2017-02-28 - LV Ray North Face - AlpenScapes Photography

Rising 4,400 vertical feet from the pebbled shores of Upper Trail Lake, it is a towering sentinel to the southern Kenai Peninsula, and every time I drive the Seward Highway between the Cooper Y and the town of Moose Pass I'm completely transfixed. Driving beneath the monstrous north face of LV Ray Peak, navigating the s-curves, I'm always glancing up at the two prominent couloirs that tumble down from its rimey summit, punctuated by vertical pinnacles of rock, like fingers reaching for the heavens.

Having lived in and spent countless hours recreating around Moose Pass I've eyed these lines for years. It's not that I've lacked the motivation; both couloirs terminate in 30 foot incised waterfalls. A few years ago a couple of friends attempted the line, only to get turned around by bulletproof snow in the couloir - not what you want when you know it ends in a big frozen ice bulge. This year seemed to be setting up with sufficient snow depth and with a high pressure system stalled over southcentral, late February seemed like a good time to check things out.

Despite the sub-zero temps, it didn't take much convicing to get the boys on board. So, we met up over coffee and grumbles about the cold, conducted a quick recon, and began climbing.

GW half-way up the stair-master

Having previously skied the northwest aspect, I was well aware that this peak was going to be a long climb. However, those northwest lines are easily accessed from a popular hiking trail, up a mellow sunny ridge. The 4,000' climb in shady -10 degree weather was a bit less relaxed than my previous exploits to the mountain.

A frosty Andrew wonders how much farther to the top

GW leads the way up the final pitch

Eventually we rounded the corner leading to the final steep exit pitch. GW led the short crux through icy rocks and topped out first, rejoicing at the first taste of the late-February sun after almost 4 hours of frigid climbing. As I gained the ridge I quickly realized that, while sunny, the winds were doing their best to keep temperatures well below zero up here. Andrew was right on my heels and, after a quick high-five, we headed for the summit.

Window shopping from the summit

I couldn't resist taking a selfie from the top of our line, looking out over Upper Trail Lake

GW set an all-star boot pack for much of the line, so Andrew and I exhibited our graciousness by offering first tracks. After a few jump turns in great powder (to the soundtrack of our "woo-hoos") and a cautious route choice through the rocks, he was in the line. We lost sight of G after the rollover so Andrew dropped in to keep an eye on the line. The report was highly variable conditions, which we expected.

GW demonstrates how to properly enter a couloir

Andrew skied next and, after a few quick jump turns through the cliffs, disappeared out of sight as he made his way down into the gut. Eventually I could hear he and G talking and then he radioed that he was clear. Like my partners, I cautiously picked my way through the cruxy entrance and then jump-turned through sometimes-chalky, sometimes-windboardy, sometimes-powdery snow. We briefly reconvened before tackling the next pitch.

A mid-line rest break (full disclosure: the line looks steeper than it is due to GoPro fisheye distortion)

One pitch at a time we made our way back down to the ramp that we had identified as our exit above the frozen waterfall. A few hundred feet of (friendly) steep alder skiing led us around the waterfall and back to the apron, which we were able to party ski down to within a hundred feet of the road. We each took our own route through the moderately-dense alder below the apron and popped out at the road without incident.

In the still-frigid temps we cracked beers, high-fived and toasted to the great day. A long-standing objective complete, we set our sights on the next mission...

The line, viewed from Upper Trail Lake (taken in the morning, before we began)

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