I texted T on Friday and within 2 minutes we had plans for Sunday. First day of the season, no expectations, just get out and stretch the legs a bit.
I was up at 5 making coffee and boiling water for tea to carry in the vacuum bottle. We were on the road to Govy by 6am. After signing in at the climber’s registry, we started up to Silcox hut. Windy right from the start, but the sun was shining and the horizon was clear with only a low broken cloud layer beneath us.
Right away I realized how thin the snow cover was; the road was chewed up cat track with gravel and exposed rocks everywhere. The snow was slightly better when we reached the hut and tucked behind the east wall to have a snack before continuing up.
Right away we made the mistake of trying to stay just to the right of the run coming down Palmer glacier. I’ve made this mistake a couple of times and it turns out to extremely icy. I think the wind coming over the ridge hits this spot and blows the snow down to an icy surface. We ended up traversing right and getting on the cat track as we made our way to the top of Palmer.
The wind wasn’t gusting but was consistently in the 30-50mph range. I had a buff pulled up over my mouth and wore glasses – I should have covered up more and been wearing goggles. The whipping ice and snow was exfoliating my face. When the wind slowly picked up I just turned my face away and down and paused until the winds calmed.
We traversed back left and made our way to the lift house at the top of Palmer, went inside and took our skis off and decided what to do. The skinning up high would be more wind blasted ice and probably not much fun to ski down. We decided to leave the skis and don crampons and continue up. The spindrift was covering everything – if I left my pack open for half a minute, it would be filled with snow. We stashed the skis outside the lift house in case they decided to shut it down and close the door because of the wind.
After climbing up for another 35 minutes, to about 9400 feet, we went left and got a clear view of Illumination Saddle (one possible objective for the day). Tucked behind a boulder we had a snack, dispatched the Stiegl and agreed to descend, pick up the skis and bug out.
The ski out was icy and windy. Not super ideal conditions, but it was good to finally get out and on the mountain.
A few things:
- We were a little bit lax in our morning meeting. It consisted of a couple of objectives, subject to change based on conditions. It was an okay way to plan, but we should have done it before we left over coffee. Weather planning was okay – clear skies were forecasted, but I didn’t see anything about the wind.
- One thing I always try to improve are transitions. I usually put on my climbing skis the night before I set out instead of at the trailhead. My pack could have been better organized for food. Water was good – I carried about 2.5 liters plus the 20oz vacuum bottle. I didn’t put the insulated tube on the hydration pack though, so the bite valve froze closed.
- I did’t take the handheld GPS, but used a topo app with 15m quads on my phone – but I had my phone in my pack and it quickly went outside of the operating temperatures. The message on an iPhone when that happens is that the phone needs to “cool down”, it was actually frozen and rebooted after I put it in my pants pocket to re-warm.
- We took too long at the top of Palmer. I was thinking, would we be out in these conditions if there weren’t people around and if the lift house was closed? Not sure – but I think there is a false comfort in knowing there is shelter. I think in the future I’m going to avoid going anywhere near the lift house and rest/transition without relying on it; on a summit climb (leaving the lodge by 2am) the door is shut and locked.
- Never try to skin straight up Palmer … unless there has been a big dump and low winds. It’s always more efficient to stay right on the cat track.
- No more stopping at Silcox Hut – that should just be a quick gear check before continuing up.