I’ve been wanting to head up to O’Hara for a while, but was just waiting for the right opportunity with enough days of good weather to really make the approach worth it. There’s an astounding amount of sick peaks, with great looking lines, and since most have good west and northerly aspects, they are great options for this late in the season, when the sun comes on strong and quick.
I went up a week prior to the real mission at the start of a 2-week vacation from work with Rory and Ian, as weather was supposed to be at least OK. Ian seems to bring the good weather wherever he goes, so I was reasonably certain we’d be able to do something. Unfortunately (well for what we were trying to accomplish anyways), it snowed 40-50cm in the valley bottom, with enough wind to make most big lines not viable.
On the second day, I ended up busting a heelpiece as well after I smoked a compression of a summer trail while givin’er. Might as well test out the new setup before getting somewhere serious I guess. It was my fault though, I mounted up the bindings I previously had on my Czars onto inserts on my Cho Oyu, which were previously mounted with a rando race binding I’ve learned not to trust, again on inserts. The binding inserts I put in for the rando bindings were a touch proud of the topsheet though, and put pressure in a poor place on the heelpost, and making said heelpost much weaker than it should be. So I exited early and scrounged up a replacement part while the boys skied a bit more fresh powder. After that we went up to Chatter with the sleds and skied some fun lines while things settled out. Then I got back to town and started plotting the big high pressure window that was coming on.
Got up nice and early and drove up to O’Hara. Unfortunately for the entertainment purposes of this blog, there is very little that can go wrong on an approach where you skin from the highway. So things went smooth and boring on the plod up to the lake. I had all my objectives semi-planned out, but still wasn’t sure in what order I would ski them, the only solid plan was to stay 3-4 days and do what the weather and my energy level and stoke dictated. When passing Mt Huber (3348m), I couldn’t help but feel like it was time, so I dropped the overnight part of my load in a garbage bag and started through the bush.
Blame it on Google Earth! I couldn’t help but notice a series mostly connecting snow ledges on the west side of Mt Huber. When I was up there last week, I got a good picture of it from the road, and it seemed mostly in order, with a possibly non-connecting bit on the final step to the height of the serac fall. This was supposed to be the most mixed bit of weather I was to experience the whole trip, and Huber has by far the biggest objective danger of the bunch, with a big serac hanging overhead for the bottom half of the line. The weather was currently fine, and still many hours before the serac got its daily sun exposure, but clouds were forecasted to be not far off so I thought that should be probably the end of solar risk for the day. I could always turn around if it started getting sun, and there was no doubt in my mind this was the best shot at it, as I didn’t want to find my way up in the dark as I’d need to on a sunny day.
The face has a zig-zagging route up a corridor of scree to the serac, then straight up the north ridge to the summit. First though, there was 200-odd meters of regrowing brush in a climax avy path. As with most brush in the rockies, it is best to unremember it sooner than later. Then up an alpine basin, Wiwaxy peaks on the right, then Huber and Victoria on a much larger massif dead ahead. Then into the main climb below the serac.
First, I had to zig right all the way under a barren cliff face to get onto the first step through some short gentle chutes. Then zag back left to the other extreme side of the face to a little icy bootpack to make it to the next level on the face. There was still enough mellow-ish terrain above that I went back to skinning up. Plus, you can traverse faster on skins, and I definitely wanted to get across the most serac-exposed part quickly. There were some nice blue pearls (partly buried in fresh) here and there for reminders… Zigging back across, I got to a steep powdery climb taking me out of the crosshairs. Then through a wind scoop on the side of the smaller pocket glacier to the SW of the main glacier to reach the part I was uncertain aboutthe serac fall. From there, it was simple booting to the summit.
The weather slowly came in over the climb, and it started snowing sideways partway up the final boot. I only brought sunglasses for the entire trip, since it was supposed to be clear and sunny for most of it, and therefore I wouldn’t need goggles. Light is right! Unfortunately, I needed to wear something to keep the spindrift out of my eyes, and the snow instantly melted on either side of the glasses, so not only were they too dark for conditions, but also hopelessly fogged. So the descent was not nearly as pretty or fun as it could’ve been. The snow was pretty wind effected, and the slope wasn’t consistent so I could never get into a groove for my blind turns. After getting past the main serac, the snow got nice for for a few good turns, and the wind died off. The rest was low enough to be still-frozen suncrust, and about as good as it sounds. But at least I could see. After dodging the trees to get back down the climax path, of course, the wind and snow died and the sun poked out. If I shivered on the summit for 30 minutes it would’ve been a great run. Can’t win ’em all.
After getting my ski on for the day, I headed up to Lake Mcarthur to be as close as possible for an attempt on Mt Biddle’s SW face (3320m) tomorrow. Getting there involves first climbing over a 350m ascent to Biddle Pass above the lake, down the other side, then up the face. So I wanted to set myself up to get the face done and back over the pass early in the day tomorrow. I dug a little flat spot to bivy beside a row of trees to get out of the wind that seems constant at Mcarthur Pass and Lake and went to sleep.
