Mt Despair south face & Triumph environs

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by hedonaut on 4/21/21 9:39pm

On Friday 16 April, kamtron, eze, and I launched on an exploratory mission to the Damnation / Triumph / Despair area, curious if it was feasible to take a more direct route via Damnation Creek to access ski lines from a camp at Triumph Pass. The approach unfolded about as well as could be hoped, and we enjoyed a few days in this seldom-visited wilderness.

Given the snow conditions during a time of spring transition in this zone, this trip more heavily weighted the mountaineering part of ski mountaineering -– it was more about travel through the mountains than the quality of the downhill turns. A person might even call it bad snow, but any snow is good snow that covers the alder, downfall, scrub cedar, loose scree, and slick slabs that predominate in this downright Pickets-ian area. Having suffer-traversed some of our access path in the summer after climbing Despair’s N summit via its eastern buttresses, I was grateful for the relative ease with which we entered and exited.

Anyway, on Sunday 18 April the objective at the top of our list did get skied: the south face of the south (true) summit of Mt Despair, continuing down gullies to lake 3,951’ for a total descent of 3,300 vertical feet: 

The south face of Mt Despair

More details can be found here: 

A couple pics to give a flavor for the scenery. 

eze nears the base of the s face; in background, Mt Triumph rakes the sky, and immediately to its right is our campsite at the col: 

A summit shot from Mt Baker through the Pickets:

And a shot down the line from the summit:

After my first turn/cut, sto-ked (cr: eze)

Great pictures!  Love the winter scene of Mt Triumph.

This person will call it what it was... bad snow! Bad in the breakable crust sense, at times, but mostly bad in the ready-to-avalanche mush sense.

We got to camp around 10:30 am on Friday and caught sight of a pretty smooth S face. As the day heated up, we watched the face fall apart in wet loose and wet loose-triggered wet slabs. Other avalanches were shedding off of Triumph and slopes near our camp.

I pretty much wrote off the objective for me at that point, given the superficial freezes we were getting and obvious percolating water deep in the snowpack. My arm was also bugging me a bit from a crash a few weeks earlier in the Baker BC where my ski cut and banged up my arm.

Some time after the Erics left camp Sunday morning, a large glide avalanche swept through the bowl below and woke me up. At dawn, I could at least see their tracks extended past the debris so I knew they weren't caught.

On the ski out, my arm was painful when leaning into trees and on my pole. I got it checked out on Monday and found out that my medial epicondyle of the humerus (elbow) has a chip broken off.

While emotions may have been Triumphant for my partners, I mostly felt uneasy in the skiing portions of this trip... luckily we avoided total Damnation or Despair.

Triumph creek valley looking S from near the pass


Damnation and Salvation peaks at center and right in the near distance. Triumph and Thornton lurking out of sight to the left. We traveled through beautiful old growth timber in this valley.

Safe return of my partners


Humbling glide avalanche debris from a few hours earlier dwarfs two skiers returning from their shralp

Damnation road


Some ski yoga techniques required

thought you might be winding up for a TR... mixed bag out there for sure requiring extra effort for minimal ski quality but damn, those views! Full fledged adventure, looks like you made the most of it.   I want to see some ski tracks!

and yeah those chipped elbows are painful when the nerves get activated. After a while you get used to knowing where not to move/pressurize it... mines better now but it took a couple of years.

What a difference 35 years makes.

This is what the Damnation Creek road looked like in March 1986, when Mark Bebie, Brian Sullivan and I went that way to make the first winter ascents of Triumph and Despair.

Here Brian shows off his 'stream skiing skills.

DAMN!!!  So impressive, that descent and country, in all that heat.  Way to thread the needle and avoid slurpee death. 

The light in some of those shots is pretty impressive, please don't tell me that those are your phone photos Hedonaut?

Lowell, would be great to see that photo if you can find a chance to re-upload it. Expect that the road was in much better shape way back when.

Thanks Jason! Sorry to say yes, phone photos for this weight weenie -- but the light and the scenery made it hard to take a bad picture back there, much as I tried.

For future reference: With snow on that abandoned road, the approach we took could serve as a reasonable entry to some interesting traverses...

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2021-04-22 04:39:21