Monday, November 28, 2016

Mount Owen: April 18, 2016

My last ski day of the 2015/16 season was spectacular, albeit humbling.  Jason and I had plans to climb and ski Mount Owen via the Koven Couloir.  The day started somber for no reason in particular but both of us had a sense of foreboding that wouldn't lift until we eventually made the decision to go home.  

Preoccupied with morbid thoughts, objective hazards grew in our minds and it felt kind of like I was walking through a nightmare even though this is a place I have dreamed of fondly numerous times.  With blistered feet, we made our way into the Koven and eventually onto the the upper snowfields.  

The day was actually incredibly beautiful with swirling clouds flowing around the cathedral group but we were just now noticing it, having been stuck in our own heads thus far.  Normally, when one of us is out of sorts, the other will buoy the mood and all is good.  This day, at least until this point nearing the technical climbing, we were reflecting each other's moodiness.  

The Koven chimneys are incredibly easy on dry rock but we suspected the summit would prove more challenging in winter conditions.  Fortunately, as we climbed, we both found ourselves enjoying the motion and setting enough that some legitimate psych started to creep in.  Jason took the first lead up a snow covered rock slab, scraping around and dispatching it without difficulty.  Higher and on the west side of the summit block now, I took the lead and began to feel quite lucky to be scrambling around in such an amazing position.  I heaved myself up the chimneys and onto the summit before laughing at Jason as he followed.  

We high-fived on the summit and then got about the business of rapping down to our skis.  Immediately the buoyancy felt while climbing dissipated and I was once again consumed with thoughts of tragedy.  I pictured Jason falling to his death a thousand times.  Gravity was strong.  

It's amazing how one's mood can affect their skiing.  Full of irrational fear, I skied poorly down the snowfields towards the Koven.  I tried to overcome this by forcing myself to ski the steep upper pitches but only succeeding in pulling out a small wind pocket that broke out at my feet.  

I'd had enough.  I was going to down climb the upper somewhat wind loaded section until I felt better about the stability.  I then dropped a ski and watched in horror as it launched down the Koven.  Gravity was strong and I would now be down climbing 5000 feet to the car.  

As if someone was just messing with me, Jason skied down and yelled up that my ski had stuck into a small snowbank on the side of the chute some 200 feet below.  Feeling redeemed, I gathered my equipment, and skied straight to the car.  

As if someone was still messing with me, I discovered far too late that a small crash near Delta Lake must have claimed my iPhone from an open pocket.  It was a small price to pay for safe passage on my final ski day of the season.  

JD skinning the upper snowfields of Mount Owen with Teewinot in the background. 

Jason only looks dejected here but by this point we were quite happy

Glad we didn't insist on bringing skis to the summit

Coming off rappel with the North Face of the Grand looming in the clouds

JD with East Prong and the lower Koven above his head.