Meteorite Mountain Stats:
- 54º sustained for 2,800’ vertical
- Spine has sections of 60º with high exposure
- Vertical: 3,000’ sheer, 54-57 degrees N/NE Ramp
- Aspect: North/Northeast
- Access: Close proximity to Valdez, Alaska, USA
- Trip Log: 12:04.54, 1 run, 7620’ Descent, 7440’ Ascent,
6569’ High Point, 17’ Low Point
If you’ve ever been to Valdez Alaska, or watched some early TGR films, you are certain to recognize Meteorite Mountain. First Climbed in 1984 by John Weiland and then skied for the first time during the mid 1990’s by Kirk Jensen and Eric Pehota (N/NE Ramp). This iconic Chugach test piece has a sustained 54 degree pitch for 2800 vertical feet with a 57+ degree roller off the summit. This peak was literally struck by a meteorite in 1927, creating the ‘razor’ sharp spine that defines the prominent NE ramp.
On April 11th, 2014, 6 Athletes set off on a ‘quest’. A quest not only for redemption, but also a quest to push themselves on this bucket list line. Meteorite Mountain rises 6565’ above the valley floor – a daunting objective in the land of daunting objectives.
The team embarked from the road, (17’ above sea level) at 1:30am They quickly pounded out a six mile slog to the base of the climb. At 3:00am skins were fixed and the skin track began to wind uphill. After a few scratchy kick-turns and negotiating a no fall zone it quickly became apparent that crampons were needed to safely gain the glacial moraine. Transitions like this can significantly slow your pace and mentally cause one to wonder what they are doing at 3:30am at the toe of a giant, dark glacier. By 5:00am the team had only reached an elevation of 2500 feet. The predefined goal of reaching the summit by 9:30 seemed like a far cry from reality. By 6:00am, the team hit the glacier and quickly transitioned back to skins to make up time lost in the dark negotiating the refrozen chunder of the lower glacial elevations.
By 6:30am, the emotions of the group started to swell. They had been traveling for 5 ½ hours at a fast and furious pace. For some in the group this was their warm-up to the Chugach after only arriving in Valdez 2-days prior. For others, this was their first time traveling with the Dynafit team. Jamie Laidlaw (an accomplished big mountain skier with extensive Himalayan experience), Donny Roth (AMGA ski guide) and Marshall Thomson (US National Ski Mountaineering Champion) set the pace. New to the team was Cody Barnhill, a professional freeskier with a knack for building skis. The team also included Andrew Whiteford, who began to battle nausea and fatigue around the 5 ½ hour mark. Additionally, expedition leader and Dynafit Communications Manger, Eric Henderson was battling his own demons. In 2009, Henderson took a life changing fall on the NE ramp of Meteorite that quickly ended his professional ski guiding career. Now, five years after the back-breaking fall, he was back in Alaska, climbing the monster face with a new team and a fresh perspective on life.
Upon reaching the bergschrund at the base of the immense face, it was determined that Laidlaw, Roth, Thomson and Henderson would continue upwards, with other group members remaining on the glacier in a support capacity. The group quickly strapped skis to packs and donned crampons as the ominous face loomed above. It became apparent that Laidlaw was very comfortable pushing his body in these conditions. Laidlaw broke trail for the next two hours, pulling the team to the summit. In typical fashion, and only 200’ short of the summit, Laidlaw offered other group members the chance to break trail to the summit. They respectfully declined.
The group of four reached the summit at 9:15am, immediately enjoying a fine view of the sleepy Port of Valdez. After a quick ceremony and multiple high-fives, the descent became an imminent reality – 2800’ vertical at 54-57 degrees. Conditions during the descent were highly variable, ranging from firm glacier neve to boot top powder.
The Dynafit team descended safely within 45 minutes and reunited below the bergschrund where they attached crampons three and a half hours prior. More high fives ensued. The team dealt with the remaining 3500’+ vertical and was sipping tequila by 2pm.
The success of this trip is only partially gauged by the end result – climbing and skiing a massive objective in pure style. That’s only part of the story. Traditionally, North American athletes have always partnered with others to tackle big lines around the world. This was the first time that a true North American team ski objective was planned and executed.
Henderson returned to Boulder on 4/16, while other group members remained in Valdez, planning for their next goal – Dimond Peak. “Dimond was named for the first federal magistrate in Alaska, which is why it is spelled Dimond not Diamond. Dimond was Doug Coombs’ patron mountain, and he skied it like no other.” – Late, Theo Meiners, president and owner, Alaska Rendezvous Lodge and Heli-Guides.
Laidlaw unfortunately sustained a back injury in a crash on 4/16 and returned to his wife and family on 4/19. Barnhill, Roth and Thomson pulled off a successful ski descent of the West face of Dimond Peak on 4/19; the first climb and descent of this peak during the 2013/14 winter season.