While many in the shredding community are well into biking season by now, those deeply involved in the Ski Mountaineering game are likely still immersed in their passion for snow. In the big ranges of Northern BC, Alaska and the Yukon the Big Wall Skiing season doesn’t really even start until May. There is an annual pilgrimage that occurs every year to places like Kluane Lake, Talkeetna, Telegraph Creek…, big mountain riders from all over the world organize expeditions that will take them into the places that hold some of the biggest skiable lines on planet Earth. Between the years of 1993 and 2003 I made this pilgrimage 8 times, and 14 years ago today, succeeded in my own penultimate descent. The West face of Mt. Deborah, in Alaska’s Hayes Range. Deborah 1 Dave Gauley and I had independently stumbled across this photo, published in the 1982 American Alpine Journal, following the first ascent of the face (we added the text for our own expedition funding proposal). At some point I said to Dave, “I saw a photo the ultimate line in an old Alpine Journal”.. “Mt. Deborah” he interrupted. “OMG, you saw it too? We have to go hit that thing, it’s so awesome!” The team would consist of; Dave, myself, and photographer Blake Jorgensen. There was no way Blake would join us on this face. He needed to be free to move around and choose angles, so we needed a partner for him that was strong in the mountains, and on an undertaking as serious as this we would all need a little comic relief. That was an easy choice, Mike ” Cooksie” Buchannan.

Cooksie

Cooksie

Looking out the window of the Beaver for a full 90 minutes at a whole lot of nothing, helped give us a concept of just how remote we were getting. No radios would work this far out and sat phones were still too expensive. Later Mitchell Scott would write in Powder magazine. “With no radio contact and a three-day walk to civilization, from basecamp, a truly exposed first ski descent of 12,339 foot Mt. Deborah beckoned”. When Dave and I first saw the face our hearts sank. So much ice. It didn’t look skiable. But with no radio contact we were here until our pick up, two-weeks hence, like it or not. We dug in, got out the binoculars and started studying the face. As it can often be in the big ranges this time of year, the weather was fickle, in and out, so we did little but eat, sleep, and study that face for the next 5 days.

Mt. Deborah

Mt. Deborah May 2000

This shot shows the full scope of the endeavour. The total vertical relief here is about 6,000 ft. The glacial portion about 2500 and the upper face about 3500. It would take us about 8 hrs. just to get to the bottom of the face.

 

Dave Gauley negotiating the Icefall.

Dave Gauley negotiating the Icefall.

Once we reached the face, we were able to weave our way through and around rock bands and ice runnels until we reached a wall of ice that went across the entire top of the face, about 200 ft. short of the summit.

Finally getting on the face

Finally getting on the face Photo Blake Jorgensen

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On the upper face Photo Blake Jorgensen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basking in the alpenglo of an 11 pm Alaskan evening, with nothing above but unskiable ice, and clouds rolling in, it was time to shred.

Dave reeling in the rope at the top of the face

Dave reeling in the rope at the top of the face

deborah 9

photo: Blake Jorgensen

The upper third of the face was a 60 degree bullet proof melt freeze ribbon of snow surrounded by ice. After those terrifying, tentative, tech, turns, the line relented into nice 50 – 55 degree pow through the rock bands. Then we spent several hours lost in a whiteout on the lower glacier making our way back to basecamp. I think we slept for 2 days. Mitchell Scott would write in Powder “The ski stands as a remarkable unassisted first descent of an incredibly remote peak, and should go down as one of the most challenging descents in North American history”. It was also, in many respects the end of an era. Getting this far out and this committed is just no longer necessary. I guess if one wanted to you could blow off the sat phone and modern communication, but why. Satellite phones are cheap and readily  available, and that contact could save your ass. I wouldn’t go without one. Once we awoke from our shred induced coma the fickle weather had gone full bluebird. With several days to go before our scheduled pick up the only thing to do was go Skiing!

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One of the near by lines we hit

BMC

BMC

One of the stellar lines we hit near the end of this trip we named BMC, for our buddy Brett Murray Carlson who died when he didn’t make it all the way on a massive road gap he attempted. The cover shot for the Fall 2000 issue of Powder tags the shot as first descent of Mt. Deborah. It was actually on Bretts’ peak.

Powder Mag Fall 2000

Powder Mag Fall 2000

Dave Gauley climbing BMC

Dave Gauley climbing BMC

 

J Foon on BMC

J Foon on BMC Photo: Blake Jorgensen

With the energy of Mt. Deborah coursing through our viens and the spirit of Brett alive in our hearts these were some of the greatest turns of our life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mt. Deborah was also the end of an era for me. I had found my ultimate descent. I had found my limit and I knew I would never have to look for it again. A good mental state to be in as I would marry the love of my life, Lisa Korthals 4 months later.