Friday, February 19, 2010

Silver Creek Schralpinism

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.

Leaving the snowmobile and beginning the ski approach.

A few helmet cam pics of the route.

Nice work James!


  1. Sweet! I bet that line will be even sweeter with blower pow next year! Like the Boy Scout...just trying to make myself feel better.

  2. You know Drew, you might be right! There is so much to do in this little zone... Just like when we skied Lorenzo, and then spotted the Shapeshifter; there are many, many possibilities! Get well soon!

  3. Sounds like a rad day. Gonna need some p-tex tho! Keep shreddin.

  4. hi marc, cool adventure! I did a fun and unusual line last year on the other (north) side of lighting worth checking out. Starting at prarie cr. take the main gully s. of the lorenzo drainage. Its a trippy gully with hidden cliffs and slots that steepen with snow runnels and cliffs on top. Lots of options- I ended up cutting a bit left avoiding the direct rock gully top-out.
    Top out on the mellow slopes below Lorenzo and ski back. Pretty fun "alpine" backyard tour.

  5. Marc -

    I'd heard you'd got up to no good in the Boulders - great to see the images and see what you did. Creative line - nice imagination! Can't beat having the choice between skiing out of a driveway in town and things like this, all within about 20 miles.
    And looks like you threw down for some new tools - like 'em?

  6. Anonymous-
    I think I know which gully you're talking about. Erik and I "climbed" it several years ago. It ended up have about 60' of WI3, and the rest was wallowing in snow. How were the conditions when you were up there? Lightning Point has the potential for lots of adventure, and so close to home!

    Yea, that was fun day. Interesting mix of climbing and skiing! Work has been too busy to get out for fun lately, but then again, my work IS fun!
    I'm loving the new tools. Like the all say, once you go leashless, you'll never go back!
    Let's get out!