A week ago I was up on the Yawning Glacier and noticed a striking line on the north side of Magic Mountain. I hadn’t read anything on the internet about it and it seemed improbable, to say the least. It was bookmarked in my head…

A week later, with more new snow, I was drawn to go back and give it a try. I had no idea what it would involve. It might not have been a ‘first descent’ but without any information/beta to go off it felt like a similar kind of puzzle. I was really excited to try it solo, to figure out the cruxes alone. I was open to trying it with a select few partners I really really trust, but outside of those few people I wanted to do it alone.

So armed with a 60m rope, some nuts, and slings, I headed up towards Cascade River Road.

Trip Report

Independent of my plan, Letty and Erin were planning to ski the north couloir on Trapper Mountain; Nick and Thomas were also planning to ski the west face of Sahale. So although I was planning to ski this weird line solo, I certainly wasn’t alone. In fact, I was surrounded by friends. It was a nice way to start the day.

Sometimes it can feel weird to have friends around you in separate groups, all moving at around the same time but with different plans for the day. I didn’t feel it this time. Letty and Erin started walking up the road just after 3AM, Nick and Thomas started around 315AM, I started just after 330AM. We all met up again at MP23 where we transitioned to skis from shoes. The morning was cloudy and socked in, classic Cascade Pass conditions after a storm rolls through. It seems to really hang onto clouds; Nick has dubbed it the ‘cloud machine.’

The snow was super saturated and soggy on the skin up to Cascade Pass. Just like last week, the clouds parted right at Cascade Pass. I ski traversed over towards Pelton Lake and was skiing into a beautifully clear morning. The snow on the east side of the pass was enjoyable soft snow on a supportable crust. It actually skied quite well, even if I was just traversing to begin my day.

I said goodbye to Erin and Letty at Pelton Lake and began my way up towards Magic via the Yawning Glacier. While they would still be within eyeshot behind me, this was my way of splitting our days and beginning the solo headspace. I turned on some dance tunes and up I went. Skinning was pretty easy, through 4-5 inches of new cold snow. I turned off the Yawning and headed over to the line I was going to check out.

Pivoting in the mountains is a learned experience, in my opinion. Early on everyone sucks at it. It feels hard to relinquish the memory you may have preset for yourself. With time it can fade (or not for some).

I pivoted pretty quickly on my line for the day. One of the cruxes turned out to be a vertical ice step I was not comfortable soloing. After I had decided to bail huge sluffs came down the couloir. The mountain must have been speaking to me in some way.

It wasn’t even 7AM yet so I now had to lean into a pivot. With so much time what would I do with the day? I had come into the day with backup options, knowing that the chances of success on my objective were pretty low. The W Face of Pelton Peak and the NE Face of Magic Mountain were both on my radar, as was another round on the NE Couloir (‘Banana’) on Magic. Maybe I’d check out some of those!

Looking up at the W Face of Pelton from the Yawning.

I skinned up to Alliteration Col, reframing my headspace for the day. I knew that temperatures were supposed to be climbing throughout the day so the clock wasn’t infinite. I’d have to be careful about the decisions I made and when I made them. I dropped my rope, 2×4 piece of wood, and rock pro at Alliteration to come and pick up later. Don’t need those anymore! I radioed to Erin and Letty, wishing them well on their foray over on Trapper. It was cool to see their tracks down to Trapper Lake. Such a cool position!

Letty and Erin’s tracks down from Alliteration Col towards Trapper.

I had read up on the NE Face of Magic beforehand and had sighted the W Face of Pelton last week. I felt confident on both; my only hesitation with the NE Face of Magic was the overhead hazard it entailed. It can be a bit of a garbage chute, with rock faces on either side that pretty easily shed into the gut.

I opted to head to the W Face of Pelton first. I didn’t feel confident pivoting to the NE Face of Magic immediately; I needed a bit of a reset. The W Face of Pelton stays in the shade late into the day and I knew the overhead hazard was near zero on it. It felt like a pretty sure bet and one that might get me back into a good rhythm after a early bail. I wanted to try the NE Face of Magic but didn’t feel ready for it, yet. If I had time still after Pelton, great. If not, oh well…it would still be there another day.

I headed up the W Face of Pelton with my Auftriib plates and made pretty good time. It was decent booting with the plates; there was some snice getting through the rocks in the middle of the face, but otherwise uneventful climbing. The pitch of the upper face is really nice, consistent 35-40 degrees. The steepest part of the face is the rocks in the middle, maybe 45-50 in one short spot. Not very sustained though.

The position of the face is marvelous; up higher on the face there’s a ridge that connects onto the N Face of Pelton and it feels super dramatic, like you’re hanging over Pelton Lake.

Booting up the upper reaches of the W Face of Pelton.

I walked over to the top of Pelton to look over at Trapper where Erin and Letty were. It felt pretty cool to see my friends over in a remote part of the North Cascades, on an epic adventure. I radioed to them, waved, then transitioned to my skis.

Looking over at Trapper from the top of Pelton. You can see Letty and Erin, little dots booting up the couloir.

The upper W Face was super fun skiing, maybe 4-5 inches of soft chalky snow that didn’t really sluff much. I linked turns down to the rocks quickly.

