Pioneer Peak North Face has been at the forefront of my objective list for years now. Situated at the Western edge of the Chugach Mountains, it rises proudly over the Knik River with a vertical relief of over 6,300 ft.
This is not a line that lends itself easily to climbing and steep ski descents. The face is full of objective hazards, multiple areas of exposure and hanging snowfields. All of these funnel down into a narrow choke point at the bottom, where in the spring, massive avalanche debris piles accumulate. The conditions have to align perfectly to enable one to step onto this face safely and allow a descent in stable soft snow.
I have had one failed attempt on this line several years ago. My partner and I were chased off the upper snowfield by warming temps and shallow snow over steep rock. This April however, things felt right. My mind and ability on big, steep lines had improved over the last few years and I knew it was now the time to go for it.
I partnered up with a buddy who shares a similar mind set regarding climbing and descending steep technical lines. Jimmy Kase a Telemark skier.
Ben's touring partner Jimmy Kase going hell for leather out of the gates
The approach to the line is ridiculously easy. I can see the mountain from my house. You can drive to the base of the slide path next to the Knik River. There is no skinning involved. Crampons go on and up you go. This is what makes the line so tempting to all those that drive south on the one road into Anchorage.
We encountered firm conditions through the first crux, a frozen waterfall at the lower choke point and up through the hard avy debris. Once up on the middle snowfield, conditions started to improve. By the time we encountered the major cruxes and steep upper slopes, the snow was boot top deep and perfect for climbing on the sustained 45-60 degree slopes. Going light and fast as possible, along with having the technical gear needed to safely climb a line of this caliber, we made the summit in a little over 5 hours.
It might have been perfect climbing conditions, but 5 hours is still 5 hours! Ben looking remarkably fresh considering at this poiint he's 4+ hours in
The feeling of standing atop this monster 6,000 face that rolled over out of sight and above huge exposure is hard to describe. We knew the snow was stable and deep. We weren’t puckered. We were about to shred one of the biggest, burliest lines we had ever been on!
Photos of Ben were taken by Jimmy Kase.
Steeps with exposure are what Ben and Jimmy came to ride and that's what they got.
Hard, windblown snow in the bottom section is a whole different story with heavy climbing gear, a pack and a 5 hour climb in the rear view mirror.
After years of dreaming, Pioneer Peak can be added to Ben's conquered pile!