Skiing Whitney's North Face — Page 7

Lone Pine Peak & Owens Valley from Iceberg Col

Heading Home

Getting through the slabs proves to be a little tricky. As we approach the choke, the snow gets crusty, and we are forced to downclimb one short section where the passage is too narrow to ski.

Here, with plenty of exposure, snow and ice-covered granite make for an interesting few moments of free climbing. One of the interesting things about skiing big routes is that they're extremely condition-dependent. When heavily filled in, for example, all of this would be trivial.

Andy Working Through The Choke Trevor Below The North Face Mount Russell Approaching Iceberg Col

But today, I think it pays to be cautious.

Still, we're able to ski through almost all of it, on a nifty thread of snow that winds in S-curves through slabs and steps.

Below the choke, the snow gets a bit hostile, but the angle is much lower and the exposure is gone. I swoosh back to the start of the traverse to Iceberg Col. Here, I stop and survey the great face above that we've just descended.

It looks...impressive.

All things considered, we're probably enjoyed about as good of conditions as we could possibly have hoped for.

Now, it's time to get back to the car—or at least the easier part of the Mountaineer's Route—before the light fades.

I unlock the heels of my ski bindings, and Trevor and I traverse back to Iceberg Col, about a mile or so away. The clouds thicken once again, and the sky becomes noticeably darker.

I must say—I like it. In this light, the surrounding peaks look moody and brooding, as if their patience with us interlopers has about run out. And the view atop Iceberg Col, with Owens Valley glowing in the distance, is simply magical.

Best to keep moving, though. I want us well below the cliff band underneath Iceberg Lake before it gets dark. At that point, I figure we can feel our way downward in the dark if we have to—I've hiked that way often enough. Plus, we've both got headlamps if we need them. Maybe the bigger concern is energy: we're both feeling pretty tired now, with a solid 5000 vertical feet to go to reach the Portal.

The snow on the other side of the Col isn't much cooperating, either, offering us crusty unskiable mank that wrenches our wasted legs with each and every turn. Just traversing past Iceberg Lake proves to be something of an ordeal. I'm contemplating the prospect of a very slow and ugly run home, but mercifully right around Upper Boyscout Lake the snow shifts to perfect corn, and all is soon forgiven...

next: Connections

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.