Skiing the Ice Cliff Glacier on Mt Stuart

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10 May 2006

2010 UPDATE: Dan Helmstadter and Aaron Scott skied the Ice Cliff Glacier on the same date in 2010 with no rappel through the cornice, «raising the bar» if you will.

Ice Cliff Glacier route The Ice Cliff Glacier with our ski descent drawn. We skied from the false summit. Here is another photo of Stuart with the Ice Cliff Glacier, also stolen from Jason Hummel. Stick 'em up, Fatboy!

All my perennial projects are falling like flies this season. Soon, in the words of John Sharp, I'll need to "find another mountain range to pick on." But don't think I'm complaining. (And actually there's still a lot of great lines to ski.)

Mt Stuart is the crown jewel of Washington's Central Cascades. Composed of gorgeous granite, it towers at 9,415' and offers exquisite alpine rock and ice climbs. The Ice Cliff Glacier is a classic Washington alpine ice climb. Beginning with my first attempt on my 25th birthday at the end of February 2004, I've been trying to find the thing buried in enough snow and in good condition to ski for three seasons.

Ben Manfredi and Josh and Jason Hummel made some great descents above Colchuck Lake three years ago, skiing the Northeast Couloir and North Buttress Couloir on Colchuck. Mark Simon made an impressive solo effort skiing the Stuart Glacier Couloir the day after the trip by Ben and the Hummels. This was great progress on the Stuart Range steeps front.

This season, two of the premiere descents in the range have fallen. My man Ross Peritore opened a family-sized can of WhoopAss on Dragontail with a solo ski descent of Triple Couloirs. Then last week Casey and I had the pleasure of skiing the Ice Cliff with only one rappel for the cornice at the top of the chute. These are classic lines. I've downplayed the Triple Couloirs route in the past because of the three consecutive raps required below the second couloir, but looking at it in all its glory from the trail after skiing the Ice Cliff last week, the doubts in my mind were put to rest.

The descent was slightly tainted for me by one unsettling problem. Loading my skis on my pack behind Casey's Jeep at one in the morning, I noticed that the Dynafit heel piece for my left boot was stuck in the binding. The screw had cracked in the hole. I used the remaining stub of a screw to secure it in my boot as well as I could.

steep turns Sky cranks it in the couloir.

upper couloir Casey climbs toward the cornice.

Casey and I had a banner day. The climb went perfectly. We climbed it in the safest style possible, using a rope and protection. I managed to place two nuts before surmounting the cornice. I was amused to find the cornice much easier this time, after going to the trouble of placing protection, when I had simul-soloed it in far more difficult condition in May 2004.

This descent is difficult to find in condition. The problem is as follows. The couloir at the top of the route is steep, north-facing, and very protected from sun by steep rock faces on both sides. Even this late in the year, with the sun so high in the sky, it only gets sunshine for a couple hours a day. This makes it really difficult to find it with good corn. It's also very difficult to get the route in relatively safe avy conditions with powder. Casey and I found it softening just enough to make us feel good about skiing it.

We reached the top of the couloir while it was fully in the sun.

Before a small rappel through the cornice on skis, I tightened my binding as much as possible to ensure my boot would stay in it despite the broken heel piece. Nevertheless, I was fearful of an accidental tele turn at an importune moment. I skied the upper part of the couloir far more tentatively than I usually would. Casey gets respect for ripping it with great style the whole way!

Skiing perfect corn through the ramps on the Ice Cliff felt wonderful. We were hooting and hollering the whole way to the valley. Here is a photo of Casey carving corn on the terminal moraine. My boot finally broke to no avail on the trail during the exit. At least it didn't happen on the steeps!

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