Geoff and I really pushed it yesterday with our climb up Chimney Couloir, and the unexpected descent on the Northeast side of Pamola. As tiring as yesterday was, I didn’t sleep well at all last night. Between being a hot, sweaty mess and my air mattress popping, there was no way for me to stay asleep. I would wake up constantly as I tried to shift my body on the plywood bunk surface to find a comfortable position.
My toes were in excruciating pain from kicking them into the icy surface so my crampons would gain purchase (aka “toe bang”). I had said last night before going to bed that today would be a low-key day. I wanted to take it easy so as to preserve my feet and strength for our long trip out tomorrow.
We had a rather slow morning in the cabin, eating granola and sipping tea. At one point, Geoff looks over at me and says something like “I was gonna head out toward the saddle for a ski, you want to come?”. Of course, I couldn’t say no. After all, that’s why we were here. I certainly wanted to make the most of our time. I promised myself I wouldn’t overdo it.
As I gently tried to slip my feet into my ski boots, my blisters and toes radiated with soreness. I popped a couple Ibuprofen, chugged some water, and began walking around the cabin to gather my avalanche beacon, probe and shovel for the day’s activities. We agreed to mostly stay in the trees, skiing glades and riverbeds.
We went up the Saddle Trail to the base of where it turned into alpine. We crossed a couple previous avalanche run outs in order to access an area we’d be skiing. We might have ascended a few hundred vertical feet before removing our skins in preparation of our descent. Our plan was to ski part of the lower snowfields in the saddle, and drop into a streambed that would lead us back towards Chimney Pond.
Before locking in our bindings to begin skiing down, we noticed an unlikely trio of guys (one with a snowboard, one with downhill ski’s, and one simply on foot. None of them had snowshoes and were post holing all the way up from the pond) who were headed straight up the saddle in the path of the avalanche run out. Even though the snow pack proved to be relatively stable, Geoff and I felt an obligation to recommend that they pick a safer route up the slope, and not directly in the path of previous avalanches. Geoff slid over to within earshot of the guys, but by the time he got to them they had already veered off of the avalanche runout into a more protected area. Surprisingly, the skier in the group recognized my skiing partner, Geoff, from time spent skiing at Jay Peak in Vermont. A small world it is!!
Geoff got back to where I was positioned, and we started our descent. The surface was rather hard, but good enough to keep a good edge hold and link turns. In my opinion, a less than ideal day skiing beats any day spent at work! We made our way down to the beginning of the streambed and took in an amazing, and rather humbling view of Chimney Couloir (yesterday’s daring climb). It stopped us in our tracks when we got a glimpse of what we had climbed the day before. We snapped a few photo’s before the landscape slowly started disappearing with from the pending snow storm that was upon us.
We started making our way down the streambed that paralleled the Saddle Trail. It was very mellow terrain, and a little boring.. We made a second trip back up and decided to pick our way down through the trees. Again, a bit mellow, and rather thick brush to contend with. But still fun.
After our second run, we took a lunch break back at Chimney Pond Cabin. I was debating whether or not to go back out. Before long, we decided we’d go back out and check out some of the terrain below some icefalls on the side of Pamola Peak. This area was pretty much right outside our cabin and would take no time to access.
“There we were, climbing Chimney Couloir again, in a snow storm.”
We skied across Chimney Pond to the base of the slope leading up to the icefalls. Climbed up a couple hundred feet, and skied the narrow pathway down to the pond. It was narrow going down, and we had to make jump turns for the first few turns when we started down.
Once we both met up on the Pond, Geoff suggested we go back up into South Basin and ski down, close to where we had dug our “hasty pit” the previous day. Right next to Chimney Couloir.
We donned our climbing skins and made our way up. By this time, it was snowing steadily and visibility was becoming less and less. When we arrived to the hasty pit at the base of Chimney Couloir, Geoff looks at me and says “How would you feel about climbing a little ways back up the couloir?”
I responded with “ummmmmm, I don’t know about that…” By this time, we had about 2-3 inches of freshly fallen snow and the storm was only beginning. Geoff replied with “Well, I think I might climb up part of the way. Would you wait for me here, about 45 minutes?”.
Ugh. “Okay, I’ll just come with you!” I quickly decided. I didn’t want to sit in the cold for 45 minutes. I also felt as though we had some unfinished business since we were not able to ski down the Chimney yesterday. “Cheers!” Geoff replied in his contagious British accent.
There we were, climbing Chimney Couloir again, in a snow storm. It was eerily silent inside the couloir. No wind, and rock bands/cliffs towering above us. After a few minutes, an unusual sense of comfort came over me. I felt as though that’s where we belonged at that moment. My gut said “Yeah, this is going to be awesome.”
We climbed about halfway up the couloir before deciding it was time to descend. It wouldn’t be much further up before it turned over to bulletproof snow/ice. As we carved out a flat area with our ice axes, hugging the edge of a boulder on the wall of the couloir, we witnessed some “sluffing” coming off of the cliffs above and down into the couloir. A “Sluff” is a small slide of dry, powdery snow that moves as a formless mass. It is far less dangerous than a slab avalanche.
The sluff moved past Geoff as we prepared to ski down. Being the gentleman that Geoff is, he let me drop in on the couloir first. It was steep, effortless, and amazing. This moment right here may have been the high point of the entire trip for me, and probably Geoff too.
I skied down to where we had dug our hasty pit and waited for Geoff. As we met back up, it was nothing but smiles from ear to ear. I am thankful that Geoff kept me motivated to do this. If he hadn’t pushed me to do so, I probably wouldn’t have done it.
We skied together down the basin and back to the pond. As we arrived to the pond, the rest of our crew was having some fun sledding down the hill and across the pond ice. They were going a pretty far distance once they reached the ice! We filled them in on what we had just done, signed back in at the ranger station to let her know we were off the mountain for the day, and went back to our warm, cozy cabin in the woods.
We all gathered in the cabin to cook dinner and chat about the day. I do recall a lot of joking and laughing that occurred, though, that had been going on the entire trip.
Geoff and I made a couple hot toddy’s with bourbon gave a cheers to another successful day on Katahdin.
We spent the rest of the evening rummaging through gear in preparation for an early departure the next morning.