Although this trip was somewhat of a ski traverse, we didn’t exactly intend to just skate along the icefield the entire time. I wanted to move across some country, but also find the time to do fun and rewarding skiing.
By day 7 of our trip, about halfway through, this plan had worked out perfectly. Although we had moved camp every day that we had good weather, we still managed to do quite a bit of good skiing. The conditions were admittedly sub-par on many aspects, but we made do. Our current camp, dubbed “sunset camp” for the awesome displays every evening, was near the top of the icefield. Now that we were at the highest area of the icefield, we decided to stay until we ran out of ski options.
After our three-peak extravaganza the previous day, we were incredibly tired. When the morning of our 8th day brought snow and clouds, we sleepily sighed in relief. No hard work for us today! The relaxation quickly turned to boredom, however, as we lay in our sleeping bags. We passed the time with podcasts, music, and doing what we could to experiment with our limited culinary options. I’ve found that being tent-bound on a glacier is an incredibly weird experience. It’s one of the few times in life that I’ve done nothing for an entire day. At home, I sometimes succumb to laziness, and spend a day doing “nothing,” but that is much different. In that case “nothing” involves reading, watching TV, and all sorts of other lazy, unproductive, but entertaining activities. Conversely, tent-bound “nothing” is much more true to the sense of the word. Even with our modern-day luxuries of podcasts and music, I find myself doing an stunningly little amount of anything. Although mind-numbingly boring, it’s surprising how fast the time passes. Before I realized, an entire day had passed and I’d barely ventured out of the fluffy warmth of my sleeping bag.
That strangely inviting purgatory only lasted for one day, thankfully. The next day wasn’t perfect weather, but the scattered clouds and fog allowed enough visibility to explore the vast ice-capped world around our little nylon habitat. We headed back up toward Mt. Erehwon, where we had found great powder two days before. Instead, we found wind-hammered crust. However, after we reached the top, we discovered a enticing skinny chute dropping off the south side. Instead of the windy crust, it looked like it held corn snow. The narrow entrance was guarded by a sharply overhanging cornice, which we spent a few entertaining minutes trying to cut. Eventually, with the aid of some well placed rock tosses, we got it to go. The huge chunks didn’t affect the slope at all, another sign of the stability we enjoyed throughout the trip. One after the other we made our way down the chute, ending down on another massive glacier. The clouds were coming in and out, but we decided to head a bit further out, toward another small peak. We climbed and skied the north east side of that peak, which held variable snow. After our run, our camp was just across the glacier; over 3 miles away. After a thigh-burning skate ski session, we arrived back at camp, and cooked up a late lunch.
The weather was still unstable, but looked like it was holding out for the afternoon. Coop and I decided to try another south facing couloir, near Chili tower, while Eric headed south down the glacier, to explore a few distant nunataks.
After we skinned for a few minutes, Coop noticed some red dots in the distance, near Eric. People! For the last nine days, all we had seen was white snow, black rocks, and green trees. It’s one of the longest periods I’ve gone without seeing another group of people. The people were only tiny specs on the horizon, but they stood out like a laser beam.
Eric called us over the radio; it was John Baldwin and Linda Bily, and a crew of friends. We knew they would be traveling in the same area, and I had been wondering if we would cross paths.
Although we were excited to see some new faces, Coop and I were well on our way towards our objective, and we decided to keep going, and meet up with them in the evening.
The couloir was already losing sunlight, and was quite icy by the time we reached it. Instead, we decided to crampon up over the rocky ridge, and hopefully find softer sunset turns in the other side. The other side required a bit of a spicy downclimb, but we were rewarded with another run of beautiful powder.
As we headed to camp, we stopped by at our new neighbor’s camp. It was great to talk with them, comparing conditions and sharing stories of our trips thus far.
As the day drew to a close, we knew our skiing time was growing limited. We had 6 or 7 days left of our trip. We had good luck with the weather thus far, but I knew that could change, and with a 3 day journey back to the car, that week of time started to seem quite short. Throughout our time at the “sunset” camp, we had been eyeing the steep, glaciated NE face of Mt. Cerberus, the tallest peak on the icefield. From the individual cocoons of our sleeping bags, we made plans to attempt the face the following day. It turned into quite the adventure…you’ll have to wait until the next post to hear about that.