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North America, Canada, St. Elias Range, Mt. Cook, First Ski Descent and Probable Third Ascent

Mt. Cook, first ski descent and probable third ascent. On May 5 Paul Swanstrom of Haines (Alaska Mountain Flying and Travel) flew Peter Linn, Andrew McGarry, Kiajsa Krieger, Scott Morely, and I from Yakutat to a landing zone on the upper Seward Glacier. We were dropped at about 7,000', near the Canadian border, under the southeast arm of Mt. Vancouver, with the aim of skiing Mt. Cook. Although the pilot reported that the previous week had been unseasonably warm, and huge runnels prevented us from landing closer to Mt. Cook, a short tour on the first day unveiled soft conditions on the northern aspects. Better yet the view from camp showed a near perfect and likely continuous run down Mt. Cook.

Incredulous that we were indeed in the St. Elias Range, and that indeed we were not yet “digging for our lives,” we packed up and launched on the second day. We threw our stuff together planning on several nights at the base of the route, and maybe a couple of nights on the mountain.

“Tobey, you threw that gallon of gas on your sled right?” “I thought you had it?” “Shit! I hope the weather holds.”

So we started up the next morning with barely enough fuel for two nights on the mountain, and one back at the base—if we ate mostly dry food and didn’t boil our water. No storming allowed!

After dashing under a couple of seracs, we ducked into the scant shelter of our chosen rib and started booting up the route, over ever-steepening undulations, to beneath a severely overhung serac. We detoured left and over two short ice bulges. One long ascending traverse brought us to the pass at the head of the North Fork of the Turner Glacier. The following day we skinned and booted, weaving around gaping cracks, and traversed all the way around the north side of the mountain, finally gaining access to the summit pyramid via the northwest aspect. After slamming a couple of golf balls off the summit, we clicked in and schussed back to camp.

With our egos inflated from the ease of skiing on the top half of the mountain, we underestimated the severity of the lower half. With us carrying our bivy, the initial slope from the pass proved to be absolutely puckering and twice as steep as we remembered. However, perfect wind-buffed soft snow saved us from certain death as we sketched across the traverse. Two 20' rappels got us around the ice bulges and another 2,000' of severely steep skiing got us around the ‘shrund and back to our lower camp.

Our route of appears to be the descent route of the second ascent party (AAJ 2000, pp. 219-220).

Tobey Carman