Jason Hummell sking the North Mowich Glacier, Mt. Rainier.
  Cascade Steeps  
  Part 2  

One local skier who was inspired by steep terrain was Jens Kieler (then Kuljurgis). In March 1981, Kieler and my brother Gordy skied the north face of Mt. Shuksan, the dominant peak visible from the Mt. Baker ski area. Like Chris Landry on Liberty Ridge, they packed alpine skis and boots up the route and changed out of their climbing boots before starting their descent. It was their first try at skiing such terrain, and Gordy, although a champion freestyle skier in the 1970s, found the experience unnerving. “It was not what skiing was about for me,” he later remarked. Neither of the pair ever publicized their descent and Kieler maintained that he had heard that “a Frenchman did it prior to that” (an echo perhaps of the Sylvain Saudan legend). Kieler was not deterred, however, and in subsequent years he explored steep terrain on other Cascade summits. In 1981, with four friends, he made the first known descent from the knife-edge summit of Eldorado Peak. He skied the northwest face of Del Campo Peak in 1983 and in 1985 skied the northwest glacier-Snow Gulch route on Whitehorse Mountain. Kieler also traversed the Picket Range on skis in May, 1985, with my brother Carl and me, making an ascent and descent of Mt. Fury along the way.

Ski descent of the Lyman Glacier.Photo by Ben Manfredi.
Ski descent of the Lyman Glacier.
© Ben Manfredi.
The volcanoes that dominate the Cascade skyline are a natural attraction to skiers seeking steeper terrain. In 1985, Dale Farnham skied the Kautz Glacier and its chute above Camp Hazard on Mt. Rainier. In subsequent years, he skied the route five times (all solo) and came to regard it as the best ski descent on the mountain. In the spring of 1988, Farnham skied the Gibraltar Chute, which he called “probably the most stupid thing I've ever done.” Following a climb of the Gibraltar Ledge with the intention of skiing back down (or across) it, he was enticed by the chute when he reached the junction of the two routes. He dropped in and within a few turns found himself on a 50+ degree slope that had narrowed to about the length of his skis. During the few minutes he spent in the narrowest part of the chute he was struck by rockfall dozens of times. He was relieved to emerge from the bottom in one piece. Farnham is an accomplished climber, better known for difficult first ascents of rock on Mt. Index, Bear Mountain, and Mt. Baring, and first winter ascents of Liberty Crack and the east rib of Willis Wall.

From certain viewpoints, a few non-volcanic peaks in the Cascades stand out as prominently as any volcano. Mt. Shuksan, viewed from the Mt. Baker ski area, is one of them. In the late 1980s, during a routine spring ski ascent of the Sulphide Glacier, Steve Vanpatten and Jim Witte, accompanied by three friends, found the summit pyramid of Shuksan dusted by several inches of new snow. Conditions seemed ideal, so Vanpatten and Witte carried their skis to the top. They began their ski descent with a belay from their friends above, but soon untied and skied the rest of the pyramid to the glacier below. In 1993, George St. James descended Shuksan’s northwest couloir by snowboard, the first recorded descent of that route on boards of any kind.

From Interstate 90 near Ellensburg, Mt. Stuart also dominates the skyline as surely as any volcano. In the mid-1980s, Sprague Ackley and Hope Barnes began a series of attempts to ski Ulrich’s Couloir, the striking gully that drops directly from the summit of Stuart to Ingalls Creek. Barnes, captain of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Rowing Team in 1984, was the first woman to regularly seek out steep ski descents in the Cascades. In 1985, she and Ackley skied the east cirque of Robinson Mountain in the Pasayten Wilderness and four years later the north couloir of Oval Peak, a remote summit in the Sawtooths east of Lake Chelan. The pair finally succeeded on Ulrich’s Couloir in May 1990, just days after the route was first skied by Shelby Burchett, Jeff Cvitkovic, and Scott Wicklund. Tragically, Hope Barnes was killed with her friend Kathy Phibbs during an attempt to climb the Triple Couloir on Dragontail Peak in January 1991.

A smattering of other steep routes were pioneered by the mid 1990s, but progress was slow, with just one or two noteworthy descents being made each year. Around 1997, the pace suddenly quickened. Several factors were responsible. All-plastic telemark boots, introduced in the early 1990s but accepted slowly at first, were recognized by nordic skiers to offer as much control on steep terrain as alpine touring boots. Alpine touring equipment was becoming more comfortable for long approaches and more reliable for steep terrain, and national magazines such Couloir and Backcountry had for several years promoted steep descents as a way to lure lift skiers into the backcountry, which was good for the publishers and their advertisers. New blood was entering the sport, and interest was shifting from long, remote high routes, which had been a key frontier in the 1980s and early 1990s, to the vertical plane.

