There is perhaps some irony, that prior to my long hiatus from posting anything, the last thing I posted about was this very line. If you want to give a read to my last attempt in this space, just click here.

‘I feel hollowed out.’

‘In a good way?’

‘…I think so.’

I have spent three years pursuing this line. The relatively easy success of riding an adjacent face, which hung suspended over massive cliffs but shared the same shark fin feature below, left me thinking that the couloir would be an easy item to capture. That first foray I had intended to ride the couloir, but changed my mind on a whim. The line I rode instead challenged me in every way; a step into a different scale of riding and consequence. My insistent ego was convinced that I would find success with equal ease the next time I went out: I was wrong. By the fourth attempt it had become more of an expectation that I would fail, the framing becoming more that of a scouting trip. Snow conditions would be too hard, there would be too large a cliff between the fin and the fan, there would be too much snow sluffing down the face, there would be too much rockfall. My last visit left me wondering whether the line would ever be ridden again. The permanent snowpack that connected the fin to the fan was eroding away, leaving a rapidly growing ice cave at the base of the line. It seemed likely that within another year or two the joining snow would vanish entirely and my beautiful lines would become enshrined and unaccessible to any other. I liked the romance of that, it appealed to the visceral sense of that space, yet I was still frustrated by the fact that I had been denied the opportunity to be a part of that landscape.

‘I am starting to question whether leaving town at one is a bad decision.’

I didn’t care. It was a beautiful sunny day in town, I had a coffee, a smile on my face. The line had shut me down countless times, having a narrow window of time to skin to the base of it before being shut down again really wasn’t going to be an issue. I turned up the volume of the awful top 40 radio hit, and smiled as I drove. It was a beautiful day. I was going to go for a lovely walk. Today was going to be easy. On the off chance the line was in, the time frame would work. 1.5hrs to drive out there and get moving. 1.5hrs to be at the base of the line. 1-2hrs to get to the top it. I would be able to be riding down by six. Just as the sun set. However, I didn’t care. The line wasn’t going to be in.

10-15cm of fresh on the road. This was great. This meant that the fan was likely going to be pleasant soft riding. I would feel less like I had wasted 3hrs of my day driving if I actually got some turns in. Gear prepped, podcast still continuing in my headphones, leaving the car at 2:30, temps are perfect for moving quick. Jacket off. The skin track has only seen two skiers over the course of the day, so the track is fast, no messing around through the woods. Twenty-five minutes to the clearing, glance at my watch, it is always longer than I expect to get to the base of the line, even though I can see where I am headed. Likely an hour to go.

The snow is deeper than it should be. The remains of a skin track prior to the past two days of snow is barely visible in the flat light. I can barely make it out when the angle of the light hits it right. The only way to know I am still on the track is suddenly sinking into snow that is far softer than expected. Plus where did this snow come from? The ridge of the moraine has easily 30cm of fresh snow on top of the skin track. The line looks like it is connected, some rock showing where the fin and the fan connect, it is likely to be icy. I will still be turning around soon.

That was the intermittent internal dialogue over the hour and a half skin in. I was convinced that there was no way the line would be in. I wasn’t surprised at all when just a meters from that tenuous place at the top of the fan, I found myself kicking into empty space. The snow below my verts suddenly vanishing. I stepped back, and looked down into the abyss, yup, there was the ice cave. However, this schrund was at best a meter or so high, this was nothing compared to the monsters we had faced in the Yukon. A couple quick axe swings, a kick or two to find something that felt like it could bare my weight for a moment or two, and I was off. The continual flow of sluff down the fin had left a harder space, a few more axe swings, plunge the other one, a few more quick steps, front pointing on the verts, and I was standing on the fin, on a spine of deep fresh, perfect, powder.

I could likely describe in detail what climbing that line was like. All the noise starts to turn off on the climb, all the details become more sharp. Yet words don’t really do it justice. I can’t make you feel how airy that space is. I can’t give you the feeling of snow running down like a waterfall, rushing around you and filling in the spaces that exist between your body and the slope. You won’t know what it is like to have your legs and lungs burn as you continue to struggle upwards. Maybe it is enough to say that a lot of snow came down the line as I worked my way up it. That I had to burrow my way upwards, looking for the firmer sections in the runnels between the spines of powder that were forming. That 75 steps from the top the first big slide came off the face to my right, snapping my head up from where I had rested it against the slope. That it took me two hours to make the top of the line as the sun set and painted the snow purple and pink.

There is an incut in the rock at the very top of the line that I had hoped to make it into, a place to change over for the ride down without having to be balanced precariously on the face. However, the last two meters of snow below the cave were rotten facets on rock. I chose to simply dig out a ledge, as opposed to navigate my way through the last few steps of mashed potatoes. The second big slide came off the rock face while I was still smashing out space to stand comfortably. I think of it as big, only because I could hear it breaking and moving down the rock wall. The usual waterfalls of sluff that had covered me again and again on the climb were quiet things. This was that cracking sound of a muffled gun shot. A sound of consequence. It fell to my right, rushing down onto the ‘Edge of Eternity’, a few seconds of sound and then a muted kind of silence.

My buddy Tim climbs and photographs a lot of ice, is an accomplished alpinist, and happens to climb with some of the best in the community. We have a standing joke that what I am doing isn’t soloing. Neither of us would refer to hiking by yourself as soloing, and given that I am at best doing some steep snow-shoeing, it really doesn’t deserve the title. I am essentially mound bagging on snow shoes, with a moderately heavy pack. For the most part I agree, yet while it may not be soloing, standing at the top of a 50 degree slope, dug into the slope itself as I change over, knowing that with the volume of snow, that it is a certainty that the line is going to move; I feel very much alone.

The way down. Well, as the esteemed Jeremy Jones has put it so very well: There are no words for the way down.