Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Skiing Mt. Borah's North face. 7-23-09

On July 24th, 2009 Brandon Hobbs and I climbed the standard route on the South West side of Mt. Borah. It had been a pretty average winter but I'd noticed the snow was hanging tough on the north face. Dooley and I had climbed the face in 2005 and at the time I'd not considered it as a a possible ski route, the summit couloir is steep and too narrow for any real turns, the upper face has a double fall-line and  and much of the terrain forces you to continually ski left to avoid rocky outcroppings. The other - West side of the mountain looks like much easier skiing but has a good deal double fall-line as well. In general I'd always considered a ski descent off any aspect of the mountain as "not worth the pack-weight to ski-turn ratio" but as I knocked over one 12'er after the next Borah finally got in the way. The hike up that morning on the standard rout's well beaten trail turned out to be easier than I'd hoped for and the weather was perfect.
Skis, boots, 60 meter rope, etc weighed a little more than 50 lbs so the battle was pretty much over when we made it to the top. The skiing below the chute was just what I'd expected, steep and stiff, and leaning left I could link three or four turns and then side hill to the left before making a few more. In the end, I was able to ski all the way to the old snowtell wreckage at the base of the face. The hike out of Rock Creek is always pleasant and there isn't much bushwacking if you know the way. I knew Brandon would be a while making his way down the mountain and then driving over to pick me up so I had plenty of time to realize that although the turns weren't great, the adventure meant a lot.   
Borah's North face from Double Springs Pass Road. The summit couloir, hardly visible in this long shot, splits the summit dome for the first 200' to the upper snow field. I shot this photo in 2007 and that's when the idea of a NF descent really started to hatch. 

Roped skiing down the summit couloir. The first 250’ of the North face is guarded by a couloir choked with ice and rock. In July, the skiable terrain narrows to less than 2’ in the chute and is steep enough to make it impossible, at least for me. Brandon was able to belay me for the first 160’ but after I pulled the rope, I tried to build an ice bollard for a rappel down the final 90’. The ice was too rotten and brittle for anything but a psychological anchor and I wound up burying and leaving a new snow picket instead. Once out of the couloir, I made rickety turns down the steep sun hammered face producing small "point" avalanches that turned frighteningly large by the time they squeezed between cliff bands. This trusty pair of first generation Black Diamond Verdicts has been with me on every other 12-er descent and although I worried the chute would be the end of them they held up just fine, I still ski them today.

Dooley follows up the face in 2005