British ski traverse of the Juneau Icefield

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 05/01/2012
Devil's Paw from the west showing west and south-west couloirs. Oli Lyon
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Alex Appelby, Ben Bizwell, Tom Francis and Oli Lyon, on an expedition approved by the BMC, carried out a ski traverse of the Juneau Icecap, making possible first ascents and first ski decents.

The four are British but living in different parts of the world, and have past  experience in climbing and ski-mountaineering in North America.

Their plan was a south - north traverse through the Boundary Ranges that straddle the Alaska (USA) - British Columbia (Canada) border.

After arriving at Haines, the four began their journey with a flight onto the glacier below Devil's Paw (2,616m), the west and south-west couloirs of which were their main skiing goals. Bizwell would use telimark skis, Lyon skis, and Appelby and Francis splitboards.

As a warm-up they first skied unnamed Peak 1,920m to the east of the Paw, across the border in British Columbia. After enjoying amazing views from the summit, a descent was made of a 350m, 50-55° chute on the south face

All then ascended the ca 1,000m west couloir to a notch south of the main summit of the Devil's Paw, and then skied back down the 50-55° slopes in perfect weather.

Conditions were much worse a couple of days later for the south-west couloir,  perhaps a little longer and steeper, at 55-60°. Team members gave up in high winds and low visibility at various points during the ascent, leaving only Lyon to reach the col at the top and make a ski descent.

Both are thought to be first ski descents, and only the south-west couloir is recorded as having been previously climbed; by Fred Beckey, Doug McCarty, Jack Tackle and Craig Zaspell during their first ascent of the Paw's south summit in 1976.

Rare ascents of the Devil's Paw have been made from the easier eastern aspect, the mountain having first been climbed in 1949 by Andrew Griscom, David Michael and Bill Putman.

They then moved a short distance west and after a couple of days of foul weather climbed and skied the central couloir on the south face of Couloir Peak (1,898m), first climbed by Fred Beckey and Andrew Griscom in 1949. They didn't go to the summit but skied the 50-55° couloir in bad conditions.

With the satellite phone dead, they felt a large compunction to continue the journey north to a pre-arranged food drop near border peak Mt Ogilvie. There, a rare break in the weather allowed them to resume eating full rations.

Whilst in this area they climbed OgilvieNE4 (2,307m) via the east ridge, stopping around 10m below the summit to ski a 450m south-facing couloir of 45-50° in 20cm of fresh powder.

Towards the end of the journey the season was changing to summer, making the pack rather dangerous to ski. Very early starts were essential in order to beat the midday thaw, when travel became hard work.

After 28 days on the Icefield the team finally reached the end of its journey at Skagway, and just made it back to Haines in time for the famous annual Great Alaska Craft Beer Festival.
 



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1) Anonymous User
22/01/2012
my friends and I were planning this exact trip at the exact same time. We bailed due to what appeared to be the promise of a terrible weather streak. Good to see that someone enjoyed at least a little bit of good weather and success, we got the crap pounded out of us by storms on our alternative trips. right on
2) Anonymous User
13/02/2012
Devils Paw SW Couloir was first skied by heli in the 90's. There is a glimps of it in one of the TB snowboarding films maybe TB5 movie. I climbed the SW col in april 2008 with 2 friends. We fell short of the tippy top but made it within less than 2oo vert and the slope was mellowing to the top. Rime ice and spin drift started coming off of the rocks above. Beautiful line. I have met a couple of boys from Utah who skied it a year or two later and I think they did both sothern cols. It's too nice of line to remain unskied. Good work getting after it. SE AK has a terrible weather streak year round, you just have to hope to get it; our trip was 2 years delayed. It's a good thing we live here.......we just wait out the storms and then you are in one of the greatest places when it is on!
Juneau Skier
3) Anonymous User
13/02/2012
Couloir Peak was skied by the Utah boys aswell and a few Juneau boys skied it that same year you guys did but earlier in the winter and I am sure it has been done before these two parties. Not to burst the bubble but I just want to set things strainght about first descents. Again, good work.
4) Anonymous User
13/02/2012
To Juneau skier
Many thanks for the clarifications. We'd like to contact you directly for more details. Could you possibly contact the BMC at office@thebmc.co.uk, with a subject line Mountaineering Reports.
5) Anonymous User
20/03/2013
What month was the photo taken? Thanks

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