I opted to ski traverse out skier’s right of the rocks, instead of skier’s left (climber’s right) where I had ascended. The snow was pretty shit when I had climbed up and it seemed it’d be better on the skier’s right hand panel. Aside from a few jump turns, navigating the rocks was simple. I skied down to the Yawning, looked back at my tracks and snapped a picture. It felt good to get back into a rhythm. I pivoted and it felt good.

Looking back at the W Face of Pelton with my tracks, from the NE Face of Magic.

I didn’t really want to ski the NE Couloir (‘Banana’) again, plus that line has a lot of solar aspects that shed into it too. While I was climbing up the W Face of Pelton a strong easterly wind picked up and I noticed that the NE Face of Magic wasn’t really shedding much at all. There was some movement of snow early in the morning when I bailed initially, but once the wind picked up things quieted down. Hmmm…

Looking at the NE Face Couloir of Magic from Pelton.

It was around 830 AM at this point, which still felt early enough to give the NE Face a try. I looked at it, studied it a bit. It seemed that the bottom 500′ or so was exposed to the rock face that held snow and shed a bunch, but once through that the upper reaches didn’t really have much to slough down. Plus it looked like the gut of the couloir funneled all the debris into a very predictable path. If I stayed out of that line I should be able to manage the garbage. I felt I had a way to ‘go until it didn’t make sense’ and not commit myself to irreversible hazards. I skinned up to Alliteration Col once again and transitioned into ascent plates once more.

After 5 minutes or so of wallowing through graupel I had a momentary ‘fuck this shit’ moment. My legs were more tired than I wanted them to be and I had a lot ahead of me. I gave myself a minute to cope and agreed to try for another 5-10 minutes. If things didn’t get easier and I wasn’t any more stoked, I’d bail and just ski the Yawning, maybe take a nice lunch break at Alliteration. But sure enough, things did get easier. I was able to boot up the climber’s right side of the gutter a ways without any shit falling down on me. I crossed the gutter once to get into the shaded part of the couloir, then remained on climber’s left the rest of the climb. There were some small, golf ball sized chunks that came down occasionally, but for the most part nothing was raining down. Before long I was through the first 500′ and felt much safer with the rock faces no longer on top of me.

Looking down the NE Face Couloir after I was through the hangfire.

I looked down and saw 5-6 people coming up to Alliteration Col. Wow…crowded for this part of the Cascades. I had left my rope, 2×4, and rock pro at Alliteration Col and was cautiously watching the people to make sure they didn’t nab them. Not my favorite as I was trying to hustle up this steep couloir.

The couloir winds to climber’s left a bit at the top and the pitch steepens significantly. The bottom half of the couloir is a sustained 40-45, the top is a sustained 45-50, definitely a proper 50 at the very top. The top 100-200′ was solar and had a firm crust beneath maybe 3-4 inches of snow. I was able to plunge my poles in for good climbing purchase but knew that coming down on my skis would feel different.

At the top of Magic I again was treated to a lovely vantage of Trapper and the ladies. I even saw Letty and Erin skiing down!! SO COOL!! I heard them communicating over the radio; it felt like such a neat perch, watching them on their day.

I transitioned to skis, locked out my toes, and made my first turn. Wow, steep. The firm crust beneath the top layer of soft snow wanted to latch onto my edges. I let them catch and rode out the jump turn a little bit instead of just trying to come to a hockey stop. Really fun, engaging steep skiing up top for the first 300-400′ or so. Tricky snow, but manageable. Once I was through the solar section the cold snow deepened and the crust was less prevalent. I was able to more normally jump turn and began to link them together. The skier’s left side of the couloir was more shit snow where the rock face had shed, but the skier’s right side that I had climbed up was lovely chalk-pow. And as the couloir continued and the pitch eased up a bit it became ‘party pitch’ as I like to say. Super fun.

Looking down the NE Face Couloir of Magic, from the top.

Near the bottom I saw the 5 people I had seen coming up to Alliteration Col. They were beginning up my booter. It was now 10:30 AM, which felt a little late to me, but I stopped next to them and chatted quickly. I gave them the low down on conditions and said hi. I skied down to my gear cached at Alliteration Col, pulled out my pizza lunch, and radioed to Erin and Letty, congratulating them on skiing Trapper. I ate my pizza looking out at the S Glacier, really nice lunch spot.

I threw on some tunes and made big turns down the Yawning towards Pelton Lake. The upper half was lovely cold snow, the bottom half was nice corn pow at this point in the day. I broke trail back from Pelton Lake to Cascade Pass, which wasn’t super fun. The snow was fully saturated at this point and 5-6 inches of mank pow. Back at Cascade Pass I was pretty tired and readied myself for mank skiing down to the road. Sure enough, mank. I leaned into the backseat and let my tails do the work.

Back at my shoes, I paused for a moment to absorb the pivot that was the day. I bailed, thankfully, and ended up with a very rewarding day. I felt comfortable with the decisions made. Was heading up the NE Face at 9AM or so a bit on the ‘aggressive’ side? Yea, probably. I felt at peace with my decision, though. I was fully ready to bail, had observed the NE Face from Pelton, and kept myself out of harms way as best as possible. There’s no perfect formula to objective hazards, it’s very feedback negative and you don’t get burned until you do.

I mosied down the road to my car, opened up the trunk and took a nap while waiting for Letty and Erin. I was ecstatic to hear about their day when they returned. Even though we were separate for the day, it felt like a semi-connected experience.