Six or seven years ago, Trevor mentioned that someone should really go see if it was possible to ski the west face of Glacier Peak, high above lake Oesa, right from its 3283m summit. I’ve had it in the back of my mind ever since. So, when May long weekend delivered a cold, sunny weather window I decided it might be a good way to get off the beaten path a little. It was getting tough to find partners so late in the season, but luckily Chris was visiting from Montana and was looking to wrap up a solid trip. I didn’t think I had the motivation for a solo mish, but the weather was too good not to go for something. Having a stoked partner locked it in.
The freeze was rock solid and it was really quite cold in the alpine so we met at the fairly civilized hour of 3:30. The road from Golden to Louise was open overnight for the long weekend, which meant I got to sleep in my own bed and enjoy a quick commute. A forgotten luxury. Aside from one dude smoking a joint in his car, the lakeshore parking lot was empty. I guess everyone went to the icefields for the weekend. I’ve been up the deathtrap to Abbot Pass enough times now that there isn’t much value in describing it again. It’s kind of flat and long, but not as flat or as long as the Lake O’Hara road, which is why we chose to approach from the side we did. There would be extra vert to pay later on the way back over to Lake Louise, but that was a problem for future Matt and future Chris.
Quite a bit of wind greeted us at Abbot Pass; enough that we were glad not to be going for anything on Victoria, where there was a significant amount of transport happening. A few sloughs rolled off the sickle traverse and made me shudder involuntarily. On the other side, our objective looked to be in perfect shape and we dropped into a mystery basket of thinly covered scree, debris and various densities of crusts. I somewhat regretted leaving my boot tongues in my pack.
We stayed hard left to traverse onto the access ramp that leads to the face proper. Then we skinned for a while, working our way into the exposed part of the face below the summit. Chris professes to be the kind of guy who will skin until the point of foolishness, rather than submit to booting. I’m usually the same, but a sudden, hard crust underneath 5-10cm of fresh had other ideas so it was crampons from there. We were going to need them for the rimed up couloir at the top of the face anyway.
The thing is pretty long and variable snow conditions slowed us down here and there while we assessed, but soon enough we were at ridgetop. We hadn’t been sure whether the route to the summit would be a ski or a scramble, so we were happy to see that it was fully snowed over. Maybe a little scrappy but nothing that we’d need to downclimb on the way back through. A quick traverse had us on the summit where we carefully probed for while, looking for a cornice that didn’t exist.
Back down on the face, the sun hadn’t even come close to reaching the snow yet. We were both surprisingly cold, and took the opportunity to lounge on the sunny side of the summit ridge, looking out into the Valley of the Ten Peaks. There was a cool avalanche/icefall crown on the north face of Fay at that moment, and Deltaform’s Supercouloir always gives me pause. To the west the Goodsirs loomed, as they always do, and the giants of the Selkirks were clearly visible in the distance. I had a nice time downloading my mental peak atlas onto Chris, who nodded politely.
After a while I started to doze off, which seemed to mark as good a time as any to check in on the west face again. Not enough sun to soften any crusts, but enough that we could at least see where we were going. That was good enough, so off we went. What a ski it turned out the be! The summit block was indeed fully skiable with some care. Then the goods: the upper face was perfect pow, albeit with the constant threat of crusty surprises. Even those, though, weren’t as bad as we thought they’d be. We ripped big GS turns down the ramp to the base of Abbot pass, feeling fully stoked on the descent. It’s a good one, with enough exposure to make for engaging position and enough pitch to make it feel steep. Just not enough of either to make it scary.
Now it was time to pay for our lunch. The sun was hot, the crust was slippery and we both grumbled our way back to the scree; which we skinned through because we are both the kind of people who will skin until, and sometimes beyond, the point of foolishness.
Chris was keen to shatter himself on the potential last day of his visit, so he was pumped to add the west face of Lefroy to the itinerary. Unfortunately my knee has been giving me some trouble and I thought it would be wise to pass after already putting ~2400m of varied conditions and loads into it. I’ve been full of excuses this spring. Truth be told, I’m probably bagged from a massive training and racing season. Anyway, I got comfy on the deck of the hut (perhaps for the last time before it gets taken down or falls into the void of its own accord) and watched Chris head up for a conditions check.
He eventually decided against the attempt due to some funky wind loading, so we party skied back down through the deathtrap instead. The deathtrap, it should be noted, is a spectacular ski run. I wouldn’t advocate going up there just to ski it, but it certainly is fun. The big canyon walls, visible ice and huge, long, planar slope combine for special turns every time.
I’ve never heard of anyone skiing this face and that’s a shame. It’s fantastic. Access could be easier, sure, but it’s far from arduous. Maybe a little publicity will help get it the recognition it deserves. Or maybe you’ve already skied it? If so, tell me about it! Regular readers know how much I love Rockies ski history.