Skiing Iliamna Volcano SW ridge – more Aleutian volcano love!!

Skiing Alaska’s Mt. Iliamna volcano (10,016′) from the Umbrella Glacier at 500′ was a dream ski line.  Add to it ski exploration of the nearby Neacola Mountains and that’s what dreams are made of!

Well, if the Augustine and the Hayes put a smile on my face, Iliamna restored my faith in the world and reminded me what it feels like to be happier than I know what to do with.  I honestly don’t think I’ve been as elated upon my return from this trip (in combination with the previous two amazing trips, of course!) as I have been since Aconcagua . . . that kind of joy that makes me feel like I can’t really function in society – I SO LOVE THAT FEELING!!!

Enough gushing, let’s get to the story . . . another random adventure evolved over multiple conversations on skin tracks, talking to the universe, and dumb luck.  Russ was really the instigator for this one, and when we needed a third I invited Phil Hess, who hesitated only slightly before making the life modifications necessary to make this one happen . . . of course, when I left for the Hayes, much of it was still up in the air: where are we flying out of? who’s coming? are we going?  But, as with most things in life, it just took a little faith . . .

Enough gushing, let’s get to the story . . . I had one day to “recover” from the Hayes, so spent it at Alyeska because it was so sunny and beautiful – how could I pass that up?!?

I skied all day with Billy Sullivan, rallying in the sun – SO MUCH FUN, and a happy girl afterwards!

Thursday morning, Phil and I got up super early and met Russ in Kenai at 8am . . . maybe out of excitement for the trip (or nervousness?!?), neither of us could sleep, so we were both on about 2 hrs of sleep as we showed up and jumped into Doug Brewer’s (Alaska West Air) Bushhawk to be transported to the 600′ level on the Umbrella Glacier.  Our goal was to ski as much of the mountain’s fall line as possible, and much lower than that was just a gently sloping slog to Chinitna Bay and Cook Inlet.

View of the Umbrella Glacier flying in – our landing strip was just out of sight in the lower left corner

Of course, just before we landed, we saw our first huge grizzly of the season, so it was pretty compelling not to leave anything at the runway!!

Phil and I rigging up to drag stuff to our base camp

We decided to take everything to the 2000′ level on the Umbrella, setup a base camp from which we could ski around after we’d skied the peak, and then setup an advanced base camp that afternoon . . . In retrospect, it’s possible to do in a day from the landing strip (9400′ climb), but we had absolutely no beta on the route so figured we should play it conservatively lest we lose our window completely.

Holy smokes, did I mention how tired I was from not sleeping the night before – soooo nice to relax!
Our base camp . . .
Then it was time to continue onward and upward – Russ and Phil – our camp was just at the base of the couloir-ish section in the rocks
Phil and I . . . making progress
Phil and Russ
It was a scorcher – amazing how hot it can be in the direct sun, reflecting off glacier!
Russ and I making our home for the night . . .


Really rough living – gotta say it was super nice to be up there at 9pm in direct sunlight!
Nothing like a room with a view – super nice to fall asleep to 🙂
The next morning dawned clear, and we were off to see what this lovely volcano had in store!  Starting off with a booter up the couloir outside of camp, we transitioned to skins for about 3k between 6-9000′ – back to boots and crampons once we hit the rime up high.  Overall, a pretty straightforward and efficient climb . . .
Phil and I – the Umbrella Glacier below
Me, and the mountains of the Aleutian Range
Chinitna and Iniskin Bays in the background – so cool to have views of the Inlet while climbing!
A rare moment ahead of Russ!
happy climber 🙂
Up top, we roped up as we encountered some bridged crevasses – Phil and I, with Chinitna Bay behind us, and Augustine just barely visible in the distance
And we’re a back to a steaming world – this one had a slight “rotten eggs” odor, but nothing horrible
Almost there!  Phil and Russ with the summit cone above
And then we were there – gotta love volcanoes for being the highest thing around!!  The views were stunning, on a summit big enough that some argue you could land a SuperCub on . . . I’d really like to see that!!
Russ and me – and Cook Inlet
Me, with enough inspiration to last a lifetime 
Oh, hello lovely Augustine!  This is the aspect that we’d skied just over a week before! 
Phil on the edge of the world
And then it was time to ski!  All things considered, the ski was pretty good – where we’d been climbing on rime ice, we were able to traverse over and ski neve . . . the sastrugi was reasonably kind, and the corn in the final couloir to our advanced camp was awesome!!
Pretty sure this is Phil
Pretty sure this is me
Russ incoming – our steam vent and/or the clouds moving in – glad we were on our way down!
Me and Phil, proud of our quickly broken-down camp, and sweet corn turns above!


