Mammoth Cave

KyleHamiltonPhotography_CalebandtheCave-7

Kyle Hamilton Photography

To this day, my favourite line I have ever skied is a cave halfway down the south face of Mammoth Head.

The first time I noticed this unique piece of terrain I was intrigued and wanted to know more about it. That year I was able to ski it successfully, but a more fascinating story is about one of my few failed attempts at skiing the Cave on Mammoth.

The only way to access to the cave is from below. It is a steep climb up the face then using ice axes and crampons I climb up a cliff that sits below the mouth of the cave. The cave itself is huge, the size of a city bus stretching about 25 feet into the mountain where there is a skylight, which allows snow to trickle in and cover the floor. That makes it possible to do four or five turns before hitting the mandatory cliff and skiing down the face towards the boulder field of Mammoth Head.

The first time I climbed in I carried my skis on my back, but this time it was earlier in the season and the cliff was bigger so I needed a different plan.

Once I got to the bottom of the cliff I tied one end of a rope to my belt loop and the other to my pack, setting up my skis so once I gained access I could pull my equipment up to me.

I began the climb, smashing my ice axes and crampons into the rock and ice. I had underestimated the size of the cliff, and right before the top I felt the rope tighten. I did not want to down climb so I anchored myself in and took a moment to think of how I was going to get up the rest of the way.

My ice axes had webbing that looped around my hands so I untied the rope from my belt loop, removed my belt, and tied all three together then tossed the axe perfectly into the cave. Using my one other axe I climbed the rest of the way then began pulling my skis and pack up the cliff.

While pulling up my skis, they jammed on the rocks. I gave the rope a tug but my belt could not withstand the force and broke at the seam, sending the rope down the cliff.

There I was, standing in the mouth of the cave with no way of skiing out of it. My only option was to climb back down. I was forced to jump the last part of the cliff, landing with a scream of exhilaration beside my pack. Out of the three attempts I have only once skied that line properly. I love the challenge that it brings, and look forward to skiing it again one day.

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