By Kieran Crimeen
After a successful weekend on the Parkway (see previous post) we were riding high. With news that the Whitehorn and Robson had been skied Joel and I had to channel some of that stoke and do something big (for us). We settled on the plan to head up to the recently opened Neil Colgan hut in the Valley of the Ten Peaks for a look at how things were keeping up there.
I'd not heard of much to ski in the area with the exception of the Roth/Kallen on the North Face of Mt Fay, a route that someone snaked from the illustrious Doug Ward. High above Moraine Lake, the face consists of a series of steep cold gullies filled with glacial ice. Obviously even considering skiing something like this was stupid so Joel hatched a plan to ‘have a look’ at Fay and a similar, if less imposing route on Mt Quadra.
Friday rolled around and Joel picked me up at 19.30. The idea was to boot the 3/4 in the cool of the evening and spend the night in the hut. Unfortunately a Jeep managed to roll off the road so we spent about an hour and a half waiting for the tow truck to recover it. How inconvenient. This was seriously cutting into our precise timing.
Rolling into the lake we finally got underway at 22.15. We walked along the lake trail and at the creek mouth realised that neither of us knew how to get to the base of the 3/4. A bit of class 2 bushwhacking, some wet feet and we were across and charging up to the base of the line, trying to make up for lost time. Joel set the entire bootpack whilst I followed behind with an aneurysm. As things were freezing, and not frozen, the status quo was a crust with almost isothermal snow beneath, making for your classic two step forward one step back situation. Coupled with some old wet slide debris, we were considering bailing as our exit from the hut was in a sorry state of affairs. Electing to continue up the endless couloir, we were at the top 3.5 hrs after leaving the car and at the hut half an hour after that. A quick dinner and we hit the sack, looking forward to getting three hours of sleep.
A late (for spring) breakfast and then out into the unknown. The weather was brilliant with clear skies and a good freeze. The decision made to look at Fay first, given that we were tired and it was close; just 20 mins from the hut.
With the ‘shrund well filled and no blue ice visible, the crampons went on and we started squeaking our way up. Névé. Fantastic to climb but in my limited experience not the best thing to ski. The Roth/Kallen is a short but sweet couloir with a bit of a dogleg up the top. I measured the angle a couple of times and read between 52 - 55 degrees, and never less than 50. The top may have been pushing more however I was too gripped to do much more than click in and fashion a DIY whippet.
A GoPro still. The Lurking Fear kept me from reaching for my camera, I was worried any lapse in concentration would send me sliding.
I’m still new to this steep skiing game, my first real line being Aemmer’s couloir in the spring of the previous year. Standing atop the chute, looking down at the glacier and the drop to the lake below my legs started shaking. Watching Joel start moving down and make his first turn was terrifying. He had it in the bag but the snow sounded loud. I wanted to vomit. The snow was rock hard, the line was steep and any mistake here would have unpleasant consequences.
I considered downclimbing but managed to shame myself into motion. I was facing the wrong way, so the first order of business was to make one turn. I started side slipping to get a feel for the snow. Then it happened. As usual, on steep lines, turning is effortless once you’ve summoned the confidence to make the first. One, then another, then another. I pushed down the fear and tried to stay centred, but there was just some nagging doubt in the back of my mind. I blew a turn and immediately stopped myself with my pole-axe-thingy.
Has anyone seen my Chakra? My centre is so out right now.
Joel was already over the ‘shrund and I felt so alone. I got back onto my feet and found the flow again. This time, I didn’t put an edge wrong and actually started to enjoy the focus. Making to the bergshrund I was filled with relief as I let my guard down and drove a tip into the slough runnel, losing a ski. Best place to fall was into the soft spindrift below the ‘shrund.
Looking back up the line our tracks weren’t even visible. We were elated, our fatigue from the previous night washed away. We elected not to go and look at Quadra, reasoning that it’d be in the same condition and far too nerve wracking to ski. It was time to return to the hut, have second breakfast and then descend the 3/4 to the car.
The 3/4 was in terrible shape also, but I’d just skied Fay. I could’ve skied anything after that and find it easy. We picked our way down the shaded steep runnels and surfed the isothermal snow of the fan to a handy snowbridge across the creek. An hour later we were spinning around shutter happy tourists in the parking lot.
The classic 3/4 shot. Joel making the conditions look easy.
I’ve had some time to reflect on the weekend’s work and have decided that skiing that sort of line in those conditions was as close to being uncomfortable as I’m willing to get. This winter has spoiled us with good snow in big lines. I need more experience to tackle steep icy faces so for now, until I get some more confidence, my season may be over. Unless NE Vic starts shaping up that is.
Centre ice bulge, anyone?