Bonanza, Northeast Face
via the Mary Green Glacier

April 17 , 2011

PHOTOS AND STORY by Jason Hummel

GO to PART I if you haven't (North Face Fernow)

After skiing the North Face of Fernow, Kyle Miller and I set our sights on Bonanza. During my last visit there in February (link), I had seen an amazing face that appeared skiable, perhaps from the tippy top? It was difficult to tell. And, honestly, there is only one way to know and that is to go and see for yourself.

Although, as Kyle would discover, life has different plans that aren't shaped around your goals. There are realities that can descend on you in an instant. A few words can change your life forever. Words you don't want to hear. For Kyle they were told to him by the Holden Village's director and minister. He would break the news to Kyle by saying, "...your father has passed away". Earlier in the day, his mother had contacted the town (which is a Lutheran retreat purchased from the Holden Mining Company in the 1960's) to pass on the news to her son. It was a most appropriate place for him to hear the news, since she comes from a deeply-rooted Lutheran heritage.

Our moods were dampened, of course, so that night between a bottle of wine and a star-laden night's sky, stories were passed around. Being in such a peaceful place most certainly made the enduring easier, but no less painful. Even so, Kyle wasn't ready to go home. That was no place for him at the moment. Instead, he insisted, we go climbing the next morning, just as we had planned. In a way Mountain-Medicine can often be the best cure.

A Climb and Ski of Bonanza Peak

John Scurlock Image, Northeast Face of Bonanza

A few days earlier we had met Brennan who works in Holden Village. He had told us of some skiing he'd done in the area, which excited us. Eventually, our conversation led to skiing in the days ahead. As a skier himself he eventually asked if we'd allow him to join us on a trip while we were in town. Our thoughts were that as long as he could keep up and break some trail, we'd be happy to have him along. It was only by chance that the trip happened to be Bonanza. Whether that was a more adventurous trip than he expected, I don't know? Either way, he was up for it and he'd turn out to be an awesome guy to have along!

Waking up at 4a.m. we set off up valley toward Holden Lake. We'd hoped to take a few hours to get there, but snow conditions thought otherwise. While the valley was quick and easy, the snow was too icy and steep for us to skin. Booting was reasonable for my 150lbs, but not as kind to Kyle and Brennan who broke through an inch of crust into soft snow every other step for a thousand feet. Not that I didn't bust through either, just less so. For once it felt good to be a feather weight.

As sunrise crested clouds, mountains and valleys brightened with early morning light. Pinks and blues bloomed and withered by the time we reached Holden Lake. Until then we held out hope that the MOSTLY SUNNY forecast would hold true, but already snowflakes were falling in-between trees. The battle between cloud and sky, once again (like all previous days), was being lost.

Skiing across Holden Lake, or any lake for that matter, is something of a thrill for me. Almost like I'm walking on a bubble that could burst at any moment. Once on the other side, you look back at the unnatural flatness and imagine the lapping waters of the lake to be, months from then, with flowers and meadow grass and with kids swimming and parents watching. How different it is now. Not a soul besides us, which is the case most of the year. To be there, or anywhere in high mountains always-always feels like a privilege. I never spurn that.

More breakable crust and steeper terrain forced us to boot again, this time up a chute that puts us on the Mary Green Glacier. We pulled out the rope since the snow was deep and the fog thick. Between rolls we wound our way to the base of the summit pyramid. Looking upward, trying to find detail in the clouds, all I could conclude was that, indeed, it was imposing, scary and, equally, amazing. Unroping I let Kyle and Brennan continue while I leapt ahead to break trail as far as my skis and skins would take me. On a rib of snow I pulled the skis off and stepped down. I went up to my armpits!

