Mt. Smart Traverse

I have recently become entranced by the high alpine terrain that connects Flat Creek to Mt. Smart in Rogers Pass. The high ridgelines afford great skiing and traversing terrain, and also awesome views that are rarely seen from most of the other skiing I’ve done in the pass.I came up with a route to tag some of the cooler peaks on the east side of the Flat Creek headwaters, and link up to the main descent off Mt. Smart’s north face in a 2-day traverse.

The route

After a week of warm temperatures, it finally cooled off and it was time to convert plans into action. There was a small dump of snow Tuesday night and then Wednesday and Thursday were meant to be cool with no real precipitation. Luke, my usual ski partner and I left Golden in time to hopefully get to Rogers Pass for the permit areas opening. I filled out some paperwork to leave my car overnight at Bostock parking area and before long we were on skis heading up Flat Creek.

Trailbreaking up Flat Creek was slow, mushy going. It hadn’t frozen much overnight at this low elevation. We were given brief views of the peaks above us on either side, including the west face of Mt. Smart’s impressive rocky summit block. Eventually, we got to the ascent ravine and started heading toward the peaks that we had been given only teasing views of.

The long, wet slog up Flat Creek
Our ascent out of Flat Creek into the alpine
Mt. Smart’s gnarly summit block, center

Once we reached alpine, I decided on a different path through the gloom to Mt. Slick than Luke. We regrouped at the top and tried to figure out what we would descend. The descent directly off the summit looked a bit unsure, so we opted to ski down the ridge to the north and go with a safer option.

Mt Slick
The ridge to the east of Mt. Slick
Looking down from the summit of Slick to the east
The view north from Slick
Mt Slick and the col we descended off from. Cornice debris on the glacier from a failure off the ridge on left during the heat

Next, there was a large weakness in the rock wall of Mt. Oliver I had noticed in Google Earth that I thought might hold a skiable couloir. My faith paid off, and it was looking mighty fine. There were large cornices guarding it, but with the overcast day and setting sun I thought it was acceptable to give it a go. After skinning up the fan, it was time to bootpack. There were a lot of bergshrunds, but the pack was well over the depth of my probe in the fan, so they should have good snow bridges. The first two had good indication of their location from sags and open crevasses on the sides. I kept probing and bootpacking up, and found a surprise one. It had a substantially thinner bridge, but it was more the fact there was no indication of the location that really scared me. I would have to continue probing the whole way up if I really wanted to bag the coolie, as I wouldn’t be able to trust that I was off ice. So I put my skis on and went down to Luke who was waiting at the bottom.

Mt. Oliver couloir

Then we settled in for the night on the flats under Stegosaurus ridge. The views were pretty outstanding, big alpine features with great skiing everywhere. Mt. Dawson and the famed Comstock couloir were across the valley to the east, Stegosaurus ridge dominating the skyline to the NW, Mt. Bonney’s broken south glacier to the NE, and a day’s worth of skiing to the west.

The bivy setup
Stegosaurus Ridge south face
Mt. Dawson and Selwyn hiding in the clouds, Comstock couloir not as shy
Mt. Purity and the gorgeous north ramp in the alpenglow
Bonney neve

The next day I had intended to wake not-so-bright and early and climb a chute up Stegosaurus Ridge to the summit and descend at first light, but I didn’t sleep as well as I thought, and was feeling way more drained than I should from the relatively short 1600m day previous. So we got up at first light and packed camp to head toward Smart. We rounded the east end of Stegosaurus Ridge and under its
protective north face. I had intended to ascend toward the col between us and a descent to Flat Creek, and from there a neat high traverse toward Mt. Smart, but we decided to cut out the extra work and do only the last third of the high traverse, as large cornices covered so much of the rims of the ridges. Once on the ridges, the sunlight popped out to highlight faraway peaks and icefields.

Stegosaurus Ridge N
Ridge NW of Mt. Smart, and some gorgeous south facing couloirs
Luke gaining the ridge with Hope Peak glacier behind

Then it was time to descend the ridge on an east aspect. It took some doing, but we found a gap with a small/no cornice and reasonable ski terrain below. After the short, powdery pitch, it was climb time again, toward the main objective of Mt. Smart. We ascended up the south facing moraines in great snow, the sun had not yet affected the snow because of the elevation and cloud cover. We got to the ascent couloir and bootpacked up it, again in great snow… for descending. It took forever, we had to treadmill a 3-foot deep rut before we got enough support to not slide to the last foothold. The built-in clinometer on Luke’s beacon read 59* at the choke. I was ecstatic to find the couloir had almost no cornice at the top. I had taken a picture from the other side of Rogers Pass of the north face a week back, and knew there was no cornice on that side, so I couldn’t believe my luck when the opposite side was the same.

Luke skiing the east ridge
Rock pinnacles in the mist near Mt. Smart
The ascent to Smart north face
Luke makes the few final steps up the south couloir
Mt. Smart north face. Ohhhhh yeahhh

We waited at the top of the face for what seemed forever, for the visibility to improve just a bit and the bergshrunds to appear. While waiting for Luke I got a good look at the face, in great vis before it dropped off and started to lightly snow. There was a glacial bulge directly ahead, with unknown steepness and unknown amount of snow on slippery ice. Off to the left there was a defined chute that I could actually see down, so I thought that would be our descent. Eventually, my patience, the fading light and the visibility converged on my “go” point and I eased onto the face. After a few turns, the slope eased a bit and with the slightly less obtuse viewing angle between my eyes and the snow, things became more defined. Skipping over the scrunds to the flatter part of the glacier, I stopped to watch Luke come down. Somewhere between type 1 and 2 fun. I was relieved to be standing on mostly flat terrain, where a fall to either side would be just a fall onto my side.

Unfortunately, the picture I took of the face a week back did not include the toe of the glacier lower down, it was obscured by the walls of the valley. We decided on the skiers left side of a rock knob that splits the glacier based on Google Earth, and quickly got suckered on to a big convex roll with unknown cliffs/seracs/crevasses below. After a puckering few minutes, we found our way through the exposed ice and off the glacier.

Smart N face. Can you see the dot (person)?
Luke further down
Threading the toe
Sluff over serac
The face. Summit of Mt Smart barely visible in the clouds

Then there was just a sloppy isothermal descent out of Smart Creek. It was a great traverse, saw tons of new mountains that I have never seen before as I don’t ski the west end of the pass very much. The gears are already turning…

Hope you enjoyed the read, until next time