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North America, United States, Alaska, Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains, Mount Fairweather, First Ski Descent

Mount Fairweather, First Ski Descent. Dave Braun and I carved rime ice from the 15,300-foot summit of Mount Fairweather on April 29. Shannon Walsh reached 13,800 feet on the 11-day expedition. Fairweather rises just 15 miles from the open ocean, and we were enchanted by views of the Pacific throughout most of the 10,500-foot Carpe route. We skied 8,500 feet, all on free-heel gear. Three sections of beautiful, but exposed, knife-edge help make this one of North America’s “Fifty Classic Climbs,” but they were unskiable.

Summit day was windless but lightly snowing with one to two miles of visibility. On the descent, sections of blue ice below the 13,800-foot false summit were veiled by new snow, rendering them “unreadable” and therefore unsafe to ski. The terrain below 12,500 feet was skied in its entirety. A 40° ridge followed by a similarly angled face provided excellent carving for 2,200 feet above the high camp at 10,300 feet. A strategically located flying buttress off the main Carpe Ridge provided an aesthetic, avalanche safe, and wind-protected niche for one three-man tent.

Below, it was 300 feet of 20-to 35-degree powder skiing on a broad ridge. There was a classic ski couloir between 7,700 and 10,000 feet. The lower Carpe was depleted of snow from a relatively dry winter in Alaska, forcing us to climb higher in the icefall and find alternative access to the ridge. The couloir increased from 40-to 50-degree and became enclosed by 300-foot stone walls as it narrowed to 200 centimeters.

Kurt Gloyer of Gulf Air flew over Glacier Bay at 10,000 feet for 90 air miles from Haines, and landed our threesome at 4,700 feet, only a stone’s throw from the route’s beginning. A zigzagging system of ramps provided fine corn snow skiing for 1,200 feet through the goblinesque formations of the ocean-backdropped icefall. Above it, we skinned evasively up avalanche aprons, which later provided fine skiing to a first camp near the base of the couloir. A summit bid on April 23 was thwarted at 13,000 feet by high winds. Dave and I skied the couloir and icefall unencumbered to bring up more supplies in between six feet of snow that fell in four days, substantiating Fairweather’s reputation as a gross misnomer.

Tyson W. Bradley, Unaffiliated