In the latest issue of Backcountry Magazine, Ben Clark talks about combining technical alpine routes with ski descents. The common term for this style of ascent/descent is ski mountaineering, but Ben distinguishes "Schralpinism" as more than slogging up knee deep snow with a mountain axe in hand. Schralpinism has all the technical elements of an alpine route in addition to the commitment of a ski mountaineering descent. This is something that has really peaked my interest in that last few years and with the ice climbing I've been doing this season, I decided to give it a try yesterday.
James and I shouldered packs full of ice and ski gear and headed into Silver Creek in the Boulder Mountains. A snowmobile dispatched the 3 mile approach across the morains in a matter of minutes instead of an hour. We then toured in to the base of the ice on the south buttress of Lightning Point.
The first pitch of the route was a sustained 200' pitch of WI4, made all the more exciting carrying a pack with skis strapped on to it. Near the top of the pitch I was faced with a 20' curtain of chandelier ice or thin veriglass of rock. Looking for security, I began tunneling behind the curtain through what James called "the rabbit hole". A bit of thrashing with pack and skis and a few expletives on my part brought me to short but committing traverse across rock to reach the ice again.
That was definitely the crux of the route. Although we encountered several more short 30'-40' sections of ice, rest of the climb was bootpacking (read: slogging) up a beautiful tight couloir. We topped out with a 100' pitch of mixed but easy rock and snow and continued along the ridge to the top of our descent line.
With skis on and crampons in our packs we made cautious turns in the top of the descent couloir. Initially, things looks well covered and I thought we might be linking some good turns, but knowing how rocky the Boulders are, I had advised James to bring his rock skis. Good thing too! We did get a few good linked turns in, but there were a lot of rocks mixed in as well. Now, the bottom of our line ended in a 100' WI5 ice fall, and the bottoms turns, though not steep, were with some consequence. Instead of messing with the steep ice, we skirted out left and did an arm wrap/side slip and a final rappel over the last ice fall. Coiling the ropes in increasing darkness I was able to get full cell reception and call our significant others to let then know we were off the route, OK and running a little late.
Another epic day in the mountains... Thanks James!
Red is our line of ascent, green is our ski and blue is the arm wrap and rappel.