Sloan Peak - NW Face and gullyDate:
Ever since climbing a variation of the Beckey route on Sloan's W face (TR here
), I'd wanted to head back in to Sloan. The goal for my second trip would be to answer the all-important question, "will it ski"? My original thought was to connect the upper section of the corkscrew to the south ledges, but it seems rare that enough snow is plastered onto that aspect to make a continuous descent feasible. While searching for winter photos of Sloan, I came across Taluscat's TR
. Looking to the right of their first few pitches, I had the feeling that the gully might just go.
The months of ski season slid by, and the combination of weather and partner availability had not aligned for a trip up Bedal Creek. As the snow began to melt, I figured I'd missed the window for the year. The late season powder dump on April 13-14 reset my thinking. Weather for April 16th was favorable, with showers on the afternoon of the 15th hopefully having kept the sun off the snow, and I convinced Robert to go have a look with me.
We left the U District at 0045, and by 0230 we made it up FS-4096 a mile and change before tree fall blocked the road at 2000'. We geared up and headed out, finding consistent snow cover on the road within a 1/4 mile. We followed the road up beyond the trailhead, continuing on an abandoned section to where it crossed Bedal creek. Skinning up the drainage through the woods, the snow continuously improved with elevation until we were breaking trail through 18" of medium density powder. The deep snow made for slow going, and we broke into the clearing about a mile from the base of the NW face at 0530. As dawn lit the sky, we got our first look at coverage on the face, and the line appeared to be in good shape.
After a quick food stop, we headed up through the forests towards the slopes of the NW shoulder, intending to intersect our ski line at the 6300' level. The snow on the shoulder was of fantastic quality, and we readily talked ourselves into taking a 1000' lap on 20" of cold, N facing powder. Climbing back up our skin track to the shoulder, we grabbed some more food and were back on the up by 1030. Clouds drifted slowly by, partially obscuring the peak and dropping the odd snowflake as we booted up the face. The early trail breaking began to catch up with us, and progress slowed to 325' an hour through the steep and deep. Snow conditions varied, with some sections involving a wallow through two feet of powder, and other parts holding a few inches over crust. The cloud cover bought us some extra time, but we knew the W facing aspects would become less friendly in the afternoon sun. The crux of the climb was delicate booting up rotten snow on a narrow, exposed 50 degree ramp to gain the summit ridge at 1430. We started a traverse towards the summit, but the return of full sun convinced us that it was time to head down from our high point at about 7600'.
Pulling skins and clicking in, we enjoyed smooth powder on the lower summit ridge. Exiting via the exposed ramp was a little dicey, but with a touch of side-slipping we made it and cruised the short traverse to the top of the NW face. After a few steep powder turns, we encountered some nasty, 50 degree crust, requiring about 175' of whippet belayed side-slipping to gain an excellent pitch of powder. As I ducked below a rock outcrop mid-face to wait for Robert, a yell from above was promptly followed by a decent size slough of debris that had cascaded off the cliffs above the face, blowing by 15' to the right of my safe spot. I was relieved to see Robert appear shortly thereafter on my left, and we picked up our pace, leap-frogging down and left to the top of the gully. Another few hundred feet of good powder terminated in steep, crusty side slipping, but we finally arrived at the choke above the avy fan, where we discovered what had appeared to be continuous snow from our distant examination at dawn was actually a steep roll to 10' of 70 degree snice. Robert went first, side-slipping as far as possible and then dropping the final 5' into the soft slough below. Following suit, I hopped down into the debris, and we arced celebratory turns down to Bedal creek, rejoining our skin track for the slushy slog back to the car, boots off at 1745.
Approx 9.5 miles, 6600' total vert. If Dan hasn't been here, this might be a first descent.
And now some pics:
First view of the upper mountain (from Robert)
Upper face detail (from Robert)
Cool light (from Robert)
Booting up the face
Looking back down the NW face to the shoulder
Down the west face. Need a parachute to ski this one.
Summit ridge (from Robert)
Down the ramp (from Robert)
Skiing the lower gully (from Robert)