Continued from Part 2: The Storm We had been a week in the mountains when beautiful sun dawned on us at last. In the middle of the night four of us had trotted across the glacier from camp towards Mount Satan. With frozen toes I, and a little later Nick, decided to turn back at the base of the climb. Artem and Florian continued on climbing, reaching the summit in the morning. With the sun just barely over the horizon, we watched as they skied back down the north-west shoulder.
Finally it was time to move deeper into the icefield. We readied our sleds, packed our bags and made our way south.
Tim, Nick, Michal and I decided the powdery South East flanks and beckoning summit of Mount Satan looked too good to leave behind. With a ski ascent, great summit views and even better powder turns we were already beginning to forget the hardships from a few days ago.
We caught up with Artem and Florian and continued along the icefield, covering good distances. Tim skinned ahead of us but as he broke trail, he veered sharply left without a word. Confused, the rest of us looked ahead and noticed the moving specks in the distance. We hurried to catch up to Tim and meet these other wanderers. Other than the sight of trees in distant valleys, lichen on occasional rock outcrops and planes overhead, this was our first sign of any other life forms since we'd started. We had come upon Meghan Anderson, Bram Van Straaten, Tyler Kirkland and Chris Girard who's two cars we'd left at the trail-head. They were doing the traverse self-propelled in the other direction, starting at the Talchako Glacier. We chatted for a while, each sharing their stories but eventually we had to part. They would continue on towards Satan while we moved to climb Erehwon.
In the late afternoon light we skinned to the summit of Erehwon and looked upon the outstanding views. Cerberus' north face imposing on one side, Dagon on the other and the long icefield stretching left and right. We skied more great turns and after building our snow wall and setting up the tents, it was time to call it a day.
The next morning we woke to grey skies. The sun had not lasted as long as we had hoped. Although there was some whiteout at times, throughout the majority of the day, the clouds hovered just over our heads, giving us enough visibility to move easily. We covered a lot of distance, the terrain perfect for efficient travel with our sleds.
We spied the Talchako Glacier curving down and away, with the flanks of Mount Page and Concubine Peak hovering above. Although most parties would start or finish their traverse of the Monarch Icefield with the Talchako Glacier, our trip still had a long way to go. In the evening grey we set up camp below Mount Princess, unsure of what tomorrow would yield.
Weather. It yielded more damn weather. Demoralized we sat in our tents, experts now at waiting out the weather. In the evening while melting water for the next day the clouds started to sink from the sky. Creeping back into the valleys. Princess mountain appeared as the white veil lifted from her summit and calving glacier.
At some point I mentioned skinning up to check out the icefall and see what we could see. That planted a seed which quickly grew and before I knew it, I was skinning behind Nick, looking up at the summit as it grew taller and taller. The icefall had a weakness which we aimed for. Roped up, I probed the snow-bridges as Nick watched behind me leaving no slack in the line. Were I to break through, he and Florian would arrest my fall, saving me from a painful descent into the glacier. Fortunately the snow bridges were as healthy and strong as they looked and felt.
We continued to a plateau below the headwall and strapped skis to our packs. A steep couloir extended up towards the summit between bands of rock and to the right a spine'd head-wall lead up to the ridge above. We all aimed for the aesthetic couloir with ice axes in our hands but as they climbed over the small bergshrund, Tim, Nick, Artem and Michal decided the couloir was too icy and they traversed to the head-wall where the snow was nicer. I followed behind Florian as each of us solo'd up, continuing up the couloir. Looking down at my feet, I watched the placement of my crampon points as they sank in past the thin layer of snow and into the hard styrofoam ice beneath. Looking down between my legs was a cool perspective on the glacier below but it does give you jitters. As the sun descended below the horizon the views were amazing. Clouds colored purple and orange lapped at the glaciers from the valleys they sat in, like waves on the shore. In the distance, great peaks like Jacobsen, Talchako, Geryon and Cerberus stood out.
Refocusing my attention to my hands, I placed my ice axe higher, sinking the pick in with a solid thwack. Florian and I continued this way as darkness slowly crept in. Kick, kick, swing. Crunch, crunch, thwack. As I looked up at Florian, stars shone out above him against the skyline of the ridge with his headlamp flickered around. It was a mesmerizing effect. As I neared the ridge-top behind Florian my left crampon popped off during a kick. It was an awkward place to lose a crampon but fortunately it still dangled from my leg. The icy snow here was much more plastic than below and now I had only my ice ax pick and the two front points of my remaining crampon holding me to the steep face.
It was not a situation I'd like to repeat...
The ridge top was windy and swirling sugar snow stung the eyes. We were just a few meters below the summit but a rimed rock band blocked us. Florian gave it a try but it was exposed and precarious. With the late hour and winds, the experience was enough, the summit unnecessary. The condition of the icy snow had made us skeptical of skiing it, especially this steep. Despite that, we both disliked the idea of down-climbing even more. We hacked and packed out small platforms below the the cornice'd ridge-top and clicked into our skis. With butterflies in my stomach I left my platform, testing the bite of my edges in the snow. With some grip and a little more confidence now I made the first turns down the 50+ degree couloir. Skiing in the pitch black with headlamps lighting the way both decreases the feeling of vertigo but increases the feeling of consequence. After a few turns I stopped to the side and watched as Florian came came down, raining small pieces of hard snow below him. We continued leapfrogging, enjoying ourselves more with every turn, until we reached the flat of the glacier below the headwall. From there we could see the headlamps of the others as they made their way down, negotiating the steep snow and bergshrund.
From the ridge the others had made it to a false summit with a vertical notch in the ridge, blocking them from the objective. Together we skied back down through the icefall and back to camp.
Rich memories filled our dreams and we slept deeply in preperation for the next day. Tomorrow would be start of "The Rabbit Range".