Ski Mountaineering Mt. Superior

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Eric climbing with skis on his back.

April 6, 2013

Saturday Eric and headed back to Mt. Superior and it’s South Ridge.  While doing this climb last week I thought it would be awesome to do the climb and ski down.  This was partially true.

Eric and I got a good start, a little earlier than the one the previous weekend.  Skinning up to the base we made decent time since there was no post holing to be made with skis on.  We worked it out so that I would lead all the pitches.  We simul-climbed again most of the way but there were a few tricky sections we did a proper belay for.  To do this I decided to go with my Nepal Evo mountaineering boots but for skiing I’d need my real ski and therefore real ski boots.  Since I was leading Eric agreed to take one of my ski boots in his pack and I’d take the other.  At the end of the approach there was an awkward transition for me from ski boots to mountaineering.  Unfortunately my approach skis would not be adequate for skiing down therefore the need to bring both boots.

As we climbed higher along the ridge we found more snow than last weekend.  On Monday we got 4-5″ up in the mountains and while it had melted in the lower elevations it stuck around a bit more up high.  This made for some fresh snow on top of the spring corn.  This made climbing conditions quite a bit slower.  The new snow covered many features and ledges.  Searching for holds and protection became much slower.  The corn snow itself was a bit different consistency and wasn’t quite as secure for footing.  And lastly the cornices were that much older and potentially dangerous to weight.  This plus the extra weight of skis slowed our pace quite a bit.  Car-to-car time was close to 10 hours.

As we neared the top of the ridge the weather we expected to show up at some point during the day finally did.  It began snowing and a little blustery.  As we reached the last false summit below the south summit, we decided to weigh our options for the descent.  From the car the plan had been to ski off the back side to hit some fresh snow that wasn’t affected by the sun.  Now with the weather coming in, and therefore increasing avy danger and lowering visibility, we opted for a “just get down” plan.

We dropped in at the saddle between the false summit and the south summit.  While I was in charge of the ascent Eric was in control for the descent.  He picked a good line between anchor points on the slope.  In the time it had taken us to switch from climbing to skiing the clouds and snow had really come in, limiting visibility to 100 yards.  This might seem like a lot but when the slope your skiing doesn’t have any trees and few rocks it seems like standing in a ping-pong ball.

 

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Weather moved in as we approached the summit and socked us in for the ski down.

Despite the visibility Eric picked his way down and I followed.  Along the way we were able to make a few fun turns on some creamy snow.  Much of the descent was tricky in that it had old hard sunballs under the fresh stuff.  This “chunder” will quickly mess up your turns since it doesn’t give under your ski.

The day took quite a bit longer than I expected but was still a great time, a good challenge for the up and down, and more good training for Alaska.