Shredding the Patriarch with Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison

In year three of Cody Townsend’s The Fifty Project, we’ve been following along, providing critical map data, and sharing some behind-the-scenes stories. As the season winds down, he teams up with legendary ski mountaineers Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison to ski in Montana.

Cody Levels Up

The Patriarch lies on the north face of Glacier Peak, within the Beartooth Mountains of south cenrtal Montana. This line is noted for its difficulty. Townsend outlines, “The Patriarch is a classic line the best ski mountaineers in North America work their way towards. This is a line that is super special, rarely skied and one of the more demanding and dangerous lines in the Lower 48.” Which is why he’s enlisted the help of two of the best ski mountaineers in the Lower 48—Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison. This duo solidified their dominance in the ski-mountaineering scene during their 2018 Lhotse expedition in which they climbed and skied 27,940-foot, 4th highest peak in the world that’s adjacent to Mt. Everest. With other notable missions such as Alaska’s Mt. Denali and Papsura Peak in the Indian Himalaya, these two just absolutely rip.

Cody Townsend The Fifty Project: The Patriarch

The Line

Hardly ever skied, it’s reserved for the most technical of ski mountaineers. It requires anchor building, rappelling, and rope work to safely navigate. It’s not for the faint of heart and has countless no-fall zones.

From Cooke City, Montana, saddle up a sled and head north 10-15 miles. Cody recommends planning for two to three days in the field once you’ve departed on sleds. In addition to the ride, the approach involves a six-to-eight–mile skin to the north face of Glacier Peak once at the Wilderness boundary. From there the complicated ascent begins, with steep climbing, rappelling, and 60 degree slopes. Upon entering the couloir, there are no safety zones from falling debris and very little chance of recovery in case of a fall.

Despite all that exposure, the temps were cold and forecasts were greenlighted. The trio shreds the Patriarch on a 9:00 AM start with minimal mishaps, and some decent snow. 

Discover This Line
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Mitch Breton

Mitch Breton was raised on the shores of Maine's coastline chasing fresh snow, trout, grouse, and the best darn mosquito repellent money can buy. Covering topics from fly fishing, car camping, and beyond, he thrives on a story well-told.