Thursday, November 2, 2023

Ewe Peak & Concerto Peak Ski - 5.6.2023

For years I've heard whispers of the giant couloir on the north side of Concerto. Tucked into no-man's land in the east fork of Ship Creek, I'd generally thought it too far away to merit attention.

But, the skiing around Ship Creek was great this year, and after a sneaking a peek of Ewe from Koktoya last weekend I was finally hungry. Leaving the Harp parking lot early on a spring day, we cruised up a mostly supportable crust towards the giants of the South Fork of Eagle River.

The ptarmigan were loudly celebrating the arrival of spring as we slid past the dwarf willows of the U-shaped valley, across Eagle Lake, and into the deep gorge between Eagle and Cantata peaks. After a few hours and a few more blisters, we were gaining elevation and onto the Flute Glacier.

On the Flute we found cold snow which immediately adhered to our skins like a heavy layer cake.

With scraping, cursing, and time, our skins adjusted from spring back to winter and we transitioned from hip-flexor wrecking glopping back to smooth sliding. A storm was hanging over the head of the Flute, enshrining the glacier in snow and wind, and making the mountains seem bigger and otherworldly.

Behind us, I looked past Mike at the summer route on Eagle Peak's big southeast face hoping to find a clean ski line. It didn't look very promising.

Higher on the glacier, we entered the storm. Across the way, we could see where a fresh storm slab had pulled out of Flute's Peak west chute. It was wider than ideal, but at least hadn't stepped down. Something to keep in mind for the rest of the day.

Facing into the wind, blowing snowflakes kissed our cheeks as we continued to skin up the Flute. As we approached the headwall at the top of the glacier, we turned west and booted up a short, but steep access chute that would take us to Ewe's summit ridge. There was about a foot of new snow on top of a strong melt-freeze layer. We figured that if the little chute did slide that it wouldn't step down or break far above us.

Reaching the summit ridge, we'd climbed into the storm clouds where visibility dropped to zero. With our skis back on, we tiptoed along the ridge trying our best not to step out onto the steeper north face of the peak. In this white world of snow, snowflakes, and clouds, the flat light was extremely disorienting. I think we were all surprised when we realized we were standing on top of Ewe.

Ascending the summit ridge was a bit nauseating, and the start of the descent wasn't any better. It was hard to tell if we were moving forwards, backwards, not at all, or if we were even right-side up as our eyes struggled to find any visual reference between the sky and ground.



After 500 vertical feet of vertigo, we dropped below the cloud deck and our inner ears started to reboot.

Everybody was stoked. The right side of Ewe's north face hung in space before the aesthetic bowl wrapped out of sight into an old glacial gorge below the backside of Calliope.

I felt like an ant in a land of giants as we descended into the gorge between Ewe and Calliope.

Peering up into the snowfall draped on Calliope, we wondered if there was a continuous ski line hidden above us.

The gorge was impressive, but as we came around the corner, the west face of Ewe was next level. Passing under the big vertical rock wall crisscrossed by gashes of snow and ice took my breath away.

Framed by the big wall behind us, we skied downvalley towards the Concerto Couloir. As we coasted closer, the line opened above us until we were staring into the throat of the beast. We're used to giant vertical canyons in the Eagle River zone, but this one was particularly huge. We stopped to eat lunch and gape over the line then chased after Dane as he climbed into the heart of the mountain.

Not only was it deep and tall, it was also damn wide.

The snow was wind affected and hard at the bottom, but it improved as we climbed farther into the protected walls.

Trading off on trail breaking duties brought us efficiently to the top from where we looked past our feet at our booter curving out of sight into infinity below.

High stepping over the cornice and onto the saddle at the top of the line, we debated scrambling to the top of the peak. There was obviously no skiing in the jagged rocks above us, and definitely no views in the clouds, but some of us still felt the call of the summit.

For better or for worse, rational minds prevailed, and we chose prioritizing the unquestionably good skiing below us over the questionable climbing above. Mike:

The snow in the top of the line was great, and in the freakishly wide couloir there was room for everyone's tracks. Nyssa:


Dane with the south face of Triangle in the background:

As we descended further, the snow deteriorated and our turns became more cautious as we alternated between windboard and pow.

The snow was imperfect - getting top to bottom blower in a line like this could be once in a lifetime thing - but being in this giant rock hallway in skiable conditions was a special treat.


Back at the lunch spot from hours ago, we stopped to refuel, transition for the upcoming long climb, and gloat over what an incredible line we'd just skied.

Then it was time to put one foot in front of the other for thousands of vertical feet up the south face of Triangle.

At the pass between Triangle and Calliope, we looked into the appealing bowl filled with good snow below us. Somehow, we convinced ourselves to pass on this quality option in favor of continuing to the top of Triangle. On the summit, snow continued to fall, and Cantata drifted in and out of sight to the north, as we transitioned for the third long descent of the day while .

Together, we skied the powdery low-angle upper slopes of Triangle while a flock of Dall sheep ran between us. It was unreal to be moving with the wild beings in their environment. Then the pitch of the mountain dropped away, and all of us were cliffed-out and stuck in chutes terminating in water ice.

That mellow bowl from the saddle sure seemed like the right decision now. Each taking what we deemed to be the least obnoxious route, we sidestepped, scrambled, and scrabbled up snow and over loose rock until we could regroup past this ideal sheep habitat.

Back in terrain slightly more friendly to humans, we skied under the big faces of Calliope then Cantata.  

Approaching Symphony Lake, there were fresh grizzly tracks in the snow. At the first flowing water, we stopped to fill bottles then continued down the valley. By Symphony Lake the snow had deteriorated into untrustworthy isothermal mank. We'd coast along easily only to suddenly crash into a particularly soft and sticky spot. This alternating lesson in how to endo, strain your hamstrings, then break trail through feet of glop continued for the next couple hours. Finally, our blistered feet limped into the Harp parking lot where beer and dry shoes awaited. 

1 comment:

  1. I don't think the Fun Police were aware of this activity. However, since you have now admitted to these acts you can expect a retroactive citation in the mail.