The Pinky Spines

Posted By: The Ski Channel on May 5, 2012 3:45 am

<p>With a high pressure forecasted for the week, everything looked like it would come into alignment.  With three days of perfect weather  we could get everything checked off our list.  If we had time for more it would be great.  But three days would be amazing. </p>
<img class=”size-full wp-image-83647″ title=”The Pinky Spines ” src=”” alt=”" width=”640″ height=”480″ /> They look spined enough to ski safely



The first day after the storm cleared we went to play in a small, but steep section with lots of seracs and icefalls that provided a beautiful backdrop.  We wanted to get higher, but we needed to give the snow time to stabilize.  At the end of the day, the weather was holding, and all the athletes made plans for the next day.  It was decided that Carston and Zack would get up early to jump over the mouth of this huge ice cave at sunrise.  It was a spectacular setting, and the group was dreaming of cover shots and film segments.  It was also not totally perfect and at dinner we had to ask if it was a wise decision.  They were convinced it could be done safely.  They were right!  They both executed perfectly and the videos and photos are incredible!




<img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-83649″ title=”From Inside the Ice Cave” src=”” alt=”" width=”640″ height=”480″ /> 

<p>I essentially had three options for lines in the area.  Two of the lines were evening lines, and one was a sunrise line that would require a three o’clock in the morning start.  It made sense to start with the evening lines, so that I would not be navigating unknown crevasse terrain in the dark.  Of the two evening lines, I chose the “Pinky Spines,” thus named because of the color at sunset.  The Pinky Spines were more technical, but slightly smaller and for some reason just felt like a better starting point.  And the light on them was spectacular, so we all really wanted to see them get done. </p>

The light on these spines would be perfect between 6:30 and 7:00 in the evening.  We left camp casually at 1:00 in order to have plenty of time to make our way through the crevasses and find a safe way up the steep portions of the climb.  On what would be our first attempt, I managed to fall through a snow bridge and end up about waist deep in the upper most bergshrund.  I managed to get myself out, but we then had to find a place where the snow bridge was stronger.  As we were probing around and searching, I happened to look up to see a small avalanche headed toward us from the ridgeline.  I alerted Drew, whom was my rope partner, and we proceeded to shuffle out of the way as calmly as possible.  The avalanche filled in the hole in the snow bridge where I had fallen through about five-minutes prior.


We would need to find another way up.  I was thankful we had given ourselves plenty of time.  We moved to an adjacent couloir, climbed it for a while to a connecting spine, and proceeded up this for a little over a thousand vertical feet.  Because of our position, we no longer had to worry about avalanches or crevasses.  But the pitch of the slope was intense.  Eventually I was belaying Drew as he followed me.  It felt like rock climbing except we were waist deep in powder. 


 <img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-83650″ title=”Climbing the Pinky Spines” src=”” alt=”" width=”640″ height=”480″ />



<p>Once we reached the upper faces of this feature two things became very clear.  The first problem was that the spines were not as defined as they looked from below.  There was no high ground to stay on in case of an avalanche.  The second issue was that the snow was extremely reactive to all activity.  An avalanche was extremely likely, and the terrain was a death trap.  It was not a recipe for success.  It was actually a pretty easy decision to go back down our boot pack for a couple hundred feet and then gingerly ski down the ridge until we were well away from the start zones of the avalanche path.  We would have to wait for another day.</p>

Unfortunately, the next day brought an unforecasted storm that left us tent bound for two days.  I was totally disappointed.  I did everything I could to stay alert and ready to pounce as soon as the weather cleared.  But when it finally did, it was time to go.  The team had flights to catch.  The big lines I had dreamed about were left standing without any signatures. 


<img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-83651″ title=”Pink Light” src=”” alt=”" width=”640″ height=”480″ />

<p style=”text-align: center;”> </p>
<p>I would be lying if I said I was extremely disappointed.  I so badly wanted to stay one more day and give everything I had one the two other possibilities.  But it wasn’t in the cards.  The next days were kind of tough, but once I got home and had a little time to reflect, I realized it was a great trip and we got a lot done.  More importantly, I learned a lot and will be ready to crush it next year.  And at least now I know where I will draw my inspiration for training in the coming months.  Never finish business in a place you want to return, right?</p>


<p><em>Independent Descents is written by Donny Roth, who is passionate about sharing the human-powered skiing experience.  The blog series focuses on sharing trip reports from around the globe as he connects with people and mountains in destinations near and far.  As an athlete, guide, and writer he can be found in a lot of places, check out his website - <a href=””></a> - to see all the ways you can share in the experience. </em></p>