Mount Fernow, North Face ice apron, July 7-8, 2007

(photo by John Scurlock, january 2007)

Dave and I left the trailhead (3500ft) at 6am, and by late morning reached the 7800ft col west of Seven Finger Jack. I'd been here before in September, and getting down into this basin was a nightmare. Luckily, this time of year is was nearly all on snow. There was a little 3rd class downclimbing on loose boulders near the top.

Loose scramble

This brought us to a 1000ft ski run.

People commonly pass through here on their way to the south route on Mt Fernow. There were footprints from climbers who had passed through the day before. Down in the basin, we dropped our overnight gear and took an hour break. While it was pleasantly warm, it wasn't hot, and I wanted the snow on Fernow to be as soft as possible. So no rush. At 1:15, we left camp and hiked up to the ridgeline to the north. The map shows two skinny white streaks of snow here. I was nervous as we climbed some scree to the notch. The approach had gone smoothly so far - was that about to end? All I recalled from my September trip here (when the gullies were nearly snow-free) was that one looked easier than the other.

I was relieved to find a relatively moderate couloir on the other side, nicely filled in.

Not bad for the "approach":

(photo taken on the return) Dave took his time coming down the couloir - perhaps a little shaken from the loose scrambling earlier in the day (and the fact that he hadn't skied in a month). And so at this point, he announced that he would keep on going, at least to the basin below the face - just "for the exercise". I hoped he would change his mind once he saw the face.

Next, we had a quarter mile of snowless traversing around a ridge. We had to drop to around 6400ft to avoid cliffs. From here, we connected snow patches through the subalpine to the glacier below the north face. This side of the mountain is remote, and we felt like explorers (or I did, anyway). I wonder how many people set foot in these basins.

I always like to make fashion statements in the backcountry. Never know who might be watching:

I think the red arrow is a piece of what we're heading up to ski:

We hiked east along the skinny glacial remnant, still unable to see the north face "ice apron". Finally, at 7800ft on the far side of the basin, it came into view. It was beautiful, but steeper than I had anticipated. It seemed to arched skyward, steepest at the top.

Le apron

(photo taken on the descent) In the above photo, you can just barely make out a hint of a chute that heads left from near the top of the apron. It climbs another 200ft or so to the ridge top. I hoped I would be able to ski that, but it looked gnarly getting into it, and melted out on top. Plus the center of the apron just looked like such a good line.

A large patch of ice was already exposed (sort of hard to see in the above photo, but it surrounds the darker blotch on the face). Even though the snowpack is pretty good this year, the peaks on the east side of the Cascades are pretty dry.

Dave stopped at the last rock patch on the right side of the face, where the pitch was around 35-40 degrees. I continued climbing up to the apex. The snow was great, except for the glacier ice that wasn't too far underneath. As the pitch got steeper, it became a little worrisome. My ice axe shaft couldn't penetrate at all - it was like glass. My dull aluminim 'pons probably weren't too good for this either, but luckly the foot of wet snow on top of the ice seemed to support my foot quite well. As long as it didn't get any thinner things would be fine.

Looking up the apron

It was nearing 5pm and the sun was gradually going behind the ridge on my right - soon I was in the shade. I hurried my pace as I didn't want to snow to start refreezing. But actually as I climbed into the shade, the snow became more supportive and I could no longer feel the ice beneath. The angle increased to a solid 50 degrees and I wasn't certain I wanted to keep going to the moat at the top (moats are scary!). But I couldn't quit at this point.

I reached the end of the snow and peered over the edge. Well, at least it wasn't too overhung, but the moat was pretty bottomless and wouldn't provide a spot to get my stuff together. So I spent a few minutes stomping out a nice platform on the exposed slope before taking my pack off.

Getting my stuff together

I moved carefully so as not to lose any of my gear in the moat. I wasn't too thrilled with myself when I went to step into my skis and realized I still had my crampons on.

I was pretty high on nervous energy as I slide down from my perch and made my first turn. The snow was really nice - I was quite glad for that. Although the "bidness" part of this run doesn't last long (500 vertical feet), it was as steep as anything I've skied this year.

I had to be careful of the glacier ice lurking closely below the snowpack. I knew from climbing up that any ice patch wouldn't last for more than 10 feet or so, as long as I followed my up-track closely. I finally caught up to Dave lower down as the angle relented.

We skied the rest together, enjoying the views of the surrounding peaks.


After a 2400ft run, we reversed our approach from earlier in the day, and made it back to camp by 8pm. The next day it was time for sleeping in! And nice fun run down the gloomy glacier.

Gloomy Glacier on the left.

On the way up we encountered a few open crevasses and some droopy snow, which we end-ran. I peaked into one of the crevasses. This glacier ain't no joke.

Dave didn't think it was so gloomy.

At the top of the run, God decided to light things up.

In the afternoon we began the long trek out to the trailhead. The climb up through the loose boulders at the pass went well, and we were able to ski another 800ft down from there before switching to foot mode. Dave followed our ascent route from the previous day, while I tried skiing an additional 100ft before being cut off by a waterfall.

Then it was time for the steep hike down from Leroy Basin, and the flat 3.5 mile trail back to the car. Beer stashed in a creek made the last mile more pleasant.

The road to the trailhead sucks now - serious damage from deep ruts for the last 6 miles or so. Someone must have driven it while it was wet.