The Biglines Interview with Martin Lefebvre on First Descents of Pinnacle Peak and Lowell Peak.
Kluane National Park, St Elias Range
Martin Lefebrve and Ali Hogg team up every spring for a major ski mountaineering objective. In the past they’ve completed the Great Divide Traverse (with Sunshine Village ski patrol co-worker at the time, Yuji Akiyama), skied University Peak in Alaska, did the Northern Selkirks Traverse (with yet another SSV patroller, Meg Roth) and skied a list of Rockies classics. After an unsuccessful trip to ski a remote peak in Nepal last fall the team was motivated to get back to Alaska and try something big.
They teamed up with Meg again and flew into Kluane National Park on May 13 for a week of new lines. We sat down with Martin to get the story:
So you got the band back together and went to Kluane. What was the main objective for the trip?
The NE Face of Pinnacle Peak was the main objective but we knew we could get other skiing done in the range if that didn’t work out. (They had pretty limited beta on their objectives because most parties approach Pinnacle from the West and never really see the NE side)
The NE Face of Pinnacle is a big, bad ass line (this is an understatement. See photos!) and you guys skied it on the day after flying in. How did you get comfortable with conditions that quick?
We were there by noon the first day and just because you are at a higher latitude the sun goes down late, everything gets cooked and you can observe all different aspects. We were going for the melt/freeze cycle. There was a bit of new snow but the high winds got rid of it on our first day.
The route you used up the West Ridge had been climbed before, so you knew it went, but the ski line may have been climbed before too you think. Why did you choose the West Ridge as your ascent route instead of climbing your ski line?
It was basically a group decision to minimize our time with that objective hazard and take the safer route up.
What was the down side to that decision?
Having no idea what kind of snow conditions we were going to get. It made the upper traverse onto the face really committing. When you are punching that traverse… if you fall there it’s over. If you fall anywhere it’s over but there…
Did you know the line would go as soon as you saw it?
The one question was were we going to encounter ice on the way from the ridge to the face and would there be ice on the way down through the chokes?
How was the snow?
The climb took us longer than we thought. Once we were in the chute we were committed and the snow had refrozen almost instantly when the sun left it. The winds had been high all day keeping the snow cooler than we had anticipated.
It’s steep the whole way. Even above the bergschrund it’s still 45-50 degrees. In the middle of the chute it actually feels like it gets steeper. I think it took us an hour to get down. Fully white knuckled with ice axe- not just out, but using it. Pure survival skiing. It’s unfortunate because we missed the window by and hour or two and it’s one of the most aesthetic lines I’ve seen. In the right conditions it would be a true classic. I hope someone goes and gets it in good snow.
Tell us more about the ski.
We were all pretty gripped. Ali went first. We had radios, so we could keep talking and he called back to say there wasn’t any good place to regroup so he was going to take it down. By the time he was above the bergschrund he was saying there was no good snow anywhere. We were hoping it might be better as you lost elevation.
Meg and I ended up skiing it together and it still took us all two hours from summit down to glaicer.
Sitting at the top while Ali skied for that long must have been nerve racking.
We were starting to over think it and we just wanted to get in there and start skiing. Obviously the fact that it was taking him so long told us it was going to be… challenging.
We called the line on Pinnacle the Raven’s Back because as Meg and I were waiting the only ravens we saw the whole trip were circling the face.
How about Lowell Peak? It had never been skied before either?
I think we were about the 4th group to ever climb Lowell. Most climbers actually base camp on the Dusty Glacier on the other side. We were on the South Arm and I think the East Face (their ascent and descent route) had remained unclimbed because of that. It’s quite a straight forward line actually. You ski tour up to it and then kick steps up to a ridge walk to the summit. It was the best snow we had. Just good predictable melt/freeze corn skiing.
A line between Pinnacle and Lowell, called Pinnacle 2 is a big fin that spits the glacier with a good looking ramp line off the east end. The crew called it Redemption Ridge because it was the last major line of a very successful trip after getting absolutely skunked on their trip to Nepal in the fall. Martin compares the line to Sky Ladder on Andromeda “but better”.
It’s a fun steep ridge that gets wider lower down. 40-45 degrees and we could cruise it all the way back to camp.
Are there other good objectives around there for groups to target in the future?
There are lots of little tours in-between big days that you can do but I’d say those lines are the must skis really for that zone.
Base Camp on the South Arm Glacier at: 2250m
Pinnacle Peak: 3714m (main part of the NE Chute is 1000m vertical)
Lowell Peak: 3500m (main ski line is 800m)
The NE Face of Pinnacle is believed to be a first descent.
The East Face of Lowell believed to be a first ascent and ski descent.
The NE line on Redemption Ridge (Pinnacle 2) is a likely first descent.