Shuksan: Anatomy of a Bail 2/2/11

By:  Allen
February 3, 2011


Probably 8 turns into the line, to my despair I broke through the windbuff to a very icy sub surface. It was the dreaded “white ice.” Hoping it was Isolated I traversed to what looked like softer snow. I had no such luck. After a few more turns and a long look at the line below me I made the decision to bail. I had a two reasons for bailing, one more obvious than the other. The first was that my razor sharp edges were barely gripping the ice and I was supplementing my edge grip with a plunged ice axe. The second was the fact that the North Face was one of the most beautiful Lines I have ever gazed upon. I didn’t want my memory from the line to be a hairball sideslip, or a nasty down-climb. I knew that with the right conditions this line would be thousands of feet of steep-ass bliss. I was ready to wait for those conditions.

Everyone’s favorite blind rollover into the North face:

I used the adze on my ice axe to dig a platform out of the 50 degree slope. I always hate transitioning in steeps but I have always found that investing some time in building a good bench makes the process much less sketchy. I climbed out with crampons and 2 ice tools feeling very solid on the steep slope.

One other piece of encouragement for me to bail was that my first bail option was a decent of the NW couloir. My second option was to follow my ascent route back down the white salmon, a line I knew would be safe. Since it wasn’t even 1pm yet I decided to drop in on the NW knowing I still had plenty of time left if that required a bail. It also appeared to me that the wind should have been depositing snow taken from the N face into the NW couloir.

The NW Couloir:

The NW couloir worked out very well and I only had to use my axe to pass two spots where I broke through the wind-buff. It was a truly memorable line, and one that had been nagging me for quite some time. The thing I noticed most being solo was the sheer silence. Once in the couloir there was no wind and the soft snow was very quiet. For 3000 feet the loudest noise was my own breath. FInding myself constantly surrounded by distraction in normal life I found true beauty in the silence of the mountain.

After having to take my time in the couloir to let the slough run I got about 6 great powder turns below the run outs of the sloughs. Standing below my most significant descent of the season I knew I had found what I went out looking for. It was one of those days I will never forget.

A WTF skin-track up the White Salmon:

I found out two things after the fact that were rather interesting, the first was that the party of 3 behind me ended up skiing the N. Face. It isn’t my place to judge their decisions, I’m just glad we all made it home safely after some hair-raising moments. The thing I just learned was that yesterday a person half fell into a hidden crevasse under the skin-track that we had all used to ascend the White Salmon. He was probably the last of 2 dozen people to cross the snow bridge. It serves as a reminder that big mountains have big consequences. The skin-track was clearly not expertly set but I followed it anyways, If luck wasn’t on my side things could have ended up much worse. I have found that close calls can have a lot of value, if you chose to learn from them.

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Read about the author:   Allen
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19 Comments

  1. Porter Haney
    wrote on February 3rd, 2011 at 6:03 pm  
    1

    Glad you came home safe, Allen. Always good to enjoy yourself in the mountains by yourself.

  2. sukiakiumo
    wrote on February 3rd, 2011 at 6:42 pm  
    2

    Saw you way up there as we were the party of 3 following you. Somehow we didn’t see you leave the parking lot! We had similar goals as you but turned back b/c weather. Glad you made it over before the clouds engulfed the Hanging Glacier. Hear you on the skin-tracks… whoever put them up must not have had good skins or just really liked switch backs! Next time the snow and weather will be better! Lets hope…

  3. Garrett Grove
    wrote on February 3rd, 2011 at 6:56 pm  
    3

    Allen great work on the NW Couloir glad the conditions in there were better for you, both are big lines to commit to skiing solo. I was part of the group of four that skied the North Face after you that day and can’t blame you for turning around. It was definitely heads up, we took it very slow through the icy section with our whippets engaged into the slope to moderate speed and control.

  4. Anonymous
    wrote on February 3rd, 2011 at 8:50 pm  
    4

    remember the adage: “climb what you ski!” Though I have dropped in blind too an a committing line, but it turned out much better.

    • JHL
      wrote on February 4th, 2011 at 11:08 am  
      5

      The adage “climb what you ski” is only relatve to East coast skiing. Does not apply anywhere else.

  5. Anonymous
    wrote on February 4th, 2011 at 12:27 pm  
    6

    Climbing the slope you are going to ski, prior to committing to it is best practice for the ski alpinist concerned with his/her own safety and longevity. Of course, it doesn’t matter if you stick to mellow slopes with little to no consequences. Your “east coast” comment makes no sense.

  6. Allen
    wrote on February 4th, 2011 at 12:28 pm  
    7

    I don’t really subscribe to climb what you ski. If I had climbed the N. Face I would have subjected myself to several hours of exposed climbing. Instead I climbed up a relatively safe route and minimized my risk. Using the pre established skin-track also allowed me to conserve energy which is important for dealing with possible problems later on.

