I’ve been eyeing up this SE face of Terminal South Peak for a couple years now. At first, it was just something that looked sweet and would be cool to ski maybe. Last year I got out and got a picture of it and finally understood how technical it could be. Then this year I’m chasing the technical side of skiing more than ever, so once it seemed it would be filled in, I sent it.
-title picture is the face in December 2014
I woke up Monday morning hungover like a horse, so Luke and I decided to sleep in and finally ski Forever Young, as neither of us had skied it yet. On the way up, I decided I had to go inspect Terminal Peak though, so Luke headed up the Illecillewaet while I headed up past Perley Rock to the rim of the glacier. It looked gnarly, with a long traverse across a big cliff required on the way up and two technical chokes, but it looked to be in incredible condition, I intended to ski it the following day. I scooted across the glacier toward Luke and we headed down Forever Young. However, on the descent I broke the third heel post on my Dynafits. Something was clearly wrong for this to continue happening, but it meant I wouldn’t get my rock bashing skis back together in time for the following day, so I did Swiss North on my light skis instead.
Bindings back together and underlying cause of binding failure hopefully identified and remedied, I took a day off work to go for Terminal on Thursday. On skins at 4:30am, then up a heinous refrozen skintrack up Perley Rock. I reached the rim of the Illecillewaet under Terminal at 8:15. I was in no rush, there was a long, involved exit ahead of me and I didn’t want to tire myself out. The face was a long way from the conditions I would’ve had on Tuesday, but considering the sketchy traverses on big exposure, it was good to have so much time in the sun beforehand, testing out all the layers for me.
I climbed up the ridge from the col and breached a couple rock bands close to the ridge, and only then started to make the big traverse to the upper couloir. Doing so kept me off the steepest unsupported terrain on the face. On the upper couloir I danced back and forth across the runnel to try to pick out the best snow for descent. Neither side was great, but the climbers left would soften in the sun first. Then I had to make a really exposed traverse above a cliff to gain the upper snowfield. Snow allowed reasonable penetration at least, so it wouldn’t feel that sketchy on skis. Then up smooth lower angle breakable crust to the summit. Pretty impressive watching the south face of Sir Donald rise over the ridge as I made the final steps, then realizing just how ridiculously steep the rock face on the north side of Terminal is. There was cloud to the east over the Rockies, so the sun cycle was an hour or so behind the schedule I engineered, so when I discovered the summit register under a cairn I took some time to read it and fill it out. It’s the first one I’ve actually found at the pass, the snow usually covers it too deep to find.
Then ski time. It’s been a while since I made technical turns on crappy snow over big exposure, so it took a bit to get into the groove. The short chute leading off the upper snowfield was especially terrifying, the first proper exposure in a while, on variable snow, and a chute which becomes too dished to grab not far below where I intended to turn, and terminating in a good size cliff. Then I traversed to the upper couloir which was really steep for the snow quality, but I slowly got into the groove. Then I was sufficiently loosened up to have some fun turns on the comparatively benign middle face. There were a few ways to get into the lower link-up, the only clean line of snow anywhere on the face or the col, the rest was all cliffs. I decided to keep skiers right over a knob of cliff overlooking the link. Then down a little chute, and I crossed to the left side of the runnel, as there was no good snow on the right. A couple exposed turns later, it was time to cross back over the runnel to get to the link, which had by far the worst snow, as the whole face and all its sluff funnels right down it, probably the reason it’s able to fill in with snow at all. Then I was on the cruisy lower part heading down toward the Beaver River.
Now how to get out. The ideal plan, given the time would be to head up the Avalanche Glacier and then summit Avalanche Mountain and down the Vent Shaft and the Avalanche Crest slidepaths back to the highway. There was far too much solar input for that though. The second option was over a couple short ridges and up the Sir Donald-Uto Col and out. Failing all that, I’d have to slog out the Beaver River to the highway, which would definitely not be pleasant.
So, after the descent down Terminal I skied down to the terminal moraine, then started traversing hard left. The south facing alpine slopes weren’t that bad, only a few inches of wet snow, they actually got some overnight recovery. In treed sunny slopes though, there was a foot or two of slop. So I traversed as far as I could until I got to more heavily treed slopes which limited the melt down. Then I skinned up a short 50m to the ridgeline and then change over again. I traversed hard enough to avoid the lateral moraine completely, then did skin-less touring and more traversing to cross the bowl and get over the other lateral moraine to the ridge coming down from Mt. Sir Donald. The skin up the ridge was kind of worst of both worlds, treed enough to have poor overnight recovery yet still getting little shade from the trees. I skinned up the shadiest part then further once I’d gained the ridge on the cool north side. Then traversing on skis again under the spicy part, I quickly scooted under the east face of Sir Donald, just below the east glacier.
Judging by Google Earth imagery, I decided the best place to get onto the glacier coming down from the Sir Donald-Uto Col was on the climbers left side. The middle was quite broken ice, and the climbers right was slightly more crevassed, but more importantly subject to south facing slide paths. So I clambered up the left side, under impressive seracs from Sir Donald’s east face. After that it was pretty smooth sailing up to the col, watching small avalanches come off the ledges on Uto. Nearing the col though, I was hearing some rumbling but couldn’t spot the avalanche. I learned later the artillery was working on the McDonald-Tupper corridor, the concussion reverberating between the big rock walls on either side of me. Then a steep skin brought me almost to the col, when it got a bit too steep. A short bootpack got me over, and then I skied the schmoo all the way down Vaux moraine and into the Asulkan Valley and back to the car, arriving at 4:30pm, 12h after setting out. Nearly 3000m of gain.