I went to ski Haddo peak’s gnarly east/north face today. The lower half is north facing, then at a cliff bypass it turns to an east aspect. Then after that there is another bypass onto a small hanging face leading to the summit. I was pretty confident about everything but the last bypass, it is pretty well impossible to see from anywhere but on the face itself. If it didn’t work out, it was just a very short section I’d be missing out on, so it should be a good ski regardless. Since the upper, sketchy part was east facing, it meant another early day to not have the sun be the reason it couldn’t be done.
|View from Saddle Pass at 5am. 1s exposure and no tripod so it’s not great detail|
|The east part of the face, bypass on right|
I ended up not going for it, it was sketchier than I thought. Detailed picture follows. On the top of the north face I made the decision to just head up the ramp, basically as high as I could go with reasonable runouts and snow coverage. The next section is going to be something most other ski blogs don’t do, candidly looking at and discussing the dangers of ski mountaineering, and my thought processes when faced with this particular problem. Might get a bit tedious, and I am by no means an expert, skip if it doesn’t interest you.
So, looking at this bypass it was obviously going to take some thinking to figure out a safe way. The only safe way I came up with was climbing and skiing the “ski route”, and placing protection in the rock as you went. The first rock step was no real issue, just take skis off and go up. It became bad once you went left out onto the hanging face. First of all, it is hanging, and you are max 50ft above where the support ends. So a slab release would likely involve the entire face, ending at a minimum single 20ft cliff, at worst a 8ft to 35ft onto exposed 50* rock. All this danger gets amplified by the thin spot you need to go thru, which is a bit further from the end of the slope support, but a great place to get a deep slab moving. There is also some cornice hazard, but it is hardly overhanging and small, plus no cornice falls the previous day from the much larger one on the left, makes is pretty much a moot point other than you can’t gain the summit ridge where it is intact. The remainder of the ski route past the thin spot is pretty tame. The direct route is relatively safe till the second rock band, where a ragdoll could send you over the terminal exposure. The snow field above it is also unsupported, and a slab release here could likewise send you over the terminal exposure. The direct route is the safer of the two in my opinion. For a solo person, even the “bad exposure” is more dangerous than it would be otherwise, and therefore less different than the terminal. For a group with a rope, protection on the 2nd rock band would neutralize the terminal exposure completely with good placement. However, the direct route is not really a ski line, and the “ski route” is close to not being a ski line.
Some people would argue that this bypass is part of the east face ski line. Others would argue that it has large avalanche and objective dangers, with hardly any skiing, and therefore is not really part of the ski line. I’m not too worried about whether or not I can say I skied the east face or not, as I am 7 parts skier, 3 parts mountaineer, and good skiing matters more to me than completing summits and faces. We have had an incredibly good April and May for snowfall, the headwall over the north face has fluted snow on it, so I don’t think this bypass ever looks much whiter than this. Anyways, that’s my jumbled thoughts on this thing, I don’t see myself coming back up with a rope for it, as it’s just not enough skiing to be worth the effort when you place as much protection as it would need. I’d be stoked if someone else felt they had the skill to pull it off though.
OK, so enough heavy stuff, this is supposed to be about skiing, right? There was a sweet descent waiting below me. The east face was half crust, half pow when the terrain pointed a touch more north. I went down a couloir that takes the short way thru the bend between the E and N parts of the face. The coolie was much the same as the east face, crappy on one side, great deep pow on the other. The sluff trench was pretty icy lower down it so it was a bit not great when the walls choked in. After that there was another optional chute beside the N face to do, and she shredded fine! Reminded me of the kind of skiing you get in the interior mid-winter. Fast, flowy, ahead of the sluff. Then down the rest of the north face. I exited via Surprise Pass, which skied like total crap. No exaggeration. Then a quick skate on ~1″ of corn on the lake and back to the car.