  7. Anonymous
    wrote on February 4th, 2011 at 1:01 pm  
    8

    There’s definitely something to be said about conserving energy. And as a fellow ski alpinist, I’m glad you were able to get yourself out of that situation. But, personally, transitioning from ski to pons on a 50 degree, icy slope isn’t fun, especially if you could have made the call to bail as you were front pointing up frozen snow/ice to begin with. With all due respect, brother, ascending the flats to ski the steeps is foolish.

  8. Jplotz
    wrote on February 4th, 2011 at 1:06 pm  
    9

    There’s definitely something to be said about conserving energy. And as a fellow ski alpinist, I’m glad you were able to get yourself out of that situation. But, personally, transitioning from ski to pons on a 50 degree, icy slope isn’t fun, especially if you could have made the call to bail as you were front pointing up frozen snow/ice to begin with. With all due respect, brother, ascending the flats to ski the steeps is foolish.

  9. Anonymous
    wrote on February 4th, 2011 at 2:40 pm  
    10

    You do make it sound like the party that skied the n face made the wrong call…I’d say they made a better call then you. And have bigger balls for stickin with it. Making a transition on a steep slope is way sketchier than sticking with the descent and skiin it in a controlled manner…but not climbing the route was both of your guys biggest mistake. And then to say the white salmon was safer after someone fell through a cravass on the skin track! Yikes! The n face is a super mellow climb with almost no objective dangers. Climbing what you ski is the best way to stay alive in this game. I know you can’t always do that but in this case it definatley would have been the way to go.

  10. Sam at work
    wrote on February 4th, 2011 at 3:00 pm  
    11

    everyone likes to Monday morning quarterback this stuff….. I’ve gotta side with Allen on this, it would have made no sense to me to front point up an icy slope for several thousand feet over exposed terrain.

  11. Jplotz
    wrote on February 4th, 2011 at 5:51 pm  
    12

    Hey. No second guessing Allen at all. Love his site and the great photos. Keep it up, man!

  12. Forrest
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 2:27 pm  
    13

    I put that skin track in, looking back the switchbacks are pretty excessive (and yes I do like them). Thanks for the comments.

  13. Allen
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 7:08 pm  
    14

    My problem is that skiing BC everyday has turned me into a skin-track curmudgeon. That fellow almost falling in was a good reminder for me not to take the White Salmon for granted.

  14. dan
    wrote on February 13th, 2011 at 12:42 pm  
    15

    Nice job Allen! I saw your tracks in there, they were very purtty. New England represent!

    I agree with you about not buying into the mantra. Dropping in blind does increase the likelyhood of running into crappy ski conditions that you didn’t expect, but there is something to be said about developing an ability to forsee such conditions both with very attentive senses as well as taking extra caution on windward slopes, thorugh constrictions etc… usually there is some visual or gradual feelable indication of a change in surface conditions(which is why it’s a great idea to ski slow when dropping in blind) There are certainly routes where climbing it first would be prudent, such as a steep glaciated slop where underlying glacial ice may be likely. Slopes with known water ice steps, slopes that get windhammared, steep slopes where hidden rime ice is likely, all these and many more are great reasons to climb first. Dropping in blind does have some safety advantages — you greattly reduce your time in the fireing zone of rock/corince/ice – which depending on location can pose a significant hazard. Secondly, I can think of more that one occasion when I built an anchor at the top then ropped up to stomp a suspected slab out on the convexity, in other words, certain routes are acceptable for me to drop in blind, and others are not. In my opinion, there is no right answer about this, ski mountaineering is dangerous . staying safe is about reading the particualr terrain, snowpack etc.. and doing what you can to reduce the dangers.

    stay safe and keep up the good work!

    Dan

  15. dan
    wrote on February 13th, 2011 at 10:07 pm  
    16

    No disrespect meant to Mr. Plotz, he is a wise man.

  16. Anonymous
    wrote on March 15th, 2011 at 3:23 pm  
    17

    >>>The adage “climb what you ski” is only relatve to East coast skiing. Does not apply anywhere else.

    No, posting pics of yourself skiing dangerous lines on the internet and then not saying where they are to screw people is East Coast style.

    • Sam
      wrote on March 15th, 2011 at 5:22 pm  
      18

      how exactly did he not say where they are? How would keeping it a secret screw anyone?

      If you’re going to flame, do it under a real name or we might start removing your comments.

    • Greg
      wrote on March 15th, 2011 at 7:19 pm  
      19

      HA. awesome comment anonymous. way to discredit yourself quickly… surely you know you’re making a ridiculous point, that’s why you remain anonymous. wouldnt want to risk your actual reputation by using a real name. far easier to take a cop out. nice!

      too funny.

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