Backcountry skiing or ski mountaineering? Mt. Rumble N face and N face of E Kiliak

Backcountry skiing up Ram Valley means big peaks and long days . . . did a weekend trip to ski the North face of Mt. Rumble and the N face of E Kiliak the next day . . . We camped near Bombardment Pass, skied Mt. Rumble N face, camped in upper Peter’s Creek, skied N face of E Kiliak on the way out and made it to Anchorage in time for Moose’s Tooth!  Long bootpacks, steep skiing, skinning with weight, camp fires, adventure, and fun times!
For a sundry of reasons, including Kit DesLaurier’s recent presentation on ski mountaineering (where she defined it as “skiing with ropes”), the theme of this weekend skiing/slogging/bootpacking adventure seemed to be: When does backcountry skiing become ski mountaineering . . . since we needed something to entertain us on the thousands of steps bootpacking, we came up with a suggested list of how you might know when you’ve started ski mountaineering and stopped backcountry skiing . . .
You might be ski mountaineering when some of these conditions have been met:
  • You are actually skiing/climbing with ropes
  • You probably should be climbing with ropes
  • You are scared #$*!-less much of the day
  • If you fall, there are likely consequences
  • You climb (or ski!) with sharp things
  • The primary hazard is object hazard (rockfall, serac fall, crevasse fall)
  • The snow has a high likelihood of not being great
  • You are skiing for the line (not the snow quality)
  • The point is that it’s an adventure . . . and there’s an expectation that the fun may be “type B,” or retrospective fun . . . that is, there is a reasonable chance for suffering 🙂


That being said, I’m reasonably sure this little adventure was more toward the ski mountaineering side, although we did not have ropes, so I can’t be absolutely sure.  Plus, the great thing is that it doesn’t actually matter 🙂
So, on with the story . . . another random adventure that didn’t really take form until it was actually happening, but seemed to work out incredibly well all the same.  Phil asked me if I wanted to do a weekend Rumble trip, I said yes before I asked questions about what this would actually entail (typical).  Looking for a 3rd, I invited Cody who, at the last minute, got a dog sitter and was in (with his brand new backcountry setup), and then at the last minute, Russ decided our trip was the better option and joined the fun . . .
So off we went – hiked in from Ram Valley/Falling Waters . . .
Smiling as we left the car because we didn’t actually know what we were getting ourselves into!


Nothing like some dirt walking to start a ski trip . . .

We camped on the Eagle River side of Bombardment Pass on tundra, and hiked up/over the next morning.  The ski down the backside of Bombardment was somewhat annoying since many places had melted out and required skis-off walking, but it was all good when we got to upper Peter’s Creek and the snow was consolidated and easy travel . . .

Up and over Bombardment Pass, down to upper Peter’s Creek

We dropped our gear at camp, and headed up toward Rumble with lighter packs . . . the weather was in/out, but it seemed like we had a decent chance of making it . . .

Headed up toward Rumble after setting up camp
4000′ bootpack – fun times!
Lip smackin’ bootpackin’ . . . somewhere about 1500′ into the 4000′ staircase
Phil, the trailbreaking animal!!
Bringing up the rear 🙂
Summit was awesome – we had one spicy section on the climb that we were hopeful could be bypassed on the way down to avoid a downclimb . . . Russ and I “skied” off the summit by sidestepping/navegating the upper 15′ of rocks, but it was otherwise a super skiable line!
Phil, with his summit game face

Steep, scenic, alpine, engaging . . . super great turns on the upper 2000′ – cold snow, perfect edgeable, some sluff, but not enough to be scary.

Big mountain, petite girl 🙂


Me, with the long Peters Creek drainage in the background

Arriving back at camp, we got down to business and put on tennis shoes and lit a fire – sooooo nice to be camping on dry ground again.  We really had an awesome campsite – running water, flat ground, plenty of firewood 🙂

home sweet home after a great ski from the summit!!!


First campfire of the season – what a treat!!!
We had a lovely morning, enjoying the serenity of where we were, drinking plenty of coffee, and generally relaxing a bit . . . and then it was time to pack up and head up river . . .
Headed upriver to drop gear at the base of Bombardment and head up Kiliak


Phil and me

We dropped gear at the base of Bombardment Pass and hiked up the Kiliak drainage to see what sort of ski line we could find . . .

Russ, me, and Phil . . . wondering if a ski line is going to appear


Skinning toward .  . . somewhere

And ski line we did find!  I really wasn’t expecting to see such a stunningly beautiful and appealing couloir, but there it was!

Oh, there’s a ski line . . . maybe a burly, close-out, scary one . . . but a ski line all the same 🙂

We had a lot of concerns over snow quality, if the line was wide enough to ski, how steep it was, and the list goes on.  Ultimately we decided that we could turn around if we got into it and it didn’t go . . . so up we went up another bootpack!

Phil and I – ants at the base of the coolie

Cody, a new backcountry skier, decided to descend and save legs for the slog out . . .

Cody, with me and Phil at the base of the line (if you look closely!)

The line turned out to be one of the steepest and narrowest I’ve been in for awhile – 2500′ long, and a solid 50 degrees up top, we also had to downclimb a 15′ section in the middle where it necked down to about 2′ wide . . .  the snow stayed very skiable throughout though, so it was manageable.

Another stairway to heaven, only this one was “short” at 2500′ – it got narrower as we went up, with a choke about 500′ from the top . . . really aesthetic line though!

I was definitely on a high after the couloir, which I suppose made the climb back up and over a bit more bearable . . . although our packs weren’t crushing, I was reminded how it feels like much more of a slog with a pack . . . but I was pretty jazzed all the same.

The views toward Anchorage did not suck!!
Back in Ram Valley . . . a bit of tundra skinning

As it turned out, we made it back to Anchorage and to the Bear Tooth for burgers by 11pm!  All’s well that ends with microbrews and gourmet eats!!  We were admittedly all feeling it a bit 🙂

After this trip, I put my skis away for the last time this season . . . again.  Wonder when the real “last” time will be!!
For more stories of Alaska backcountry skiing, check out the full repertoire!

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