Skiing El Capitan, Bitterroot Range

May 4, 2009 at 22:02 | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

4-26  We made a break for El Capitan despite the variable weather forecast. None of us thought that we would get the weather windows that we did, but it remained cloudier with a lower ceiling down canyon most of the day while the upper basin had some consistent and fairly long lived blue sky moments.

Approaching the final flats to the basew of the east face El Capitan

Approaching the final flats to the base of the east face El Capitan

After the long approach to the base of the east face of a bit more than five hours, we began climbing the route we hoped to ski. The initial half follows a couple obvious gullies. From there a steep traverse marks the first crux as the climber must surmount  a rock step on 50+ degree terrain above cliffs. With firm snow the move proved to be technically fine, and the exposure intense.

Don Lange at the beginning of the climb

Don Lange at the beginning of the climb

John Lehrman ascending the traverse to the upper face, photo by Don Lange

John Lehrman ascending the traverse to the upper face, photo by Don Lange

Continuing a traverse and then ascending through the next crux an icy chute allows entrance to the upper face pitched from 50-55 degrees. At this point our weather had deteriorated and we cramponed our way to the summit in a full whiteout. Don and Brian climbed the rocks to the summit while I watched and then we debated skiing the line. None of us were thrilled to ski the face in a whiteout so we hunkered down to wait. We did not have to for long as a perfect window opened up for us and the beautiful face descended below us in splendid sunshine. Brian dropped in first left of the summit cornice and made slow deliberate turns onto this wildly exposed and technical face.

Brian makes his first turns on the upper face of El Capitan

Brian makes his first turns on the upper face of El Capitan

We watched for a few minutes while he negotiated hard snow around rocks before heading to the climbing line right of the cornice. I skied next and carefully linked turns between bouts of sideslipping.

John Lehrman dropping onto the upper face, photo by Don Lange

John Lehrman dropping onto the upper face, photo by Don Lange

090426-el-capitain-descent5

It was in hard conditions of refrozen corn with about an inch of powder on top. I passed Brian on the upper face and continued down skiing through both cruxes, trying to keep my nerves calm by focusing on the skiing and not stopping anywhere for too long. I managed to snap a couple of photos of Don and Brian skiing the upper face before traversing left passed the final crux where I waited for them.

Don and Brian skiing the upper face of El Capitan

Don and Brian skiing the upper face of El Capitan

Below was variable more softened but with plenty of wet slide debris to reconnoiter.

Skiing the crux of the traverse

Skiing the crux of the traverse

Skiing the final turns on low angle corn was heaven as we enjoyed the smooth slopes and sunshine alive at the base of this grand Bitterroot test piece.

Brian skis the lower face

Brian skis the lower face

After having been shut down last year in our attempt it was great to have made the trek this year and to ski it in fine style despite the challenging hard snow conditions. Hopefully powder next time!

1 Comment »

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  1. awesome. I see it everyday and wonder about the conditions. I would never have the cajones to ski it. Tks for sharing.


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