunity to finish this off sometime this week.

Map showing routes of Ski The Big 3; note 11,000-foot camp on Denali route.

Map showing routes of Ski The Big 3; note 11,000-foot camp on Denali route. Click to enlarge.

Map with more details regarding Denali routes.

Map with more details regarding Denali routes.

(‘Ski The Big 3 is an Alaskan ski mountaineering expedition cooked up by four deprived (or perhaps depraved?) guys who never get enough ski and snowboard alpinism. Aaron Diamond, Evan Pletcher, Anton Sponar, Jordan White. The idea is to ski Denali, Mount Foraker, and Mount Hunter all during one expedition. The crew had success on Mounts Hunter and Foraker, now they’re in position at 14,200-feet on Denali. They began d the trip with 6 weeks worth of food and enough camera gear to outfit a small army. We wish them safe travels, especially on their last objective, Denali!)


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6 Responses to “#SkiTheBig3 — Tent Testing, Ice Walking, Skiing”

  1. Lisa Dawson June 2nd, 2014 11:52 am

    Love the updates!

  2. Lauren Bean June 2nd, 2014 2:51 pm

    HA! I bet the skin track going straight up was set by Mike, Matt and Marc. I know those boys do not like to make things “easy”! Nice work and THANK YOU for all the pictures. Sounds like you are going to have a solid window for summiting. GOOD LUCK!

  3. Paul Pearce June 2nd, 2014 6:27 pm


    Just a question – is Anton Sponar related to Tony Sponar who emigrated from Austria to Australia after WW2? He was instrumental in setting up Thredbo ski resort and many other initiatives in the 50s and 60s.


  4. Lisa Dawson June 2nd, 2014 7:33 pm

    Anton’s father’s name is Tony and he’s from Austria.

  5. Kevin June 3rd, 2014 6:28 am

    Hi Paul, I know it is crazy but those are two different Anton Sponars. Anton can tell you much more.

    Tony is an awesome guy and super passionate and stronger than anyone his age, possibly in the world! At 82 y/o, he could do more pull ups than 90+% of the visitors to his south american ski operation, Ski Arpa. Plus, on any given day, he would skin or walk 3,000 feet to the top of the mountain! Inspirational!

  6. Anton Sponar June 11th, 2014 1:44 am

    As Kevin said, my fathers name is also Toni Sponar, but there is no relation. It is an amazing coincidence though since my father came down to South America and has been instrumental in bringing ski culture and resort planning to Chile and Argentina. He just turned 80 and is still skiing nearly 200 days a year. Together we run Ski Arpa Cat Skiing in Chile. He is obviously the one who got me into skiing and the mountain culture. I can’t wait to get to Chile and tell him of our adventure. Usually it us him telling me if his past adventures. This one may rank up there with some if his stories for once.

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