Skis on my pack, ice axe and crampons on, I set off to see if the snow was less deep elsewhere. It was. Where the sluff had come off the rocks above and when the slope steepened to 50 degrees, it became more manageable. There was one snow ridge that I had to dig out significantly to be able to pass through before reaching a point I could climb directly up to the summit ridge. From there the slope got even more steep. I'm never one to linger on this kind of terrain, so I quickly pushed up to easier ground and once arriving at the ridge top I continued higher, but in the fog, I couldn't find the true summit, so on a knife ridge top with rock on my left, above me, and a cornice on the right dropping into the Company Headwall - I stopped. My guess is that I was a few feet from the actual high point. I stepped down to snow and dug out a pit to wait for Kyle and Brennan.

The next hour was the coldest I've ever had. Another climber who was in the Enchantments (also the eastern cascades), had told me that the wind chill was negative fifteen where they were. How cold it was I realized about 45 minutes into my wait. The combination of a lot of wind and the tiniest bit of sun would melt water on my face, then instantly refreeze it. At one point I closed my eyes and they didn't reopen - they had frozen shut. I ripped my gloves off and scrapped the ice out of my eyes. I blinked...all was good. After which, I knew it was time to put my skis on and ski out of the wind. I had hoped the clouds would clear and I could see exactly where I was, but no luck; it was time to go.


The others arrived to the ridge crest and I waited for them to changeover. Brennan would down climb and Kyle would snowboard. I took the lead down the face and those first turns were wildly exhilarating. Each time I pointed the skis down the fall line it felt as if I were free-falling out of an airplane and each time I pulled up my turns it felt as if I were pulling my parachute. The release into gravity and the reconnectivity to Earth - fascinating. My heart would stall and stop, over and again, stalling and stopping until I skied over the ridge I had earlier dug through. While there, I watched Kyle come down. It put the madness of it all in perspective.

Once together, Kyle and I swapped positions down the remainder of the face. Near the bottom where the snow has sloughed it was incredibly deep. In places over our waists. At the bottom, Kyle and I waited for Brennan who made fast work of the face. Once on lower ground, he put on his skis and came down to us. It was nearing dark by then, so we flew down the glacier in a hurry.

At Holden Lake, I managed a high route and cruised ahead of the others. After waiting in the forest, I marched ahead again, this time pulling out my light, writing in my journal and changing cloths. By then, the others had taken a high route around me and skied down to the valley. In a race to catch them, as I could see their lights far down beneath me, I pounded turn after turn after turn. It reminded me of those special moments I treasure, the kind we stash away in our memory banks and keep forever. This was one of those instants-to-remember. Imagine a ridge glistening in the moonlight, skis edging turns and snow splashing and swooshing into the dark-shadowy depths of a river canyon. With the bright red-tinted full moon, there was something of a animalistic awesomeness in that moment that both petrified and fascinated me. When it was over and I had reached the others, I screamed out, "Did you see that moon!" They did, but it was not the same for them as it was for me. I was alone in my thrill.

Breathless, the others put on skins and I sidestepped and skied out, finding the hard snow perfect for traveling over flattish terrain. There were even moments I was able to fly between the bushes and trees at great speeds, but most of the time I wasn't. In either case, I came into Holden Village at 9 or 10 p.m., about 17 or 18 hours after we had begun.

That night Brennan, Kyle and myself slept like the dead. The next morning Kyle and I returned to Lake Chelan on the bus and boarded the 'Lady of the Lake'. After several hours we arrived back at my beat-up, broken down dirtbag vehicle I'd mentioned at the beginning of this story. How better to end it then, than by crawling into the passenger door, over to the drivers seat to start it, only to discover that it won't turn over. The battery was dead. I looked at Kyle and we both laughed. At that point there was nothing that could surprise us.

“To Endure”

Hearts are like the flowers
Full of purple
Full of pink
Full of red
Full of the yellow
Like the sunlight they drink in

Hearts are like the moon light
Shimmering on the waves
Beating into sand and retreating
In rivulets that drain back to the source

Hearts are like the ice torn ridges high on mountains
They endure
They survive
And when the sun comes out, they shine

~by me

Back to PART I if you'd like (North Face Fernow)


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Jason Hummel