If you’re unfamiliar with the name Nick Russell then you’re missing out on a whole lot of stylish snow riding (his Instagram account fully backs this sentiment). I had the pleasure of riding with Nick on a little mini-expedition this winter in Tahoe and it was a supreme a pleasure as he lead us on the powder trail to his most sacred backcountry haunts (I’m not telling where). Nick is always up for charging. He spent the early spring traversing his favorite North American range, then headed south, to the equator and Bolivia, where he had his eye on a peak to be named later with a stellar crew that included Danny Davis and Gray Thompson, among others. Nick and I had a quick chat about the trip–albeit vague as he has a film in the works for this fall. Still, he gave me the lowdown on the uber-successful suffer fest that included a first descent of a 20,000-foot peak and some really weird weather.
Bolivia, talk about the crew you were with and how the trip came to be.
We got back a couple of weeks ago. The crew was Danny Davis, Gray Thompson, Nathaniel “Murph” Murphy (safety), Justin Kious (photographer) and myself. This trip was two years in the making. I first heard about a mystical range in northern Bolivia from Jim Zellers; he and Tom Burt did an expedition there nearly 20 years ago. There was basically no information or maps of the area when they went, total cowboy exploration. Two decades later and not much has changed in terms of beta. I had a few key names of villages and surrounding peaks to go off of, but besides that, it was a total gamble. This spring the crew and timing were finally in line and we were able to make it happen.
So you scored a big first descent. Describe what you can about the descent.
To our knowledge, no one has skied or ridden it before. It’s a 6,000-meter peak, topping out at 19,800 feet. It was a hard-fought line for sure. I think it took us four attempts to summit and ride off the top. Gray and I rode the south face together and Dan and Murph rode a ramp off the south east. We’re calling them the “Dreamer Line” and “El Sueno.”
So how was riding around the equator? Pretty crazy weather patterns?
Equatorial mountains are like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. The weather moves so fast, you have to be ready to either retreat at a moment’s notice or hunker down and hope it passes. On any given day, the clouds would move in from the Amazon, around midday, bringing this wild fog and mist with them. It wasn’t even below freezing, but all of a sudden it would start to dump this graupel-esque snow that we called Bolivian jumping beans. But it still rode like powder. Sometimes it would clear up after 15 minutes, other times it would restrict us to podcasts and card games in the tent. It took us a while to get a grasp on which clouds were harmless and which ones were stormy.
So this was self-support. Was it a multi-day expedition to get it done? Were you camping? How was the approach to the big peak?
Aside from a wild three and a half hour ride in the back of a 4×4 truck, we were 100 percent self-supported. We spent about three weeks in the field. Our base camp was around 14,000 feet and high camp was at 16,600 feet. The approaches were a complete mixed bag of heinous tallus walking, booting, skinning, wallowing in knee deep snow, and front pointing up firm pitches.
Any scary moments while you were there, stuff that got you on edge? Was there technical climbing where you were roped up?
For sure. Those are by far the most rugged mountains I have ever been in. Climate change is evident as soon as we saw how broken up the glaciers were. Crevasses and bergshrunds always keep you on your toes–especially being so remote, like we were. If we required an outside rescue, it would have taken several days, if it would have come at all. Conservative decision making was essential.
Editor’s Note: See much more on the boys’ Bolivia expedition this fall when they plan to release a full-length film.