Sunday, May 31, 2015

Holland Peak, Northeast Face

I took advantage of the end of an extended period of exceptional ski conditions to ski the Northeast face of Holland peak.  The face is comprised of a complicated series of limestone ledges, and my chosen route pieces them together in the most logical way possible.
At the end of the difficulties, looking back up at the ski run.
I had a great nigh of sleep at the trailhead, recovering as much as possible from a long ski adventure the previous day. I awoke refreshed and was soon on the trail, hiking at a nice steady pace. Snowline is high, and I walked almost to the lower lake before putting ski boots on.  Snow conditions were firm, so I put crampons and punched it all the way to the crest of the range. It was a cold, clear, beautiful spring day in the mountains.  I skied a short run to the east, avoiding slabs and nasty glide cracks on the normal summer route to Holland. I got my first look at the face after skinning up to the east ridge.  The lower portion of the face had avalanched down to rock slabs in the past few weeks, and from my vantage point, it was unclear if it would be in skiable condition. Fortunately, I had a better view from the summit. It appeared that the line line was intact.  The timing was right on, so I decided to at least have a look. I did my slow pre-run ritual, throwing down some extra calories, meticulously clicking into my skis and checking my gear, stretching, relaxing,  and mentally preparing.

Looking down the Northeast face from the summit ridge, wondering if it will go.
The upper face was in fine condition, with a few inches of consolidated graupel overlying a firm base.  I navigated the first shelf without incedent, then traversed slowly to the second band. After a few turns, I found a way through the second band and started sideslipping. The snow was icy and very steep as I worked through the second band, but I just kept moving slowly, and the way opened up.  I lost my nerve a little through this section.  To my surprise, the ice had softened slightly on the traverse across runnels to the exit choke, and I was able to slowly work my way off the face without having to negotiate anything too scary.  Below the exit choke, I relaxed and skied along the edge of the debris all the way down to the end of the snow nearly 3,000 vertical feet below the summit.
In the thick of it.
The climb out from the east side of Holland is exposed to avalanches, so I only stopped briefly at the bottom. The climb required walking through endless and massive avalanche debris and some steep skinning and booting, but I arrived at the exit notch on the north ridge without incident.  Finally, I was able to relax and plot out the rest of the day.  I had two great runs on the way out, one down to upper Rumble lake, then one from just a few feet below the crest of the range down through the excellent couloir above lower Rumble lake (this run is a worthy stand alone ski objective).  The jog out was pleasant.
Relieved to be at the exit notch.
Exit couloir.
Thoughts:
The Northeast face of Holland Peak is a great challenge for those seeking difficult descents. It is prominent, steep, complex, long, and committing, and hard to catch in condition.  The skiing is good.  I am guessing this is a first decent. Anyone know otherwise? I don't really play the steep skiing game much anymore, but it is engaging to throw my hat into the game once in a while. Somewhere around 10,000 vertical feet done in around 10 hours.

Steep skiing food for thought
Skiing true no-fall terrain is dangerous. These words from the sage Lou Dawson struck a chord with me as I find myself slowly and happily transitioning out of the steep skiing game.

A few things have helped me cope over the years with motivation and goals. One of the biggest was realizing that life as an alpinist is a series of phases, and even at the most aggressive phase each participant has their personal goals and motivations, most importantly that some may choose a career of extreme skiing as a mission of passion and perhaps way of making a living, but it’s not for everyone and it’s also fairly risky.

I truly believe the... media is doing a disservice to our population as a whole by the constant barrage of content that makes it appear that to have fun or value from skiing it has to be done on steep terrain and even with a level of violence (tomahawking, failed “sluff management,” broken necks and on and on.). 

Such is not the case in real life. Traveling in ski touring oriented countries such as Austria and Norway has really helped me see this, but it’s a style and lesson one can glean in North America as well just by paying attention to what really makes you happy in the mountains, as well as what gets the smiles from your friends, loved ones, and people you meet along the way.

If your calling is the steeps and hardcore alpinism, then it is, but it’s a great big world with lots of options.  Lou Dawson, 2015

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