The Hummels, Ross, Matthaeus and I had been thwarted by questionable avalanche conditions with a buried layer of hoar frost during a one-day attempt to ski the Ice Cliff route at the end of February. Jason was set on another attempt. Josh Kaplan and Eric S. were in the mix after Josh exchanged e-mails with Jason. Donnelly Miller dropped me a line and we were six "strong."
I knew Donnelly could handle himself on skis. I had no idea what his mountaineering experience was, but I figured there was no better way to ascertain that than in the hills. We left the cars around three; Donnelly had no headlamp. I stayed with him and tried to help, which left us dragging behind the others. This left me a little nervous since I didn't know where to leave the trail, besides perambulation across the quagmire as we had done when it was snow-covered some months ago. We kept moving and in the end the others had been considerate enough to wait.
Eric led the way quite well. Soon we were scrambling up talus fields half-covered with snow. Donnelly was at a significant disadvantage in his alpine skiing boots. I waited for him and he did just fine in the end. The rest of the group was waiting again, this time where the trees broke below the Sherpa Glacier and the Ice Cliff Glacier moraine. Donnelly had already decided to do some laps while we climbed the route, but he still felt compelled to take a look.
Josh Hummel on the Ice Cliff
I followed Eric up the debris below the Ice Cliff. It looked all right. I had high hopes for the descent. We climbed higher and the slopes got steeper. One way or another some 60-70 degree blue glacial ice was necessary to get past the crux of the cliff. Eric and I soloed our own lines to the relatively flat area above the cliff. Josh Kaplan followed before too long. I was hoping that Donnelly wouldn't just go for it and do something foolish. Josh Hummel climbed to a different section of the cliff that we had suggested from above, which looked easier to us. He requested a rope. It was hilarious watching JoshK's folly with various half-assed methods of getting the rope down to JoshH. He finally succeeded after four attempts.Now things got interesting. I was to the side at a good angle for pictures. I watched the top of JoshH's skis appear and disappear. The rope went taut. JoshK inquired, "Shit, the rope just got hard to hold, did he fall?" Yes JoshK, JoshH fell. I said something like, "Give him some tension." I did some shouting to voice my concern about whether Donnelly could tie a rewoven figure eight, but he had already decided to descend. Jason climbed the bulge without incident.
The couloir was all that stood between us and the top. Somehow I had underestimated the route drastically. I was thankful for the ice bulge; it had made things interesting. It would pose no obstacle to a ski descent besides a short rappel. The couloir, however, was a different matter. Climbing above the bergschrund was very interesting, with abundant ax-shaft placements and careful steps. That would still be no matter for the skier. What blew it was the couloir, which seemed to be a sustained 40-45 degrees (2007 ed: That's a sandbagged estimate.), with an icy crust most of the way. In the right snow conditions (I had expected powder from Seattle's weather the previous week and even from first sight), the couloir would be laughable. However, it was rather intimidating with an icy crust the whole way. It's funny how good climbing and skiing conditions often conflict each other; they're not mutually exclusive, but they're certainly not the same.
Bypassing the cornice was a fun game. The slope became very steep and the snow over the rocks was rather thin. Eric worked his way up the last few steps methodically. I was a little more frantic between shaft placements. I had Eric help by lifting my skis for the final move, but they wouldn't dislodge. So I crawled over the top with him holding my skis. We were nice enough to drop a rope to the others so they could have a little security.
Jason Hummel styles the Sherp'.
JoshH took a nap while the rest of us visited the summit. When we returned, I hadn't surrendered the idea of skiing the Ice Cliff; it even had a little sun on it. Jason considered it but still wasn't sure. Finally we all settled on the Sherpa Glacier Couloir and went on our way. Besides most of the couloir being icy, it was a very pleasant ski; I would have to rate it as an excellent, highly rewarding descent. Go get it.
Jason: deep tele stance, man he's cool
We found Donnelly near the bottom of the glacier. He showed us some spunk by tracing figure elevens 1,500' down to the valley floor. The Hummels, not to be outdone in any feat of recklessness, did the same minus a hundred vertical.
We made it to Leavenworth in time for Gustav's, for the most part pleasantly surprised by the nature of the climb.