At around midnight I woke up to snow. Friggin snow! The forecast was supposed to be full bluebird for the coming days after my approach, this was not expected. When the alarm went off at 3, it was still snowing, there was a few cm on my bivy sack, and I assumed probably more higher up. Plus, I could swear I heard the wind gust hard, which is not a good sign with the variety of aspects Biddle called to climb and ski on. The wind could’ve just been a left-over dream though, I’ve got no idea. I was kind of pissed that the poor short-term weather forecast overlooked this snow, worried the forecast might be totally off and the weather might get worse, and so decided to can the day and sleep in. I woke at 7 to bright sunshine, revealing just a dusting of snow which put me in an even worse mood; I probably could’ve got great conditions if I had just went for it. But it was too late in the day now. So I kept sleeping till the sun warmed my campsite and packed up to go down to O’Hara campground, at least I could poach a cook shelter there and be dry and happy if the weather continued being unpredictable. And now that the track was set and the way made clear for future night approaches, it would be only an hour or so to get from O’Hara to Mcarthur anyways.
I woke to a starry night. Looks like the weather is back on track, alright! I got moving nice and early, as it would be 1900m and 12km before I was back on the right side of the pass and out of avalanche terrain. I followed my tracks back up past the ACC hut, over Mcarthur Pass and up to Lake Mcarthur.
I skinned across the lake a ways, heading straight for the base of the pass when a moraine got in the way. After cresting it, the moraine was taller than I thought it would be and the base of the pass looked so close that it didn’t seem worth it to descend the other side of the moraine back to the lake level, so I started doing a skinning traverse to the pass. I ended up so high up the scree slopes that by the time I got near the fall line of the pass, I had to negotiate some steep rocky ribs between chutes, really wish I had some moonlight so I didn’t make that mistake. I bullied my way over to the correct chute and skinned up to the top. Then I transitioned to skiing on the other side. Mt Biddle is part of the same ridge as Biddle Pass, but the terrain is too steep and rocky on the south side of the pass to traverse right away. After a bit of fall line skiing I was able to traverse very efficiently on the hard crust and keep as much elevation as possible on the transit to Biddle.
From there, there was a lot of gentle crusted slopes to the real climbing on the SW face. There are two ways to the middle face, the direct route following a barely-covered traverse through the center of the face, or a little chute on the far left that more cleanly cuts through the lower cliff band. The latter needs a lot of traversing above the cliff band though, so I opted for the former. After a bit of wailing crampons, I got on the middle face, and booted up the increasingly good snow toward the upper face, comprised of couloirs. The only difficulty on the upper face was again, the low snow depth on the rock. The face looked perfect from the Goodsirs, but my, what a difference a couple weeks can make.
Anyways, I got up, probed around for the cornice, snapped some rad shots, and skied down. A mixture of gentle turns on thin cover near the summit, a few good turns in the upper couloir on pow, crappy turns on breakable stuff in the transition zone, then a lot of hard crust. It must be said though, the hard crust did make the little traverse through the cliff band really easy, it is good for something. Then back over the pass to get out. The crust was very intact for a pretty worry-free climb to the exit, but the power of the sun was brutal on me, completely exposed to it on the climb. Skiing the north side of Biddle pass was wicked fun, great consistent pow all the way to Lake Mcarthur.
After getting to Lake O’Hara it was still early in the day, so I thought I should make the trek up to Lake Oesa to figure out the access, as it is on the way to the rest of the lines I wanted to ski. On the way up Biddle Pass just hours ago, I was deceived (not quite lost) into picking a poor route; and that was in wide open alpine and something I’d seen in the daylight prior to the night ascent, so I was justifiably apprehensive about finding the route to Oesa in the dark. And boy, am I glad I did go for a scout; the summer trail disappears before long and even the route I found in the daytime, I didn’t feel was great. After getting to Oesa, there was still time in the day and gas in the tank. Ringrose couloir was looking awesome, and still in the shade. It has a perfect aspect, west facing but with a big gigantic wall to the south, so the sun has no chance to get in until it is literally fully to the west at the end of the day. The left wall would be getting a bit of sun as I went up, but the whole right wall would be in shade the rest of the day and had no cornices, so I felt pretty good about going up.
So I started heading up. I remembered that it was glaciated, it was one of the runs I had considered for fall skiing after those first couple snowfalls that bring the first winter stoke to the hills. So I’d done my research, I knew there was a bergshrund GE showed at the bottom of the coolie, and I remembered it didn’t extend across the full thing; one side was solid ice, but I couldn’t remember which. I reasoned that the fatter ice, and therefore bigger, wider part of the shrund would probably be at the more shaded part of the couloir, so I skinned up the left side for a while. After I felt confident I was in the clear, I skinned up the right to stay out of the sluff channel, as small snowballs were peeling off some salt-and-pepper terrain on the left wall. As I got close to the top the sluff channel was clean; there was nothing that had dropped down the guts of the couloir from either side since the last snowfall. Just as I got into the middle of the couloir, the most sizeable sluff of the day came through and I had to moonwalk back onto the shady side of the couloir to get out of the way. I considered pulling the plug, but I was very close to where it flattened out a bit near the top. Plus I didn’t want to be a stationary target while I transitioned, so I kept on skinning to the top.
