Saturday was yet another absolutely beautiful day in Southcentral Alaska, so we packed the skis and some climbing gear and headed south to try Kickstep. We left the parking lot around 10:30 with ski gear, crampons, axe, 30m of rope, harnesses and a couple pickets. Travelling up Lyon Creek was fast and 2 1/2 later we were at the base of Kickstep's West Ridge.
Once at the base we dropped our skis and donned crampons and put on our harness. Kickstep gets skied every now and then - so climbing gear is overkill - but as everyone knows the ridges down in Turnagian have been recently scoured by wind so we were unsure what to expect.
Accessing the ridge was easy and soon Yvonne was leading the way up crisp snow threading the line between deep south facing snow and the overhanging north facing cornice.
The first half went quick but when we reached the obvious gendarme we were slowed down. I tried accessing the ridge hoping to climb dense snow on the crest - but every time I got near rock bands the snow turned to bottomless sugar. Nervousness over shallow snow near rock made me downclimb and I dug a pit on the south face to assess the snow.
I dug down about 5 feet. The top layers had bonded well and I couldn 't get it to go…. but underneath the dreaded ice layer that has been wreaking havoc in Turnagain I found bottomless sugar snow. However - the top was more than supportable and it felt safe enough so we traversed out onto the south face and bypassed the gendarme by staying beneath the rock bands on the solid snow. It was a bit exposed with bad consequences should the slope break - but the snowpack continued to be boot to thigh deep and supportable so I continued around the genderme and then took a moderate couloir back to the ridge.
Yvonne followed quickly and then took over the lead again. The final bit was icy and we were glad to have crampons and axe - but not steep and icy enough to warrant a rope so it stayed in the pack.
2 hours after starting up the ridge we were on top! Once again views were amazing and we marveled at the blue sky and endless mountains stretching in all directions. A couple pix later we headed down - quickly reversing the top ice pitch and exposed snow traverse. 1 1/2 hours later we were back down at the skis.
A nice descent took us back to Tincan Creek and we were able to double pole all the way out past the base of Tincan Proper to the trail and back to the car.
In total it 's about 10 miles and 4000' of elevation gain. It took us 8 hours, but over an hour of that was spent dealing with equipment malfunctions. A good day and a wonderful ridge climb!
Kickstep, West Ridge - exposed ridgeline, steep snow to 50 degrees
- Route: Not much for a route description on this. Ski to Kickstep glacier and gain the west ridge via a couloir on the north side of the ridge. Once on the ridge, head up. There is a gendarme that blocks progress about half way and you 'll have to decide whether to go straight over it, left or right. Climbers right is easiest - but also the most exposed to avalanche danger. Once past the gendarme gain the ridge and continue to the top. Reverse the route - or if you 're a bad ass, ski whichever aspect looks the best.
- Gear: Ice axe, crampons. If you're not comfy on steep exposed snow and possible ice then a rope and pickets might be nice for the top.
- Time: About 8 hours RT from the car.
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