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Farnham Redux

Back to Farnham, one of the few that got away. Mt Farnham is the tallest peak in the nearly 400km long Purcell Mountains. When Ian and I tried last March, we found a stout adversary, with ceaseless winds and hardly enough snow to cover the many chokes of the couloir. We made it up though, but the dream of linking the summit with the couloir remained for another time. I knew the summit block did fill in, I’d seen pictures in June. I figured it just needed that late spring snow, with nice high freezing levels so the snow that fell on the summit block would paste on instead of just blowing away.

I had been down in the doom and gloom of another season wrapping up too early, with damn near no spring precipitation, the best of the best lines that are just rock or ice before the wet heavy snow comes remained in that state. But all of a sudden, so late in the season I initially thought it was too late, the precip came, and lasted with good freezing levels. It was time to go back for Farnham. I had no idea how badly melted out the west couloir would be from the punishing spring-long high pressure, but there was only one way to find out. The beautiful steep north glacier on the Farnham-Hammond Col would be a good consolation prize if Farnham was no good.

Out of Golden at midnight, as I wanted to hit a short weather window that closed before noon. Plus, there’s a fair bit of spring snow up there sticking in untenable positions, my many tries at the Narao Peak couloirs years back have given me healthy respect the ease with which such snow awakens. Don’t feel the need for the sun to knock things down on my head. The trail up was as good as I remembered, but I got off course at one point on the traverse over to the hanging valley. I remembered that I was in sub-alpine terrain the whole traverse last time, and all I saw below was trees, so I traversed and climbed… and ended up on greasy slabs on Hammond’s NW ridge. I was able to keep givin er and end up in the hanging valley, glad I decided to go for hiking boots instead of clambering around in ski boots because then I definitely would’ve turned around before things got interesting, and that’s no fun.

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Around 2200m there was decently continuous snow patches, and at 2300m I took the hint and started skinning. Way better than I expected, considering last March we were barely skiing at 1900m. As Farnham slowly slid into view in the pre-dawn light I got pretty stoked, the face was friggin plastered. I got a decent enough shot of the hanging face on the summit block, but the clincher, the north facing downward sloping choss linking the couloir to the summit block was still uncertain. Honestly I’d have to feel it, if it wasn’t supportive enough snow it wasn’t going to go, and you can’t tell that till you’ve got a boot into it.

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I skinned up toward the left linking couloir for the bottom, since the main couloir ends in a cliff band. Then a short boot up the linker and another short skin across the shelf to the main couloir. Then up. The snow was knee-deep when I first started, is this a fluke sluff pile or is the whole couloir like this, I wondered? The whole thing was like that, luckily I was able to find a runnel or something shallow and icy to frontpoint into pretty much the whole way up, otherwise I’m not sure I’d have made it, it’s amazing how quickly the body forgets its capability. The ice section near the top that we had to rap back down last time was completely covered over, I wouldn’t even need to ski fancy to get over that choke.

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The face to the summit block (horizon snow ridge on right) last March
Finally, I was back at the linking face to the summit block. The moment of truth. It looked way more doable, good continuous snow. And as I started up it, it was the good firm stuff I so desperately needed. But the face was pretty steep at the top, and I started to feel some facet holes… I’ve come to far to turn back now. I hammered through a little cornice to get onto the summit block. Then sastrugi and pow on the super exposed but not particularly steep upper face to the summit.

Killer views to the west, unfortunately the east face of Farnham was holding a cloud, but Kain’s first ascent route up that face sure does look steep from what I could see. I could see over to the Emperor massif, dressed in white and looking awesome. Jumbo has better and longer lines than I previously gave it credit for, definitely worth a visit.

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DSCN5353 Emperor/Archduke, this view gives justice to how awesome those faces are

After signing the register, it was time to ski down. The guides at RK heli didn’t get back to me last year, so I don’t think they’ve skied it. And there’s nothing in the register about skiing, or any entries written in winter or spring, so I’m feeling pretty safe calling this one a first ski descent. I eased in to skiing at the thiny-covered top section, then once a bit down from the summit there were a couple good pow turns on the summit block. Then over the edge onto the couloir link face, snow was just the right firmness to keep me off the rock for the most part, just awesome steep skiing into the couloir. I tagged a couple rocks on the way down as expected, that’s why I brought the Czars instead of my light skis. The rest of the couloir was so deep though, that the width of the Czars paid off, it wouldn’t have been quite as much fun on skinny skis. I was able to stick to one side of the couloir to stay on consistent, deep pow most of the way, doing so kept me off the icy stuff I climbed up. But it also meant many short radius turns all the way. A couple places the couloir opened up and I got to throw a few quick fast turns before running away from the sluff, good fun. Then before I knew it, it was over. I stopped to grab the skins from the stash, then traversed across to the lower couloir and skied down to the lake Ian and I bivied at last time. Then a bit more skiing to the hiking boots and back down to the truck.

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