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“I’m going to have PTSD from this,” Cody Townsend says, only half-joking, while stopping to evaluate his life choices in a video from last spring. He’s looking haggard and lost in the middle of the Glacier National Park in NW Montana. It’s the kickoff episode of Year 3 of The FIFTY project, Towsend’s web series on his mission to climb and ski all 50 of the lines from the book, “The 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America.” With 30 of the 50 complete, the remaining options have more fickle weather windows requiring more waiting around to ski sometimes less-than-ideal conditions.
This epic takes Cody and splitboarder Nick Russell to the SW Face of Mt. Stimson. First skied by Pete Costain and Andy Zimet in 1997, the five-thousand foot, steep, exposed and sustained face is held up by several hundred feet of cliff bands just below the hanging snowfield.
With the avalanche forecast danger rating high and cold snow coming in the forecast, the team, including cameraman Bjarne Salen, had several days of waiting to anticipate their 9.5-mile approach to base camp with their 7,000-feet of vertical climbing to the top off the 10,141-foot peak.
Lucky for them, they couldn’t have anticipated how bad the dozen-plus freezing river crossings with bare or wet feet would be. They spent an entire day high-stepping over deadfall and grabby willows while pine branches smacked them in the face repeatedly.
“This is the gnarliest bushwhack I’ve ever done,” Townsend says with the utmost sincerity. “Pure ouch the entire time.” And that was before their skins, wet from the river water, started glopping up with inches of heavy snow stuck to the now glideless bottoms of their skis. “This is the worst approach I’ve ever done in my life,” the usually chipper Townsend repeated more than once.
Nevertheless, their 2am start the next day is just early enough to get to the base of their 1,500-foot bootpack to the summit, which they start in a hurry with an uncertain weather window. “This mountain does not want to go easy,” Townsend says.
They make haste off the summit with Russell putting the first turns in through cold powder on top of firm ice before picking through a treacherous field of rocks and variable chunk funneling into a field of icy chicken heads.
Somehow they all manage to shout out celebratory hoots at the end of the quad-busting descent before remembering the 10.5-hour obstacle course between them and where their vehicles are parked.
“I want to say that was awesome, but that wasn’t,” Townsend confesses, with zombie eyes, back at his van. “That was horrible.”
To which Russell responds, “But tomorrow we’ll think it was awesome.”
Watch The Fifty Episode 28: Mt. Stimson
Catch up on the latest episodes of “The Fifty”: