A Pair of Fun Lines in the Tenmile

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Wheeler’s classic northeast face as seen from Blue Lakes.

Partners: Andy Dimmen, Mike Bannister
Route: Ascent of Wheeler’s North Ridge, ski descent of Northeast Face, ascent and ski descent of Polaris Couloir
Stats: ~5 miles, 3,400′ climbed and skied

Andy (adimmen on TGR), his buddy Mike, and I decided to go for some short, bang-for-your-buck lines in the Tenmile this past Sunday. Originally we were looking at something a bit more committing in either the Gores or the Elks, but proximity and the prospect of getting a good night sleep in our own beds ultimately won out.

Wheeler’s North Face seemed like it could provide just the right mix of challenging climbing and skiing without having to hike far to get it, and with lines all over the valley above Blue Lakes we figured we could pair it up if things went well. Stanwagon.com has a short writeup of the line, and Killingcokes has skied this route as well. We started from near the damn on road 850 around 7am and headed for Wheeler. Thirty minutes later we were staring at the Northeast Face.

We decided to climb to the obvious notch looker’s right of the face, then take the ridge to the summit. The booting was a tad punchy as the area had not gotten a great overnight freeze. What else is new?

Quandary’s West Ridge,

From the notch, we headed up the ridge line, which was nothing more than a simple ridge walk until we came upon a formidable gendarme:

We had two options; heading around to the left of the gendarme, which looked to entail a steep down climb followed by an exposed snow traverse, or heading to the right, which seemed mostly dry and less exposed. We chose to head right, and before long found ourselves on some short class 4/low class 5 pitches.

Photo courtesy of Andy Dimmen.

Past the gendarme, the remaining route to the summit is a short face climb.

Photo courtesy of Andy Dimmen.

We geared up quickly and got moving as the face was getting hot. Photo courtesy of Mike Bannister.

Andy getting things started.

After the top turns, the pitch rolls over and gets steeper before it relents about 1/3 of the way down the route. The few turns that Andy made up top resulted in a decent amount of wet snow peeling off the face. It was clear this was going to be an exercise in wet sluff management for the majority of the descent. We were a tad late.

Photo courtesy of Mike Bannister.

Further down, Andy and Meshuggeneh.

Mike jump turning below the choke. Photo courtesy of Andy Dimmen

…and me making wide turns at the bottom of the face. Photo courtesy of Mike Bannister.

Fritz was kind enough to lend me a photo of the route, taken from Fletcher. Photo courtesy of Fritz Sperry/MakingTurns.com,

All in all this climb and ski makes for a fun outing, it has a little of everything. From here our attention then turned to earning some extra credit on North Star. After a short break, Andy began putting in steps up one of the many North Face Couloirs.

This face offers approximately 1,200′ of steep climbing and skiing, we were in position to let em’ rip after about an hour of climbing. The skiing was interesting; wintery snow up top and potato chip ice features down lower. We did get some corn turns on the apron however. Ski shots are Mike, myself, and Andy.

Photo courtesy of Andy Dimmen,

Photo courtesy of Mike Bannister.

Photo courtesy of Mike Bannister.

Looking back up at the line.

From the bottom of the face we were able to ski to the dam, then a 5 minute road walk had us back to the car by 2pm. If anyone’s interested, there was just one small snow drift half covering the road about 1/3 of a mile from the upper parking lot. I’d assume by now the road is passable to the top for 2WD vehicles. Also, I’d imagine the line on North Star will be in for some time. Thanks again for a fun day Andy and Mike, let’s do it again some time!

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