Phil incoming – our lovely volcano behind


Helluva way to spend an evening – while I love gourmet dinner, gotta say that the just-add-water dehy program left a lot more time for chillin’ out and enjoying 🙂
The next day greeted us stormy, but we still managed to get out for a ski . . . nothing epic, but we skied good corn in a decent couloir-ish line.  No complaints!!  Arriving back reasonably early, I found myself engrossed in a book like I haven’t in a long time – makes me realize I can’t do anything halfway – was up til midnight until that damn thing was read!!!
Phil in the milk
Russ and Phil . . . looking downglacier at the zone we explored the following day
So, what I gotta say about day 3: I love bonus days.  There is something so wonderful about that day you have to explore, already having done what you came to do, when everything is just bonus – nothing left to achieve, to prove, to try for . . . but yet, we skied harder/longer/more on this day than any other!  We had eyed a line down valley that we called “the gunsight” and based on the map, we figured it would have an unobstructed view to the sea . . . sounded like a good enough reason to head that way – plus, it looked so close 🙂


But first, we took the chance to do some fishing for water – lovely not to have to melt water for the day, and nothing like the “taste” of clear glacier water!!
Russ, heading down glacier with our lovely volcano behind


Russ, heading up toward the “gunsight” – as it turned out, we toured up the valley to the right, and then came back and went up to the col in the sun on the left valley . . .
The area ended up being 4 miles down glacier and a loss of about 1000′ –  the travel was good early . . . somewhat nervous it would get rotten by the end of the day, we figured we’d cross that bridge when we got to it and got down to exploring.  As the area unfolded, there was an insane amount of ski terrain.  South faces were pretty burnt, but the options were pretty inspiring for a potential future return trip, especially since the terrain was super varied – everything from meadow-skipping to holy-shit-this-is-the-scariest-thing-I’ve-ever-skied.  The best part for me was that, after the Hayes, I was prepared to be pretty underwhelmed by this area, but I experienced the exact opposite!  Silly me 🙂
Anyhow, we toured up to the gunsight line in crushing heat, and when we topped out, there was a sneaker couloir that took us to the backside and allowed us to wrap around to the peak, and the high point on the ridge.  From there, our views were simply stunning – indescribable really.  We had a clear view of Chinitna Bay, Augustine Volcano and Iniskin Bay . . . and even out to what we later decided must be Kodiak Island.  Sitting on a grassy knoll under warm skies – looking S to our ski line on Augustine and N to our ski line on Iliamna, and surrounded by inspiration, I felt a deep sense of joy and gratitude . . . 🙂
Our objective – we ended up toping out on the high point – super stoked on the mellow sneaker route up the backside!
Me slogging in the heat, Iliamna partially obscured by clouds in the distance
Phil and me
Lip smackin’ bootpackin’


“Hey, looks like we can sneak higher – can I go check it out?!?”
The views did not suck – hello Augustine!
Happy camper 🙂
Our ski was great – corn turns off the top, then powder turns seemlessly transitioning to corn as we neared the main drainage (back to mashed potatoes!) . . . Russ eyed a super sweet little coolie, so we got to ski some spicy jump turns to keep things festive!
Me skiing off the top
Phil incoming off the top
Pow pow here we come!!
Russ gettin’ ‘er done!
From there, we decided to tour up the glacier line we’d passed before . . . another lovely skin to the col, and a slightly different take on a great view!  The wind had whipped up, so we didn’t stay long . . . some family style skiing down the glacier, and we were back at the creek!


Russ taking it in . . .
Slightly different take on the same view: Augustine, Chinitna (near) and Iniskin (far) Bays 
Mike Wiegle’s heli skiing comes to Iliamna!  Russ and Phil gettin’ stylie!


Headed down to the mashed potatoes-filled valley!
From there, it was a slog back to camp, but we made it in just over an hour . . . with plenty of time to enjoy one last meal of dehydrated food, amazing views, and quality mountain time!!
Me on the slog . . . at least the views were still awesome!
For the long days we skied, we definitely had some great camp time too!!
Our last night was clear – great for lovely views and a good freeze to re-create a solid landing strip below . . . a charmed trip until the very end!  We got up early, loaded sleds and packs and skied down just as Doug was landing . . . loaded up, and we were outta there.
Russ skiing down, weighed down by his fully-loaded drybag!   We were thankful for the re-freeze so as to have a nice supportive crust to ski on!


Iliamna and the Umbrella Glacier from our flight out
The views on the flight out did not suck – this area is inspirational!!
Tuxedni Bay on the N side of Iliamna

Overall, an amazing trip – one of my all-time best for sure.  Many thanks to Russ and Phil, as well as Alaska West Air for the safe transport!!




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  1. Dave Covill says:

    Kellie or anyone else reading this:

    I have an expedition going to climb Redoubt & Torbert May 22 > ~ July 2nd. I have flown with Doug Brewer before (KEFJ NP highpoint), but we will be using Paul Clauss in his 8-seat Otter. I have TWO (2) spots open. ~$2,300 total from ANC. Everyone going has climbed Denali etc, all from WA or CO.

    Dave Covill

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