Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ulrich's Couloir - Mt Stuart - Ski/Splitboard Descent

I had the great pleasure of making a recent splitboard descent of Ulrich's Couloir on the mighty Mt Stuart with my old Bellingham friends and long-time ski partners Ben Peterson and Tyree Johnson.

Ulrich's comes right of the summit and descends the south flank of Mt Stuart for 4400 ft. Photo: Jason Hummell
Go buy this photo (LINK) from Jason and put it in your living room to inspire yourself to go ski!

Ulrich's had become a mild obsession of mine over the past year. I first gave the line a go in February of 2013, in a high pressure spell with Ryan Murray. We got turned around just shy of the false summit, in a late afternoon warm-up, and subsequent barrage of ice fall. One month later I returned with Chris Petry, only to spend hours in poor vis near Longs Pass waiting for the weather to improve. Finally, on my third attempt (and Ty and Ben's first), we nailed it, in good, fresh-snow conditions.

Between ascents, descents, and variations, this was my 11th route on Stuart:

And even after all those ascents I still haven't climbed the Girth Pillar (or Razorback Ridge, or the NW Face, or the Ice Cliff Arete, or...)!

Over the years I've learned one rule for this mountain: Never, ever, underestimate Mt Stuart.

Raise your hand if you've ever had an unplanned bivouac on Mt Stuart. (LINK)

With that being said, this was the most casual ascent and descent I ever had on Stuie and I'm super psyched to have gotten 'er done in great spring conditions. As with most of my recent long missions, this adventure saw me quickly throwing my kit together after working a couple back to back 13-hour nursing shifts. Subsequently, after only 90 mins of exhausted sleep I was back in the world of the awake and motoring over Blewett Pass in Ty's Tacoma, stuffed to the gills with ski gear, male RN's (Murses), and snowmobiles.

A yin and yang of sno-machines.

We were able to drive the Teanaway River Road to just shy of the Bean Creek TH turnoff.  From there patchy snow for the first mile then mostly continuous snow led us 7 miles into the Esmeralda Basin TH. We brapped up the trail for just a bit before parking the sleds and donning our skis.

An inch of ultra-light fresh snow and howling winds above greeted us.

Anyone who has headed to this side of Stuart in the winter or spring knows how problematic the often heavily corniced Longs Pass can be. Luckily for us, I totally botched it (actually I crushed it) and we popped out on a much mellower, no name pass, west of Longs (Non-Longs Pass..).  We could now feel the full-force of the strong winds we had been hearing howling for the last hour.

From my two earlier forays to Ulrich's I knew how easy it was to waste time hemming and hawwing before dropping into Ingalls Creek, so we quickly transitioned and dropped. The high winds made us skeptical of conditions up high on Stuart, and windslab potential was our top concern. With fresh snow, and high winds, we knew the Cascadian Couloir, the most epic slog in the range, was our ascent route of choice.

Late April POW

To our delight, perfect, blower, blue-bird pow, led us into Ingalls. Best run of the day!

The stoke was high as we crossed the creek.

My alternate pass selection gave us two advantages over Longs. First, we were able to scope the slightly problematic exit from Ulrich's. Second, by the time our high traverse intersected the Cascadian, we were hundreds of valuable feet above the creek (where one would have crossed Ingalls having descended from Longs Pass).

Primo skinning conditions got us up high in the bottleneck of the Cascadian before endless bootpacking ensued. 2-8 inches of warming fresh snow led us up the now windless southern flanks of Mt Stuart. Apart from a few random pockets, the windslab potential appeared minimal as we slowly trudged our way up towards the false summit.

Tyree and myself pushing past the false summit

 Visibility slowly deteriorated as we began our ascent of the summit ridge.

Ty and Ben gettin' alpine.
Our first impressions of the line off the summit was that it was bony, steep, and looked a bit scoured. Luckily for us, the closer we got to the top, the more good to go the line became.

Gorillas in the Mist
A rime covered, socked-in, april summit of Mt Stuart is a special place to be, so we soaked it in, transitioned our gear over, and waited for the visibility to improve so we could drop.

After just a few minutes the clouds parted and Ben led the way.  We didn't take the time to snap the $ shot off the top, so here's an incredible shot of Kyle Miller getting the goods by the talented Jason Hummel.

Kyle Miller crushing pow

Ulrich's is a hard line to score in good conditions with a corn cycle ascent being the norm.  We had timed this one pretty dang good, and Ben's first turn yielded a huge face shot!

Ty slaying Ulrich's headwall
We didn't quite nail it as perfect as Kyle and Jason (LINK), but we nonetheless got it good with 2-7 inches of windbuffed pow and only the occasional patch of wind scour.

Myself off the top as Ty looks on


Visibility continued to improve below the headwall.

What Ulrich's lacks in sustained steepness it makes up for in EPIC scenery.

Myself in deep, loving every turn. 
I love seeing my kit in action. Psyched to pump out a gear-head blog about my favorite winter gear from Phantom Splitboard Bindings, Jones Snowboards, Dynafit, Cilogear Packs, Mountain Equipment, and Outdoor Research.


As the clouds parted on our descent the snow began to warm and became more reactive. We kept a close-eye on hang-fire on the sides, and ski-cut the occassional wind load to flush the couly.

