Sunday, May 26, 2019

Calliope Mountain Ski - 5.12.2019

Calliope is different than many ski mountaineering objectives of the western Chugach. Unlike the deeply incised couloirs that depend on flushing avalanches cycles for stability, its huge hanging face has nowhere to hide and the potential to harbor persistent weak layers. It requires near absolute confidence in stability. So, after a couple weeks of working into bigger terrain with good results it was time to give it a go.

The walk to the Eagle Lake took a bit over an hour and a half; there we turned right and followed the old medial moraine towards Symphony Lake.

Symphony welcomed us with isothermal snow drifts and beaver ponds. Another mile of wading through various forms of muck was plenty and we were both ready to switch to skinning.

I'd never been past Symphony Lake and loved imagining pesky goblins peering around the jumbled spires of the Cantata ridge and the ice bulges of Triangle.

An hour after starting to skin it was time to switch to booting up the steepening face. Scott took the lead and worked his way to the right around the first cliff band.

About halfway up we traded trailbreaking duties. Scott with Cantata in the background and large cliffs below him.

Gaining the ridge meant losing our protection from the wind as we plunged into the cold clouds. We stuck to the backside of the hanging face, and cruised towards the summit block. Scott looking suspiciously like a mountaineer:

The summit block presented a choice: traverse the steep snowfield hanging above 300 foot cliffs, or try to find a route up the rock of the south side. We decided to give rock climbing a go first, and worked our way under the block.

After twenty feet of 5.4 climbing in ski boots I decided it was stupid and retreated to Scott. Next up, we decided to give the hanging snowfield traverse a go. This traverse was very similar to the hanging section up the west ridge of Kickstep with the glaring difference of a thin, scary, and continental snowpack instead of a fat, sticky, and maritime one.

Eventually I found a thin snow chimney, wallowed my way up, nabbed the top, and retreated back to Scott.

Scott patiently waited for me on the cold ridge and was more than ready to start skiing. The mountains had a moody hue as we looked past Cantata, down the South Fork valley, and towards Eagle River.

Skiing directionally, we worked our way through the rocks, cliffs, suncrust, and windboard of the upper face down towards our ascent route.

Once at the booter, we followed our tracks, detoured around a few exciting cliffs, and started to ski more fall line. Scott mentioned how fun it would be to have the right skis and confidence to rip a big face like this without slowing down to avoid obstacles. A helicopter might help too.

The snow improved as we got into the meat of the face, and with the soft snow came the slough. Well aware of the consequences of the dangling line, we'd ski a set of directional turns, let the snow flow by, then work the other way.

Across the way we could see the traverse to the snow chimney to the summit. Maybe next time we'll send the cornice from the top. I'll need Da Bucky for that one.

The mountain continued to remind me of Kickstep; a big, steep face, accented by flutes terminating in cliffs.

Scott and a nice look at the tippy top of the face. Lots of opportunities to ski over, around, and thru cliffs up there.

A right hand turn at the last cliff brought us off the exposed skiing and towards the apron.

The apron was a sporty mix of windboard, sloughboard, powder, and avy debris. Perfect for sets of five pow turns followed by surprising chunks of concrete.

Off the face, we followed bear tracks down the valley until they disappeared over a little roll. On the other side was an empty bed where the warm critter had slowly melted its imprint into the snow.

At the beaver ponds/mud pits we put on running shoes, ate Oreos, and started the power-walk back to the car.

9 hours, 20 miles, suncrust, windcrust, isothermal snow, lots of walking, and 25 powder turns; worth it.

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