Monday, August 20, 2012

Skiing Denali: Turns in the Messner

Jeb, Matt and Tucker skin toward the Orient Express and Messner Couloir.

After a much needed day of rest, our team set our sights on some loftier goals.  The Messner Couloir was high on the list of objectives, but the snow had looked downright dangerous during our stay at 14 camp.  With a good weather forecast, rose early (a relative term in the Alaska Range) and set out to climb the Upper Rib and ski the Orient Express.

Tucker explores a crevassed section of the lower Messner.

When we got closer to the base of the Orient, we couldn't help but notice that the snow in the Messner was looking rather enticing.  Tucker and I decided that we couldn't pass up the opportunity.  We roped up for the lower crevassed portion, crossed a few snow bridges and were into the meat of the Messner shortly after.  

Climbing the Messner was amazing.  The exposure and continuous steepness was intense.  

Tucker climbing through the choke of the Messner at around 17k feet.
When we reached the choke of the couloir, a cloud socked in around us.  We deliberated about climbing higher and decided to ski while we could still see.  Descending the Messner in a white-out was not on my list of fun things to do on Denali.  We chopped out a platform to click into our skis on and made haste.

The descent - we couldn't have asked for better snow!
Tucker laying down a turn near the base of the Messner.
After the first few icy turns, the snow got really, really good.  It was boot buckle deep powder, soft windboard and only a couple of punchy wind-affected turns.  And of course, when we were about halfway down, the clouds cleared and the day went back to blue-bird!

Blue sky appears as we descended through the choke of the couloir.
We waited for Matt and Jeb to return from the Orient and skied back to camp.  On our descent, we passed a skier named Ricardo who we had skied off the summit with two days prior (he the first Mexican to ski from the summit of Denali).  He was headed for the Messner as well.  As we prepared dinner we watched him ski the couloir.  

Everyone in camp watched in horror as he was caught in a serious avalanche just below the choke of the Messner.  He survived the ride and was able to capture it with a Go-Pro video:

This avalanche goes to show how conservative you need to be in a new range.  This was a scary experience for all of us and we were glad to have learned the lesson the easy way.  

That night we were pretty tired and ready for rest, but the weather forecast had changed for the worst.   We needed to make it off the mountain.

1 comment:

  1. kick.

    didn't know you had a blog, Z. you're on my rss feed now, homeboy. keep the adventures coming!