Sunday, April 11, 2010
Skiing the North Face of Pioneer
Pioneer Peak in late spring conditions
For years I have wanted to climb Pioneer Peak's North Face, which rises 6300' directly from the road. Not only is the approach...wait...cut that. There is no approach. Repeat: there is NO approach. Cross the road, start climbing...approach done. Did I mention that there is NO approach?!?!?!
There seems to be a short window every April where avalanche conditions are stable and the snow is firm enough to climb and occasionally ski.
I had heard of many different ways of it being climbed. Some people told of pitching out ice lines, others brought a rope but only used it in a few spots, others brought an ice axe and nothing else.
Driving by it two weeks ago I knew I had to climb it this year. Plus, it would be great training for the upcoming trip to the Revelations. It just had to settle for another week or so and it would be primo!
Then I saw that Ryan Hokanson had skied it solo in an afternoon. The thought of skiing it had never really appeared as a feasible option in my head, but...I'm not afraid to jump off into the deep end right off the bat.
It turns out Pioneer is loaded with much more snow than usual and it was in great skiing conditions. So after a few repetitions of liquid courage one night, I decided I had to do it! A friend of a friend named Eric from Crested Butte, Colorado would be my partner in crime. Eric is a rippin' tele-skier who has packed a shit ton of skiing into a two-week vacation to Alaska. I figured Pioneer Peak would be the perfect send-off.
On Friday we drove out under absolutely stellar blue skies, moderate temps and high hopes. It was surprising to instantly see that we were not alone on the North Face. We quickly saw that not one but TWO parties were ahead of us. Lucky us...we had a great skin track and boot pack all the way up!
We passed the first team after an off-route double-black diamond alder schwack suffer-fest that only Alaska could deliver. Not only were there other teams on the route, but low and behold, I knew both of them. Brian and Joe made it to about 3500' before turning, but it was great to see them up there. We eyed the other team ahead of us, kicking a stairway to the summit.
Kevin rocking upper couloir
Eric and Cody contemplate the drop-in
When we got to the summit, low and behold, we knew the other dudes. It was Cody and Kevin, Small world! We enjoyed beautiful views all the way around then watched as Kevin started the ski train down the initial 55-degree couloir. We skied off the summit (mostly side slipping the first icy chute) then cut great turns all the way down the snowfield into the sun. Several rocky cliffs were navigated and we skied the final 3000' avalanche chute down to the car. Then we made the long walk across the street to our car and hit up some delicious burgers at the Longbranch Saloon.
Replicating Ryan Hokanson's signature top of the couloir shot!
Eric staring down a 6000' descent
A Longbranch burger never tasted so good!
Needless to say, it was probably one of the best ski runs I've ever done and I think Eric would agree!
Thanks to Ryan Hokanson for the stoke and Kevin and Cody for the stairway to the top!
More pics: HERE!