The Longer Way Into Phelix

Every so often I feel like I have to go on a “Tim Trip”, one where we wake up far too early, ski way too much, and climb something obscure. We managed to accomplish all three of these things this weekend.

On Friday night, some friends asked how long it would take to get into the Brian Waddington hut. I joked that it normally takes 3-4 hours if conditions are good, but we were going to take ten hours.

The weather was pretty miserable at the trailhead, where it was raining, and nobody was allowed to faff. The plan was to ski up the road, and turn left into Phelix West and ascend the south fork, climb Mount John Decker, and then ski up the north fork to reach the Peregrine col and then down to the hut. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, or at least Tim thought I did.

View Phelix 2 in a larger map. The blue line shows where you turn left instead of continuing up the road, and then the detour south to the peak.

The route over to John Decker was more or less straightforward, except we couldn’t really see anything since it was soggy out. We soon learnt that the south facing slopes were a mess of crusty mank as we traversed steep open slopes to reach the basin northeast of John Decker. Even with the poor visibility, we could see massive cornices hanging off the northwest ridge leading to Decker. From the col north of John Decker, we slowly skied along the ridge, encountering a few exposed sections, and having to deal with a game of cornice hide and seek. We made it to the false summit, and decided it was good enough.

Tim, Dave, Anne, Evan, and Greta at the false summit. Piotr was still looking at the true summit (or what he could see of it) to see if it was feasible.

I’m afraid that if I keep on doing trips where we end up skiing in the clouds all day, I might stop bringing my camera along.

At least it wasn’t raining. I think Piotr was a little disappointed that we didn’t summit.

Greta carefully skiing along the heavily corniced ridge. If the cornices weren’t there, there would some great lines down.

We turned around at 2pm, and there was still a lot of distance to cover to get to the hut. The final climb up to the Peregrine col was quite exhausting, and even Tim was slower than usual breaking trail through the crusty mank. We arrived at the col in the dark. The 1000ft run down to the hut was great, despite having to ski it in the fog with our headlamps. The snow was very forgiving.

After a potluck dinner with the rest of the VOCers at the hut, I managed to convince Scott and Chris to go for some more skiing up at Cabin Hill. It was a full moon, the visibility was the best it had been all day, and the snow was surprisingly light. It wasn’t hard to convince my legs to go up for a second run. I might have to try skiing more things in the dark now. With those two laps, I think I managed to skin up over 8000ft of elevation that day.

The next morning, Tim Scott Chris Nick and I headed off into the upper basin, in search of “steep stuff”. We climbed back up to the Peregrine col and headed northeast along the ridge towards the summit of Frodo.

Pausing for a photo before trying to catch up to Tim and the rest.

Looking south from the col. Birkenhead Peak is the one with the prominent north facing couloir. I believe John Decker is hidden behind the second peak in the photo. That peak also has an unofficial LOTR name.

Chris skinning up, and lingering valley clouds below. The clouds came in and out all day.

Scott stoked to ski his second favourite run of the season so far

Scott dropping in. The first few turns were close to 50 degrees in a 20ft wide chute. It was really just a two person run as there wasn’t that much snow in it.

Fortunately it opened up and the angle eased after about four turns. I was quite tempted to just slid slip down instead of committing to the jump turns, but knew Nick wouldn’t appreciate my grooming.

Tim reaching for a pole plant at the top.

We skied the couloir just above the sluff. The cornice in the main couloir was detached from the summit, and the right side of the cornice was a near vertical wall of snowy rocks.

The sluff actually happened when Nick fell three turns from the top, and started tomahawking down the slope, weaving through a few boulders as Tim and I watched nervously.

Jeff and Natalie joined us for the second run. We skied off the ridge again, this time dropping in just left of the leftmost cliff in the photo above.

Birkenhead Peak being obscured by clouds.

Scott skiing down.

By the time I got up here, Tim and Nick had already skied down. Unfortunately Nick fell and dislocated his shoulder when his pole got caught behind him. We managed to get him to the hut, while Scott Jeff and I skied out to the car to call for a helicopter. I was skiing too slow on the way out (out of shape), and barely missed Scott and Jeff who left to find a phone. I ended up waiting an hour and half wait for the others in the rain with my booties on .

More photos

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