I grew up skiing, until the point where I was introduced to ice climbing. Since 1996, winter has always translated to ice climbing season. But in the last couple years, I have been incredibly inspired by Dean Lords, Beau Fredlund , Jason Killgore and Andreas Fransson. Their pictures and stories have motivated me to look at backcountry ski terrain differently. What was once a line of snow amongst the cliffs has become a ski line. I am by no means an incredible skier, I just happen to posses the skills to get myself up a mountain confidently and I feel more comfortable than most when it comes to exposed terrain. No doubt my confidence out weighs my abilities, so I try to remind myself to pump the brakes every so often.
Don’t worry, I have not gone to the dark side. Ice climbing still has a firm grasp of my passion. I just like the idea of combining the two for a high quality adventure.
If you have climbed in the South Fork Valley, you have more than likely parked at the Cabin Creek trailhead, a.k.a. the end of the road. For over 15 years, I parked there and the thought of skiing never crossed my mind. However, driving up the road in April 2013, all the sudden an obvious ski line appeared to me. I had noticed the obvious steep, snow-covered slab of rock, but skiing it was never a thought.
Since skiing another incredible South Fork line last year (see HERE), I have had my eye on the striking line above Cabin Creek. Last year, I didn’t feel ready since I hadn’t spent very many days on my sticks in steep terrain. This year, I was still fresh from skiing and climbing in Norway and felt pretty good about committing to the line. It wasn’t in the best of conditions, but it was doable and the ice was melting fast in the valley so it seemed like a good option. I’m sure my partners would agree that once I set my sights on something and make a plan, there becomes no other option but that plan.
The night before, my buddies Chris Guyer and Nathan Danforth consumed numerous fish bowl margaritas as we discussed the warming temps and uncontrollable thoughts of winter’s end. Two margaritas in, I decided tomorrow was the day to go get this thing done and the three of us, unanimously intoxicated, agreed.
Unfortunately for Chris Guyer, 7am came too early and the margaritas consumed the night before chose a different adventure for his day. Nathan came along just to amuse me and with hopes of calling me out on a failed Mulkey Mission. Despite the warm temps, we headed up through the dense trees with very little snow on the ground until the hillside got too steep to ascend in ski boots. Once we traversed into the couloir, everything felt right and we began kicking steps up. As we got higher, I was surprised how the steep the lower face was and looking up, it seemed it would continue.
About half way up, I started to feel pretty exposed and we had to begin our traverse over to connect with the bottle neck of the upper face. At this point, Nathan decided he had satisfied his appetite for exposure and would stay at the traverse. Looking above, I could only see cliffs but knew there was a snowfield above me, which was my goal to ski. I kept moving on until I got to the keyhole to the above-hanging snowfield. I looked up, but could only see the narrow, steep chute above me rising into the cliffs. As I was about to leave Nathan’s sight, I yelled at him one last time with the hope I could persuade him to join me. Hearing not an ounce of doubt in his voice, I realized I would have to continue on solo. I fought with myself for a bit until I realized there was no safety in having him join me, only comfort.
Each stroke of my heel took me higher and deeper into the constriction. Eventually, the terrain opened up into a hanging football field of snow. I had hoped the slope leaned into the wall and towards the constriction, which would mean a mistake or slip would not be a quick ride to the grave. “Unlucky,” my high school soccer coach would say with a British accent. A brutal battle begins to rage in my head, but my fixed mindset wins and I move on.
Gotta say I love the Grivel Condor pole.
Once fully committed to the slope above, my heart rate dropped and my decision became an anesthetic. I could feel the snow conditions starting to change with the heat of the day on my heels. Once I clicked in at the top, I took in the view and looked down the engaging line. I couldn’t think of a better place to be at that moment in time.