Skiing Whitney's North Face — Page 6

Andy Lewicky Skiing Whitney's North Face

Skiing Whitney

Having climbed our intended route, Trevor and I know that the snow is soft, and that there is a (mostly) skiable passage through the north face's network of cliffs and slabs below.

Still, standing at the edge of the summit plateau and looking down, I'm struck by how steep the terrain is. Beneath a long cornice, a broad pitch of snow sweeps downward, gradually funneling tighter until it abruptly cliffs out. Preparing to drop in, I map out where my first few turns will go.

Skiing the North Face Mount 'Morgenson' Trevor Benedict Skiing the Face Steeps and Slabs

There is reason to believe, this time of year, that any lingering instabilities have long since worked themselves out of the snowpack.

Still, there is fresh snow on the face today, and even if there weren't, my general strategy in the backcountry is to be as paranoid as possible, so I make cautious turns down and across the face, watching the sluff carefully, stopping at a predetermined safe spot atop a spine.

The skiing is...pretty darn good!

Soft snow, as expected, quite a spirited pitch, an absolutely incomparable view.

The sun occasionally peeks out from behind the clouds, igniting the granite all around us, casting dramatic shadows across the snow.

If anything is causing me trouble, it is my persistent sense of disbelief that we're actually here, on this mountain, skiing it in such good conditions.

Trevor approaches.

It looks like he's finding the snow every bit as tasty as I am. His turns are smooth and even, cutting right down the fall line.

From our anchor point, we cross the face once again, this time veering left to regain our ascent route—thus ensuring we'll find the critical (and currently invisible) passage through the slabs. Surprisingly, the angle briefly pushes up past 50°, which combines with the inescapable sense of exposure to push up the heart rate.

Lower, the pitch eases a bit, but now the slabs come into view, and the snow becomes more variable, ensuring that Trevor and I both remain on alert. To be sure, turns at this altitude on all-day-spent legs take effort. Whenever I stop, I feel as if I've been sprinting uphill. The face is bigger than I realized—and we still have the slabs and the choke point to navigate. Perhaps we'll be coming home in the dark, after all.

next: Heading Home

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.