Stein South Divide: Attempt 1 Recap

This past week I made my first attempt at the Stein South Divide Ski/Raft route. I had given myself an 80% chance of completing the route but I wasn’t able to, instead getting 25% of the way in before turning back.

The first day I broke a tip loop on one of my climbing skins and inadvertently combusted my 2 out of my 3 pairs of socks drying them on the wood stove. That wasn’t why I turned back though. I made a new tip loop with some 1.5mm dyneema which worked quite well.

Like almost everything that goes wrong in the outdoors, my retreat wasn’t caused by something dramatic like a run in with a griz or tumble into a crevasse. Rather it was the boring and usual culprit: uncooperative weather.

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Stein South Divide – Plan was to traverse all of this including the mountains way in the back.

Going in I knew the forecast was hot and sunny for a few days possibly followed by some snow. On the first day I gained the alpine (+4300′) and it became apparent that hot meant really hot. Admittedly the weather forecast predicted exactly this and I just didn’t believe it (+10 C at night at 7000′ in April?). The next morning I tried to start early to get across potential avalanche slopes before they were too sun affected. I was out of bed at 5 and on the skin track with the first light at 6am. When I crested the first pass at 7:30am the snow was semi-firm but warming fast. By 9am it was over for snow stability. The snow was mush everywhere and starting to both slab and point release. By 9:30 it was +18 C (64F) and the first cornice dropped in the valley.

I had one more side hilling section ahead of me before I was done with avalanche prone slopes for the day but I knew it was dumb to head across it. Doing so would also put me in similar situations the next day. That side of Tundra Peak is called the “terminator slopes” for a reason. I wondered if I could lay up and cross it the next morning. I messaged my wife on the Delorme InReach to get the forecast: One more hot day and then snow flurries the rest of the week. I knew I didn’t want to try to ascend Skihist solo in a winter squall, nor did I want to be parked at its base for days waiting for a weather window, so without any good alternatives I decided to cancel the effort.

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That afternoon I climbed a small peak (Tabletop) that had a mostly bare rocky ridge to the summit before turning back to the cabin from night 1. The next morning was a bit cooler so I headed out on the same route to explore and made it further to Caltha Lake before the warming weather necessitated a turn around.

I think I made the right decision but it was still hard to turn back. Retracing steps is so anti-climatic. One of my favorite moments on any challenging traverse is when I’m in deep enough that I stop wondering if I should turn back. When retreat ceases to be the easiest way out. I tried hard to come up with some sort of interesting, lower elevation alternative to my destination but couldn’t devise a safe exit the alpine aside from turning back.

So I’ll try again – maybe in 2 weeks if I can juggle my work schedule sufficiently.

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