Winter Ascent of Labor Day Horn

It was an overcast day in mid February as we ski toured up the Nesakwatch Valley towards Labor Day.  Light snow squalls passed over Marc-Andre and I as we headed up to the Propeller Carin under Mount Slesse.  The rather late start to the day landed us at the bivvy around 5PM where Marc’s gear stash awaited with a tent, stove and climbing gear.  We stomped out a platform in the snow and set up the tent.  As my body cooled off from the hike I could feel the chill of the winter air.  It was getting dark as Marc pulled out the stove to prepare dinner. “Pop!” Like the sound of a cracked knuckle, our gas canister nozzle burst under the frozen pressure and Marc’s ice pick.  It was now spewing precious gas despairingly into the atmosphere.  Marc and I would be rationing out our peanut trail mix for dinner, breakfast and lunch for the following day.  Marc skied back down to the memorial to collect water from the stream and we set the alarm for 3AM.

I shivered throughout the night, tossing and turning to churn the heat in my sleeping bag.  As we woke at 3AM the walls of the tent were coated in a thick frost.  We grabbed a handful of peanut mix and set off into the powdery darkness, leaving our tent pitched at the Propeller Carin.  We dashed over the rolling slopes and under the Second Peak to weave our way up to the base of Labor Day.  The terrain became ever more inclined as we cautiously switch-backed up the couloir.  At some point I realized it was snowing but it was too dark out to care about visibility yet anyway.  As the slope neared 45 degrees we attached our skis to our packs and began the boot pack up the Waterslide Couloir.  Powder snow billowed up into my chin as I attempted the upward swim.  I could feel the weight of my skis pulling me backward into the darkness where I couldn’t tell the sort of fall potential; I only knew it would be a long way down.

We neared the top of the couloir, daylight began to creep into the valley, and the slope steepened yet more.  Stepping out a slim stance, we slipped on our crampons to outwit a small step of ice.  A roomy snow cavern sat at the col between Labor Day peak and Station D.  We huddled together for a moments rest.  “Well, I guess the traverse is a no go” Marc commented to my surprise.  “Look around, we’re in a blizzard.”  Indeed we were, but I had been so focused on reaching the notch I had not paid much attention to the conditions.  He asked if I was interested in climbing Labor Day.  Ditching the skis at the fort, we crossed to the west side of the notch and climbed the rocky ledges.

The short climb was dappled with rocky cruxes.  We torqued our ice picks between the frozen chock stones and brushed the powder snow off the ledges with our gloves.  A good 200m of mixed scrambling led us to the final snow slopes to the summit.  Arriving at the summit, a white blanket of cloud spread westward as far as the eye could see.  Looking North, I saw the hazy figure of Marc’s smiling face back dropped against a vast white cloud.  Eastward, shed hope of more white cloud, and to the south we gazed in admiration at the Great White Cloud.

The wind howled and the storm showed no signs of easing up as we down climbed back to our skis.  We had climbed Labor Day peak in the middle of a winter storm, that was a good enough enough adventure for me.  Marc led the way down the Waterslide Couloir.  The ice step proved yet again to be the crux, but we hop turned down until the terrain opened enough to carve.  We skied down the powdery slopes and back to the tent.  It was 9AM.  Nothing like an alpine start to leave us the entire day free.  After an hour nap in the tent I joined Marc in skiing some nearby pillow lines.  Around 1PM we packed up our gear and skied out of the mountains.


– Brette Harrington

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