One of my plans for the year was to do a 3000m day. I was certainly physically capable of it later on last year, but things just didn’t line up to do it. . This year, I was definitely capable of it, but there was never really a day where I was just lapping pow mid-winter, when you get pretty long lines to valley bottom in good condition over and over. Between the warm temperatures making valley bottom laps unpleasant most of the time, and work making days off super valuable, it just didn’t happen. Pretty stoked on the Biddle-Ringrose double though, it was about 3000 or 3050m of pretty technical terrain, much more strenuous and techy climbing than following a skintrack below treeline in the Pass for the same amount of vertical, and also 25km of distance. Pretty stoked it ended up happening. Almost makes me think 4000m in simpler terrain might be a worthy objective for next year.
After getting some neat pics of the top of Paradise Valley, time to ski down. The skiing was just epic, amazing snow. Not deep pow that forces you to make small turns, but that semi-consolidated fast pow, in a great big wide couloir. I was feeling good about the skis, and good about the boots, and they let me flash some big ol’ turns down the whole way. Then a couple more pictures of Lefroy from Lake Oesa and back down to the campground to sleep for the night.
I was thinking that I could maybe do a double again for this day, of Lefroy and Glacier. After I crushed out the previous day though, it was obvious I couldn’t. It would only be 2200m for the double, and I probably could but it really would’ve left me spent, and also I was unsure that I could do it in the speed necessary to get off before things started to peel away, as it was supposed to be the warmest day of the week. So I decided a double wasn’t in the cards, I had to choose between the two. Lefroy is definitely the classic, over that magic 11,000 foot mark and a landmark of the area. Glacier has maybe a cooler more direct line, but it wasn’t certain it went. It is possibly a first, but so are Huber and Biddle so I didn’t feel the need to have another bit of uncertainty hanging over me; I really hate not knowing what to categorize the lines I’ve skied as. So, I went for Lefroy.
I found easy going up Abbott Pass, skinned the crust up to the upper chutes then started zigzagging up with crampons on. I was in no rush, the lower south chutes off Abbott were going to take a long time to heat up to a level of good skiing let alone unstable snow; and the upper face of Lefroy is west facing, and won’t get sun for a long time, plus will probably get a breeze all day long. So I stopped into the hut to check it out, I’ve never been up before. Seems I’m the first one of the season, so I shoveled out a bit of snow that found its way in before heading up Lefroy. It’s not much wonder nobody has been up, as Lefroy looks pretty bare, none of the chutes on the face go clean. The choss cliffs near the bottom are nowhere near covered. I however, spied a little couloir that connects the climbers right chute to the one just left of it, and should go to one of the summits. I’ve got no idea if it’s the true summit, there was another one down the way that looked within inches one way or the other of mine.
So, time to climb the thing. Snow was really good in my gully, just needed plates and poles to go up. When I got to the little connection couloir I felt it was time to pull out the axes. The connector was super scrappy, two chokes of ~150cm, and unfortunately a slightly south aspect just on the exit making for crusty snow. In good snow, it’s so short you could probably straightline the full thing if you were on your game. Constantly pinging rocks with the axes and crampons, I tried to make note of where it was deep enough to not ruin the skis on the down. After the couloir I emerged at the top of another main gully, all that was left was just a short jaunt around a wind lip and then boot some rimey snow to the summit. More sick views, and a couple neat avalanches coming off the unsupported east aspects of Lefroy and Victoria already.
Then go down. The top was layers of rime and pow which had a very interesting texture and feel on the skis. I got kind of snarled up on the upper of the two chokes, I pointed my skis right so I could make a hop turn through the choke, and have the extra room to my left below the choke for more space to stop the turn, but after getting close enough to be committed to it, I decided the choke was just a bit too long to do in one hop turn. The left part of the choke was smooth rock, just barely proud of the snow though, so I thought I could instead have my skis pointing left and just slide the tips across the rock to get it done. Problem was turning around so close to the choke. I took a few sidesteps back up and pulled my axe (I keep in on my pack hip loop for such occasions) and plunged it deep and solid to use to stabilize a kick turn to get around. The second choke was short enough I could just straightline it, crust or no. Then once in the main chute proper, the snow was wicked for more big awesome turns. I considered waiting for corn for heading down from Abbot Pass but couldn’t be bothered, and just skied the pretty smooth crust to the lake. Then back down to the campground, load up the pack and down the slushy fire road to the truck.