Skiing Leatherman has been on my hit list for years. I’ve made several attempts at it, but though a combination of bad luck, mechanical breakdown, partners bailing, and even a lost dog, it’s never happened. But I’d committed to making it this year. This last weekend was my only free weekend for a while, so even though the weather wasn’t looking good, Julian and I decided to give it a shot.
There are a couple of ways to access the north face. The more common way is to drive up from Horsehaven pass and hike up the West Fork of the Pashimori River. But I was not convinced that the road would be open, so I tried another way. That meant driving up Sawmill Gulch, hiking over Leatherman Pass and skiing down to the base of the North Face. Then after skiing the North Face, skinning back up over the pass again. This probably adds 2000’ feet to the day, but we felt it was doable.
I can’t belive I have to carry that thing.
So on Saturday Julian and I got a crack of noon start and began hiking up the gulch. After about ½ mile we switched to skinning and found rotten, bottomless snow that promised a nasty ski back down. We skinned to the head of the gulch and set up camp. As Julian began preparing dinner, I started to pitch the tent. That’s when I discovered that the bag with the tent poles looks a lot like the bag with the tent vestibule. Guess which I bag brought? Yep, the one without the tent poles. But with a little boy scout ingenuity, and a few skeptical looks from Julian, I managed to do a passable job rigging up the tent.
That’s some mighty fine improvisation, if I do say so myself.
Leatherman Peak from our camp.
Next morning we started up towards Leatherman Pass. Getting from Sawmill Gulch to the Pass was trickier than I’d expected because of the steep side hill. But after gaining the pass it was a quick ski down to the base of the North Face. That’s where the real work started. The face isn’t steep, but it’s big and it took several hours of cramponing to gain the top. For the last several hundred feet the sun was shining and it was starting to get hot. The size of the cinnamon rolls was increasing and the snow was sticking to the crampons. So after gaining the ridgeline, we figured we’d tickled the dragon’s tail enough and decided to skip the summit.
The epic North Face of Leatherman. Untouched and all ours. This is what makes ski mountaineering worth it.
Julian cramponing up the face.
Bad Rock Peak from the summit of Leatherman
Julian and I near the summit.
Julian getting first turns.
Our signature on the face.
The ski down the face was really fun. Decent snow, but a bit thin in spots. I think we both took a core shot or two. But of course, what took us 3 hours to climb took us 10 minutes to ski. Then after a short break, it was time to put the skins on again for the trip back over the pass. It was somewhat depressing to be standing at the bottom of the pass looking back up at it, but it’s easier than it looks. But getting from the pass back into Sawmill Gulch was really dicey, with the soft snow and steep side hill.
After packing up camp, it was time to ski back down. Based on the previous day’s snow conditions, we were dreading the ski down. And we weren’t disappointed. It was the worst snow I’d skied all season. Deep and bottomless. Tip dives, tank traps, and turtle impressions was the order of the day. After a while, we ended up taking our skis off and wallowing through the waist deep snow because it was easier. This was one of the few times I’ve ever been glad to hit the end of the snow and start walking. But we made it with no major damage, and it was only a minor inconvenience to what was otherwise one of the best ski adventures I’ve ever had.
~ Eric Larsen