The most publicized descent of 1997 was the Edmunds Glacier headwall on the Mowich Face of Mt. Rainier, a route that Dale Farnham and a friend had attempted two years earlier. Armond DuBuque, Doug Ingersoll, Andrew McLean and my brother Carl skied the route in mid-July. A Seattle TV station interviewed the skiers a few days later, Ingersoll wrote a prominent article in Backcountry magazine, and the team presented their slideshow at the national outdoor retailer convention and elsewhere the following season. Not since Chris Landry’s ski of Liberty Ridge in 1980 had a Cascade ski descent received so much attention.

Several other fine descents were made that year, including the Slot Couloir on Mt. Snoqualmie, the Tahoma Glacier on Mt. Rainier (all but a few hundred feet, during a traverse of the peak), and the northeast face of Mt. Curtis Gilbert by young Yakima skiers Ben Manfredi and Charlie Berg. Also, around this time, skiers descended from the summit rocks of Black Peak, near Rainy Pass; Mounts Larrabee and Spickard, near the Canadian border; North Gardner Mountain, near Mazama; and the Sherpa Glacier Couloir on Mt. Stuart.

Jason Hummel skiing “Stormy Monday” on Mt. Adams. © Ben Manfredi.
Jason Hummel skiing “Stormy Monday” on Mt. Adams. © Ben Manfredi.
In 1998, skiers and snowboarders attacked the volcanoes with a vengeance. David Orsatti snowboarded the Park Glacier headwall on Mt. Baker, edging out a ski party led by Martin Volken by just days. Luke Edgar and Chad Kellogg made a spectacular snowboard descent of the Success Glacier Couloir from the top of Point Success on Mt. Rainier. On Mt. Adams, Ben Manfredi and Charlie Berg skied the northwest face of the north ridge and the following year the north face of the northwest ridge. For Manfredi, this began a fascination with the north flank of Mt. Adams that would produce five new descents in five years. In 2000, Rene Crawshaw and my brother Carl descended the north ridge of Mt. Baker, making a rappel on skis over the prominent ice cliff at mid-route. The allure of volcanic steeps showed its dark side on May 24, 1999, when David Persson, a Swedish skier living in Canada, died in a fall while skiing Liberty Ridge.

Chronology 1990’s
• 1990, May 11
Mt Stuart, Ulrich’s Couloir
Shelby Burchett, Jeff Cvitkovic, Scott Wicklund*
• 1990, July 1
Mt Adams, Adams Glacier
Bill Frank
• 1991, July 6
Tricouni Peak, West Couloir
Carl Skoog
• 1992 (circa), spring
Mt Rainier, Wilson Headwall
Jim Collinson (with Ned Randolph)
• 1993, May 29
Mt Shuksan, NW Couloir
George St. James*
• 1993 (circa), spring
Tenpeak Mountain, North Couloir
Andreas Schmidt
• 1995, March
McClellan’s Butte, North Couloir
Oleg Ashirov, Brian Povolny
• 1995 (circa), spring
Mt Adams, Pinnacle Glacier Headwall
Matt Perkins
1996, April
Overcoat Peak, North Couloir
Andy Dappen, Martin Volken
1997, January
Kaleetan Peak, S-E-NE Spiral
Steve Martin
• 1997 (circa)
North Gardner Mountain, NE Couloir
Sprague Ackley, Brian Povolny*
• 1997, April
Mt Snoqualmie, NW (Slot) Couloir
Jan Kordel, Steve Martin*
1997 (circa), spring
Mt Larrabee, SW Route
Steve Hindman*
• 1997 (circa)
Mt Stuart, Sherpa Glacier Couloir
Jeff Mazinko, Shane Wilder*
• 1997, May
Mt Rainier, Tahoma Glacier
(partially on foot)
Rob Gibson, Aaron Horwitz, Darrel Howe*
1997, May 18
Black Peak, SW Route
Rene Crawshaw, Andy Dappen, Carl Skoog*
1997, June
Mt Curtis Gilbert, NE Face
Charlie Berg, Ben Manfredi*
• 1997, July 19
Mt Rainier, Edmunds Headwall
Armond DuBuque, Doug Ingersoll, Andrew McLean, Carl Skoog*
• 1998 (circa), April
Mt Spickard, True Summit
Steve Hindman*
1998 (circa), spring
Mt Cashmere, SE Face
Gordon Briody
1998, June
Mt Baker, Park Glacier Headwall
David Orsatti*
• 1998, July 3
Mt Rainier, Success Glacier Couloir
Luke Edgar and Chad Kellogg*
• 1998, July
Mt Adams, NW Face of North ridge
Charlie Berg, Ben Manfredi*
1999, February
Mt Snoqualmie, N (Crooked) Couloir
Ben Haskell, Jim Sammet, Scott Schell, Martin Volken
1999, July
Mt Adams, North Face of NW ridge
Charlie Berg, Ben Manfredi*
• 1999, July 20
Mt Buckner, SW Route
Garth Ferber, Lowell Skoog
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