I have not yet read the novel Lost Paradise,  apparently containing the original use of the word Shangri La to describe a fictional paradise hidden deep in the mountains.  I was introduced to an unknown-to-me  area in the wilderness of the South Columbia range by friends Jeff V and  Kris B, and it definitely could be described as a Shangri La.  Except it is real.  And stacked with steep skiing.

South Columbia Shangri La.

Thirty-odd minutes of driving and a couple of hours of sleddin’ (second time out for the Skandic this year),  and we arrived at the  junction of three valleys.   Once again I was happy to have my waterproof Arcteryx pack, because the pulk that I was towing it in was FULL of slush when we arrived at the trailhead, but my kit was dry.

The Columbia Mountains can be WET.

 We clipped in for a couple of hours of evening skinning and pulled up creekside to set up camp at dusk.  As remote as this zone is, there happened to be another team (locals Chris F and Dan C) heading in for the same objective via a different access, and they continued on in the fading light.  Oh yeah, the objective!

Photo copyright the amazing John Scurlock.

 Jeff was the mastermind of this loop trip adventure we were just getting into, and all it took for him to set the hook  was to email me an image of this all star North facing glacier run, peeling off a dramatic peak that is JUST under 10,000 feet above sea level.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Creekside camp. A nice blazing fire, thanks to a snowsaw that is also capable of sawing through wood.

Pumped to get into the alpine of this seldom visited mountain sanctuary, we shouldered the beasts and slogged a bit more up the main creek and split left up our access drainage.  We broke out of the sub alpine forest into a huge amphitheatre, and skinned by some beautiful complex fluted terrain.


Darek G skinning up through the larches.

We gained elevation, every lift of the weary head filling my eyes with three hundred sixty degree views of exciting skiing.  What can be better than travelling  into new terrain with the feeling that we are incredibly lucky to  live in a region full of lifetimes of mountainous wilderness landscape. Crossing over a steep ridge, we traversed a SW facing bowl with a few great turns mixed in, and headed for the rib that would take us to Camp 2.

Our access to the other side.

The megamid was pitched near the base of the couloir pictured above , which was to be our access to the other side.  From  there,  weather  and conditions permitting, we can try for the jagged granite summit. Our hopes were high as we watched the sky fade  through the alpenglow palette, bellies full, legs tired, but ready for another day of exploring.

Getting steep in the early a.m.

The first climb of the day went pretty slick, and cresting into the sun on the ridge brought astounding vistas and a welcome bit of warmth. Looking down a potentially unskied 3500′ NE facing glaciated run with cold pow on it had us feeling pretty good too.  After a quick look across the valley at the first half of our main objective climb:

The object of our desire...

We dropped in.

  After the high fives and exulted talk of the epicness we had just experienced, the packs were exploded and we skinned away from our cache with high spirits and much lighter loads. We almost immediately came across faint signs of the other teams passage, also headed for the summit today. We had sweet views of  our run, if you enlarge you can see our tracks.


 We chose a different option for gaining the ridge, but when we did (via a small rock step through the cornices) we were back on their uptrack.  To the summit!

Track is in!

It was awesome to have the track set up through the steep terrain, and leaving the skis just below the rocky summit we scrambled up for a second round of high fives.  The view from the top of this part of the world:


The North glacier is flanked to the west by some mighty fine granite.

The run was in fine shape, and as we fueled up at the bottom we discussed the possibility that our descent of this remote rugged peak could be the third, the second being less than an hour earlier by the other team of Chris F. and Dan C.  The first goes to local hard men Monty P. and Dan M., more than a few years ago.

Half an hour of skinning  put us back on top of the rock step, and we rigged a rappel to get back down it and headed back to our cache.

We set up camp next to the other team, and spent the evening eating, drinking, and discussing the details of a fine day.  We had 2 days left, one of which would be needed to complete the loop back to the sleds.  That left tomorrow free for shredding, and we settled on heading back up to the area of our first run from today.  The next morning we pushed a track up, and the snow was still feeling good despite all the sun.  Jeff and I started off  our run with this short steep face.

 Another evening in the same camp afforded a setting-sun-drenched view of the above turns, and light packs the next morning for the exit.  A climb straight out of camp led us through scenic larches to a low pass.


Oh, did I forget to mention the icing on the cake?  The exit happened to pass in close proximity to some natural hot springs.  A little slimy, but a perfect temperature for a  trailside soak, and a great way to finish off a great trip.  Nice planning Jeff.  Shangri La  indeed.