Forums Trip Reports Sapphire SE Face – Valdez, AK
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  • #574524
    14 Posts

    Hey out there. The following is a TR of our summit attempt on Sapphire in the Chugach near Valdez, AK. We have been high (pressure) and dry lately with major wind events scouring our snow since Feb 17th…. And by major I am talking two events that were >120 mph, and daily sustained winds that have averaged 40 mph for weeks on end. You can imagine what this has done to the snowpack, but why imagine when you can see for yourself..

    Sastrugi up to 3 ft deep at the car:

    Our objective was Sapphire, one of the crown jewels of Thompson Pass reaching 3900 ft above the Richardson Hwy. The route we took brought us up past 27 mile glacier and to the back of an extended cirque. From there we climbed the 1000 ft SE headwall to the summit ridge. Our ski line back down to the car is shown here in blue.

    I learned a lot from my travel partner Sarah who has an impressive tick list including summits of North America’s two highest peaks in one year (Denali 20,320 ft and Logan 19,541 ft). Practicing our glacier rescue scenarios and rigging:

    Leaving the car at 8:30 am we were at the toe of 27 mile glacier by 9:30 am and roped up to leap frog leads over a mixture of windslab, ice and shallow rotten snow. Here red is the up route and blue is the down route:

    Toe of the 27 mile glacier:

    Second pitch along the right side of the glacier:

    Cresting the top of the glacier and entering the cirque:

    Once on the glacier, the objective was in sight!

    The headwall was rock solid, steep and grippy. We carefully made our way up the gut to the summit ridge on slopes well over 50 degrees. Me about halfway up:

    Once reaching the summit ridge the winds were really whipping. Sarah led a little ways up the ridge, but with winds reaching 50 mph and rotten snow we decided to call it. With temperatures in the single digits, cold was beginning to be a factor and it wasn’t wise to hangout there for long. Sarah down climbing just below the summit ridge:

    With questionable wind slabs and challenging riding conditions we were forced to down climb a ways off the ridge before changing over to ski back down. With the wind pounding on us and the sun behind the peaks, belaying began to take its toll. Sarah was shivering pretty violently, her hands were going numb, and I had lost feeling in my toes. At the bottom of the headwall I looked over at Sarah to see that half her nose and part of her cheek were stark white (I found out later that this was due to previous frostbite from Denali).

    Skiing across the sastrugi high above Thompson Pass was not unlike how I imagine being on the moon feels, but the views out over to The Books and beyond were spectacular. At the edge of the glacier the wind was really blowing hard and spindrift made planning a route through the sastrugi and ice that much more difficult:

    In the end Sarah ended up with frostbite on her middle finger and I on my big toes to varying degrees. But the most important part, we made it safely back to the car! What a day:

    Stay safe,
    see you in the mountains.

    336 Posts

    Hey CALIFORNIA, Utah, Colorado and the rest of the lower 48… WE WANT OUR SNOW BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1382 Posts

    @d-green wrote:

    Hey CALIFORNIA, Utah, Colorado and the rest of the lower 48… WE WANT OUR SNOW BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I just cancelled my trip to AK….you’re welcome 😉

    73 Posts

    Glad to hear you made it down safely. The up is way better than the down these days. I want to believe there has to be a pocket of decent snow somewhere up here :banghead: The state is too big, but the high pressure is looming larger :bow:

    spruce cabin
    263 Posts

    Hey boss!
    Was great meeting you this past week. (Great vibe in your classroom, BTW.)
    After being up there and seeing these mountains, this TR is even that much more amazing.
    Hope you guys are still having fun and being safe.

    709 Posts

    Dude, and Gal… pretty impressive shlog to have to turn around.

    You look like you just had a glazed donut

    surface hore
    31 Posts

    Wow! Good on ya for the motivation to give that a go. The pics were beautiful! Great TR.
    If you are looking for a good snowpack… the Tetons are abundant 🙂

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