“I know this is going to sound crazy,” then a pause. “I think we should jump.”
It is that ‘Oh shit’ moment that turns an average day out into something a lot more involved. Those times where it comes out under your breath, not even intended for emphasis delivered to an audience. More just a guttural response to an environment that has suddenly pushed you out of ‘comfort’.
I kicked one of the verts into the spine, trying to build something of a ledge to stand on so being on a spine above a cliff didn’t feel quite that precarious. I glanced back down at Brandon, I wasn’t about to downclimb the mix of ice and rock. He asked something about coming up, another glance back into the couloir a few metres away.
‘I guess we’ll jump,’ I thought to myself and shouted something non-committal down to Brandon about coming up. My first order of business: make this tiny flat spot of security a little bit bigger.
By the time Brandon got up to me, there was space for both of us to perch on the side of the spine. “Well this is just a great place to be…” he muttered behind me. “At least it will be soft.”
“Yeah…” he started to say something, but I had stood there long enough staring across the few metres I needed to travel to get into the line. I jumped. The time before I hit the ground expanded a little, just long enough for that empty silence of space to spill into the rest of me, then I hit the ground. I grinned back at Brandon. “You should have told me you were going to jump. I would have gotten a photo… that was sick,” he said, laughing.
So maybe not everyone would be out here in this particular line on a season when the cliff at the bottom didn’t fill in. However, two months earlier the cliff had been twice as large and had shut me down completely. This time, the fact that we could climb up a side-chute and by so doing avoid the cliff meant that my day was immensely better. This was going to be awesome. We were now working our way up the upper section of the main couloir on Mt Chephren.
Topping out at somewhere upwards of 2600m, the line could be ridden all the way back to the lake which Google Earth says sits at 1758m.. About 400m from the cornice to the cliff, another 300m of glacial bowl, 200m of ramp, and then 100m of tree bashing to the lake. It didn’t look like a half kilometre of vertical up to the cornice from where the two of us were now standing, but given we had stumbled upon winter, it was time to move.
We wallowed upwards waiting to hit some kind of debris in the line, some hard spot, yet it never came. We climbed 400m of vertical with the snow well above our waist despite the verts. Sluff occasionally pouring off the walls and running down to cover our tracks and bury us even deeper.
The line ever-steepening, the snow ever-deepening. This was ridiculous, it was summer at the car. Yet here we were, wading through the deepest snow we had seen all season with more of it falling from the sky. We had found winter. Evidently she had been hiding here in the shade all year, waiting for someone to come and dance with her under the watchful eyes of Chephren.
It took ten minutes to build a ledge large enough for the both of us just below the cornice. The last 25m of the line had been the steepest, definitely past the 50 degree mark, our ledge was dug in deep, a platform to pause on before we plummeted back down to summer. I could feel the adrenaline in me, it was causing me to shiver as much as the cooling sweat, yet it would pass. We changed over with a mix of smart ass comments, making sure not to knock each other or the gear off of our ledge.
Redbull consumed, a superstituous libation poured out, can shoved into the bag. Then it was time. A shivering fist bump exchanged between myself and Brandon. Then it was off to find absolution.
The first turn at the top of the line was tentative. A hard turn to see how much of the slope was going to move with me. Then another, less cautious, and then with my vision blinded by powder there was nothing left to do but commit to the fall line. The line itself we shared, trading places as we flowed down the slope, the remembrance of riding powder this deep and perfect being tugged out of the memory of muscles that hadn’t had to ride this pitch with this kind of snow for over a season. Riding blinded by whiteness with every attempt to control the embrace of gravity pulling us down the face, and then an arcing turn to make it clear of the sluff before a hard cut back across to a place to pause and let Brandon rush by me.
The cliff I hit switch; I had set up for it poorly, the task of the one scouting how many rocks had been exposed by the rivers of sluff. I uttered a quiet thank you to the boys at Dollhouse agency for getting me on a 2016 split twin. An awkward drop but it worked, better than trying to wall ride the more exposed rocks. Brandon and his backwards riding didn’t have the same hesitation. He caught his own sluff and just floated down into the lower slope. A fist bump and grins and then we were off again, party riding down the still-perfect snow until we finally reached the lower trees and waded through the effects of summer by the lake.
This week it started to snow. Maybe our dance with lady winter drew her out from hiding for a while, but the chase will continue. If she starts hiding again, we will be quick to pursue her into the high places and seek another dance.