Mount Tinemaha (#41)
Day 34, Mount Tinemaha
I woke up crumpled against one wall of my van. Swinging my legs off my bed, I stood up, nearly losing my balance. The “trailhead” for Mt. Tinemaha was a severely sloping patch of dirt with room for exactly one large van. I cooked breakfast and got my gear ready, all while bracing myself against one wall. I got ready quickly, determined to make my planned 4am start.
The east face of Tinemaha is a massive, steep maze of cliffs and gullies, all feeding into the central, main gully, like branches spreading from a trunk. It is not the type of terrain you want to be in once it heats up, as you are constantly exposed to rockfall and avalanche hazard from the countless chutes above. I had a 6,000 foot climb to the summit, and was determined to be on top, ready to descend by 10am.
The first crux of the day presented itself immediately, in the form of a brush-choked creek crossing. After stumbling through that, I set to work on the long, rocky trudge up to the ever-receding snowline. I finally reached consistent coverage at 8500, just before the main gully enters the bowels of the mountain above. A short distance later, I reached the biggest obstacle of the day: a 50 foot cliff that blocked the gully completely.
I had been expecting it, but that didn’t make the blatant obstruction of foreword progress any less frustrating. In the dark, moonless night, it was difficult to tell the best way to bypass it. Both walls of the gully were steep, rocky, and loose. The left wall had some snow patches, while the right was sandy and bare. I opted for the sandy side, fearing that the snow would be loose and unconsolidated. After slogging up the steep sand, negotiating some bushwhacky third class, and making a tricky traverse, I was back in the gully and moving quickly again.
Here, the snow was shockingly dirty, covered with gravel and debris that had blown down from the mountain above. Fortunately, the snow was firm, and made for efficient travel. The line steepened, and I donned crampons, pushing ever upwards, just ahead of my target pace of 1000 feet per hour.
When the sun finally rose, it did so with authority, blasting over the eastern horizon and instantly starting to soften the snow underfoot. Now, the clock was truly ticking. The longer it took me to get up and down the mountain, the worse my day would be: both more dangerous, and trickier skiing conditions.
The temperatures that night had only dipped just below freezing, resulting in a “soft freeze” -- a thin crust on top, with deep, wet snow beneath, kept warm by the rocks below.
As soon as the sun hit, I began breaking through in spots, often requiring full-on crawling to stay on top of the fragile, ever-softening surface. I was determined to make the summit by my 10am cutoff, and doggedly pushed upwards. My heart rate, too, steadily climbed.
I yelled encouragement to myself, shouts echoing off the looming rock walls on either side. With only a few hundred feet to go, the slope steepened even further, wet snow sucking at my body. The harder progress became, the harder I fought. I am usually very serene in the mountains, even in the most gripping moments. Not today, though. Together, the mountain and I raged. With one final burst of effort, I hauled my body onto the summit ridge.
I dropped my skis and charged up the final stretch of talus to the summit, reaching it in five and a half hours. 9:30. Beautiful.
My efforts were rewarded with a truly epic view of Split, Cardinal, and the southern Palisade Crest. I turned and looked back down my line: 5,000 feet of nicely softened snow awaited.
I transitioned quickly, anxious to get my turns before the snow fully fell apart. The skiing was variable, roughly half tricky mush and half excellent corn. The position and aesthetics of the sustained, continuous line made it a truly glorious descent.
When I reached the cliff, I opted to pick my way around the opposite side I had climbed, postholing across a couple snow patches then skiing back to the main gully.
I followed the thinning strip of snow to the bitter end, then took a moment to relax, sit down, and admire the massive face behind me. A wild ride indeed!
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