Mt. Timlin, Alaska Range, AK
Story and Photos by Jeremy Jones
The unthinkable, horrific call came the night before I launch into the Alaska Range for a month to film for HIGHER - “Joe Timlin and four others were killed in an avalanche today.“ My world crashes down around me with those words. A void opens up that will never be filled. Since meeting Joe in the Loveland parking lot five years ago he had become an instant friend and an integral part of Jones Snowboards. As our Colorado rep, Joe’s smile greeted me every time I walked out of the airport in Denver. I will never forget his smile.
The last thing I want to do after hearing the news is head into Alaska’s biggest range. My goal is a descent of the highest line I have ever attempted in Alaska - a 3600 foot line off an unnamed, unclimbed, unridden peak. When we get to base camp I am still in shock. Looking around all I can envision are catastrophic class 5 avalanches falling down all around me. I am scared to move out of camp and we haven’t even assessed the snowpack yet. It is a horrible feeling but it is a healthy mindset in such serious mountains. Over amping, over confident, mega egos are a dangerous thing in this environment.
But we didn’t travel all this way to sit in our tents. One step at a time, we have to get to know our new world. The first line we climb is a low angle south aspect with large wind-scoured shoulders. We keep the pace at a crawl and evaluate every roll for avalanche danger. The snowpack is safe on this aspect and we drop into our line
just as the sun is setting. The turns are not magical, epic or all-time but it is an important first step towards healing and understanding this wild zone.
We spend the next few days learning the intricacies of the foreign snow pack. What we find is that the wind has taken a heavy toll and stripped most aspects to ice. Our avalanche fears are replaced with fears of hard-to-detect white ice. The “soft snow” kit that we usually carry in Alaska is replaced with the “Chamonix” kit - two axes and ice screws.
The reality of the situation sinks in when we determine the face I came to ride is bulletproof ice. My great gamble is busted but i’m OK with it. I have been riding a good streak in Alaska lately so getting shut down is not the end of the world. The dangerously icy conditions have taken any serious movie worthy objective off the
table so we focus on having fun and freeriding. With three weeks of food and endless unexplored terrain out the tent door, there is still plenty of adventure to be had.
The first gust of wind hits us as we wait for dinner on day ten of the expedition. We scramble to secure our scattered gear and batten down our tents as the wind becomes relentless. Soon we battle a steady 40 mph breeze with gusts up to 70 mph. Without any warning, a massive storm has blown in to the typically dry, cold Eastern
Alaska range. For the next four days we go into snow warfare mode. Keeping tents upright becomes a full time job. Twice the main tent collapses, first from wind and then from snow.
There are few moments in life as magical as watching a major storm clear. Chaos and violence are replaced with peaceful tranquility as nature takes a collective sigh of relief. When I get my first view of the face I came to ride after the storm I can’t believe my eyes. The icy nightmare has transformed into a fluted, fluffy fantasy.
Five days later, on my fourth attempt, I start for the summit of my original objective. It is in these rarefied moments that I think of my fallen brothers the most. They motivate me to focus all my energy on living for them. With Joe in my thoughts and tears in my eyes, I start the ascent. It is a demanding climb that requires a combination of technical ice climbing and soft snow swimming. 8 hours later, the tears come back as I make the final steps to the summit. With camp 3600 feet below, I drop into the biggest line of my life. The rush of the run transports me into another world.
The uncontrollable screams of joy fade away as I make the final steps back into camp. Thoughts of Joe still fill my head. His passion for snowboarding guided him through life and his heart was bigger than any mountain I will ever ride. In honor of Joe’s amazing life I name the peak Mt. Timlin. Just like his smile, I will never forget this line.
Due to a strange set of circumstances and an open mind, we ended up in Tok, Alaska looking for a pilot who could take us on a scenic flight to check out the Eastern Alaska Range. Much of what we saw was big, rocky and covered in black ice. Mt.Timlin stood out as a true diamond in the rough. The clean and rippable face immediately grabbed our full attention.
With the help of AK logistics and guide master Ed Shanley we pieced together a plane and a plan to get us into the mountains. When we finally got settled in and went for a walk we realized we were way off on our scale. The mountains were much bigger then expected.
On day four we discovered that the steeps had bullet proof ice hidden under 4 inches of smooth snow. The good news was that there was no avalanche danger. The bad news was that the steeps were off the table and our goal of riding the big face was likely out the window.
Ryland Bell takes an after dinner lap behind camp.
This storm came out of nowhere and kicked our ass. The first breath of wind hit the tent right at dinner time and it did not stop blowing for a few days. After a few days the wind storm shifted to a snow storm and the wind walls made keeping are tents from getting buried much harder. This is not the first time this is happened to me. This is why I only build wind walls if it is absolutely essential. Which in this case it was.
Day 12. This is a view of camp. Never have I been through such an intense storm. Ryland is in the corner. We were the first up and the first to get a glimpse of the mountains. We could not believe what we saw. A full transformation of the face. It changed the mood of the trip instantly. Vacation was over. It was time to figure out if the face might be rideable. Living through the changes of weather is one of the coolest things with camping for long periods of time.
When a storm clears the first thing you deal with is drying stuff out and fixing camp.
There is no rush to get into the mountains. When you are camping you see the first rays of light to hit the mountains. And you see a ton of avalanche activity in the first 24 hours. This is a time to watch the mountains, not ride them. We could not believe the formation of spines on the face. This shedding of the face made us happy.
Here’s the gear kit for climbing the face. Trimming weight is always the goal, but the mix of chest deep snow and bullet proof ice required me to bring both the soft snow and hard snow kit. On this day I ended up using it all...except for the airbag and probe.
Ryland and I switching into climbing mode. The scale was mind blowing and way bigger than anything we had attempted before.
Hiking ridges high on a mountain like this is almost as cool as snowboarding down. Ryland and I were so happy to gain the ridge because we were no longer in danger of being taken out by an avalanche. We could not believe how deep the snow was.
I did not make it to the top on my first or second attempt but I was excited nonetheless about dropping this line a few hundred feet from the summit.
Summit day. Half-way up the face and into the spines with Ed Shanley below. The spines were deep but I could feel the ice below. The verts kept me afloat just enough to not get stuck on the ice. Over a 4 day period we hammered the snow pack and were blown away at how glued the deep pow was to the ice.
Standing at 8746 ft with 3600 vertical feet of relief below was quite a bit higher then I usually ride lines in AK. The only other time I had been over 8k in Alaska I was met with hidden white ice. The top 2500 hundred feet of the line was full pow but not full throttle because of the unedgeable ice lurking below.
This ones for Joe!