Ben making his way towards the Amphitheater 

Third times a charm.

Chamonix? Nope. The Stuart Range. Ty getting his euro slash on.

Ty and Ben cruise past the amphitheater.

Myself near the final choke and traverse

Perhaps the most technical section of the line occured just before the dogleg exit of the main couloir as it choked down a bit in a few sections. This led to a traverse above the cliff band we had scoped from below. We all easily pushed through the choke and traverse, then wet slid our way down the last few hundred feet before collapsing in a pile of stoke, sweat, and relief near the valley bottom.  4400 ft of fun. We lounged in the sun and brewed up some coffee before starting up the final skin back to the top of Non-Longs Pass. 

Ty and I at Non-Longs Pass with the mighty Mount Stuart and Ulrich's Couloir in the background.
A super-fun soft descent led us back to the sleds and a round of well deserved cold beer. Ulrich's got got and the getting was good.

Thanks for the great day out Ty and Ben!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Full Circle on the North Face of Mt. Maude - A Splitboard Descent

June 1st of 2004, myself, and my good friend Tyree Johnson, climbed the North Face of Mt. Maude in hard snow, early-summer alpine conditions.  I can still remember the warmth of the sun as it hit us halfway through the traverse to the face from the Seven Fingered Jack/Mt. Maude col . The morning quickly changed from alpine cool to uh-oh warm and we got pelted with rock fall as we delicately made our way across exposed runnels of hard alpine ice.  This was the first of a number of classic alpine ascents that summer, as I cut my teeth, and ticked my way through Jim Nelson's Select Climbs of the Cascades Volumes 1 and 2. Fast forward 10 years, and I returned to Maude, with completely different intentions, for that same, classic, high-alpine face.

Our day began just before dawn as Chris Petry and I fired up the sleds a mere 2.7 miles down the Chiwawa River Road, outside of Lake Wenatchee, WA.  Sparks flew from our skids as we cruised down bare pavement for the first 1/2 mile, we soon hit snow, which remained nearly continuous for the rest of our motorized journey. The views got better and better and our psych level crept higher and higher as we rally'd down the long forest service road.

Petry getting amped!

Early morning scenery
23.1 miles later we parked our rigs at the Phelps Creek TH and took off skinning up the river valley. The trails stays relatively flat for the first 3.5 miles until you abruptly turn right and head up toward Leroy Basin on the Leroy Creek trail. We skinned as long as we could before the steep and hard early morning snow forced us to bootpack.

Epic views greeted us in Leroy Basin as we pushed on over to the moderate and aesthetic south ridge for our ascent.

Ski lines for days

The South Ridge rambled onwards with easy snow and a touch of scrambling.

Au Cheval

We took some terrible selfies on the summit, enjoyed the views, and got prepared to drop. We had seen zero signs of instability throughout the day. The drop in was steep but looked to mellow out quick after the first exposed choke.


The first couple of turns were hard, though edgeable, and soon gave way to 1-6 inches of light, stable, alpine pow.  I tucked into a sheltered rock knoll and watched Petry drop.

Minimal sluff, runnels, and overall soft conditions had me giddy for the rest.

Overall, the line was much more moderate then I had anticipated (or then it looks). We shredded on down, crossing the face a couple of times, and jumped over one small runnel mid-way.

Petry shredding


As alpine pow gave way to breakable crust, we traversed off the face and over towards the bench that would take us past the Icy Lakes, around the mountain, and back to the south side.

The man, the myth, the legend, Christopher Petry - Mountain Guide, sole proprietor, Oh Yeah Farms.

We nailed the traverse and were soon ripping skins and cruising towards the South Ridge. Perfectly creamy corn led us down the South Ridge where we bounced off as many pillows as we could find through Leroy Basin. Best corn I've skied in years.

Some zigs and some zags got us down to Phelps Creek as the sun set, and an annoyingly flat split-ski got us back to the sleds and some well deserved cold beers.  The sled out flew by as we pondered our great day in the hills.

Thanks for the great day out Chris!


I've been getting lots of inquiries into my Phantom Splitboard Bindings and Dynafit TLT 6 system, so please stay tuned for a new blog post  of the pros, cons, ups, and downs, of this revolutionary new set-up.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bouldering Goals for 2014

Been a while, still psyched as ever..  Family, job, non-profit dedication, climbing, riding, and training have kept me from blogging but haven't kept me from dreaming.

Bouldering goals  (Red = Sent):

  • The Practitioner V11
  • Thunder Dome V10
  • Superman V10
  • Nine Iron V10
  • Angelina Jolie V10
  • Span Man V10
  • The Cotton Pony V10
  • Yoda V10
  • The Prism V9
  • The Coffee Cup V9
  • Immortal Techniques V9
  • Musashi V9
  • Royal Flush into Jack of Spades V9
  • Batman V8
  • The Tree Problem V8
  • Quantum Mechanics V7
  • Twister V7
  • The Dangle V7
  • Is V7
  • Crimpsqueak V7
  • The Hoarder V7
  • Punk Ass Kid V6
  • Raging Bull V6
  • Between the Legs V6

The Nemesis's: problems I should have sent years ago that I will not let defeat me!

  • The Shield V7
  • Busted V7
  • Resurrection V8
  • Fridge Right V5
Training, dedication, and persistence will get me there, game on.