Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Palisades

It seems the weather has been plotting against us lately by dumping snow during our time off when we want to be skiing bigger lines.  Conversely, during our work weeks when we’d appreciate frequent refreshers, it always seems to be high and dry.  On my iPhone, I keep tabs on the weather in various mountain communities throughout the west.  I have icons for Leadville, Bishop, Lee Vining, Golden, Jackson, Moab, Aspen, and Anchorage.  Fortunately, we have friends in some of these towns that can tell us what the conditions are like on the ground but sometimes we have to rely on what the computers tell us.  Last week, with mostly unsettled weather throughout the west, there was one area of strong sun, mellow winds, and amazing mountains - the Sierra Nevada.  

By the time we tidied up our work responsibilities and got the OK from our lady friends, our adventure window had shrunk to a mere 36 hours.  Being foolish and possessing innate truck driving abilities, we decided to make a pilgrimage to the Sierra to see how much we could ski and see in one day.  We left Salt Lake at 3:30 in the afternoon and while I drove, Tom and Jason hit the internet hard to try and find a suitable objective.  I peppered them with requests to find out which roads were open into the range, to check the current snowpack percentages, and to do research on certain lines we wanted to ski.  In the end, we decided to either head into Whitney Portal or go explore the Palisades.  We’d sleep on it and decide in the morning.  

Speaking of sleep, our options were a roach motel, sleeping out at the yet-to-be-determined trailhead, or phone a friend.  We chose the latter.  Graham Kolb is a former climbing partner who now resides in Bishop with his long suffering gal, Anne.  He still crushes the juice from granite crimpers, and while I haven’t climbed with him in years, I called and left a message saying we were rolling through town.  He called back and also left a message saying that he didn’t recognize my voice but that since I knew his name and that he lives in Bishop, we were welcome to crash at his house.  What a guy!

With their deluxe pad to launch, we hastily packed and set the alarms for four hours later.  

In the dark, at about 7400 feet, we started hiking on dirt in our ski boots.  That was the first of many mistakes that would come back to bite us later, Tom most of all.  We tried to follow the South Fork of Big Pine Creek but were quickly entangled in the densest, thorniest, brush imaginable.  Jason lost his Julbos, and having experienced snow blindness once before, halted to find them.  Eventually, we broke through the briars and started linking up small patches of snow before switching to skins after an hour of hiking.  We had gained maybe 500 feet by this point.  

We kick turned our way up a headwall, excited to get a glimpse of our main objective for the day.  We had hoped to climb and ski the NE face of the Middle Palisade but our hopes were dashed when at first glance.  

Our desired line definitely wasn't "in". 
Fortunately, the Palisade region is dense in worthy ski mountaineering objectives and part of our goal for the day was to familiarize ourselves with the terrain anyway.

At this point, we took a relaxed approach to the remained of the still young day and decided to just hike around and ski whatever appealed to us in the moment.  Heading north toward the Palisade Crest and up the Norman Clyde Glacier, we saw a nice looking chute that drew us in for a look.
There were dozens of sweet consolation prizes like the North Couloir on Norman Clyde Peak.

JD nearing the top of the Norman Clyde Chute
Photo by JD

Photo by JD

TG dropping in and delighting in the surprising Sierra powder.
Photo by JD
Little JD
We were completely surprised by the cold soft powder and pretty psyched that we weren't sweating and getting sunburned as we thought would be the case.

Once out of the cold north chute, the good feelings didn't last long.  Stripped to T-shirts and with sweat stinging our eyes, we made a navigational error and cliffed out while trying to traverse over to Mount Sill.

We sat down and actually ate lunch.

Eventually, we became motivated to continue exploring so we backtracked and skied sloppy corn before traversing over toward Mount Sill.  With the day getting on and a long drive ahead of us, we made hast of the climb and got a look down onto the Palisade Glacier and its surrounding peaks.   High on the North Face of Sill, we found a rocky sneak into the North Couloir.  The skiing was mediocre but the setting sublime.  

Booting up Sill.  Photo by JD

Photo by JD

Photo by JD

Photo by JD 
We debated for a few minutes trying to blast up the V Notch but it was already 4:30 Mountain time and I had a hard deadline of being home by 5 AM.  It was already going to be close so we decided to save the Notches for another trip.

On the way out we added about a dozen other lines to the list.  We also found out that I'm the only one with balls in the group as the others walked around the clearly frozen albeit slightly slushy lake.
Photo by JD

This one would lure us back...
Since we were making a loop, we didn't know the North Fork exit which led to a few wrong turns before finding the trail.  We also didn't have shoes for the three or four miles of dirt.  It wasn't that big of a deal, except Tom's carbon boots were apt to break and being a size too small, were crushing his feet.  
Tom is starting to hate life by this point. 

On the approach in the dark, we somehow managed to get lost in the only patch of trees up this wide open basin. 

Ultimately, we made it home at 3:15 AM with plenty of time to spare!  

Total time was just under 36 hours door to door and it was completely worth it.  The Sierra just might be the best range in the lower 48 for ski mountaineering.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The White Baldy Ramp

The hanging ramp on the north face of White Baldy has always interested me but I have always been en route to other objectives when in the area.  Last week, I had a short window before work and it seemed to fit the timeline.  Thankfully, Matt Galland was willing to wake up in the dark to also accommodate my schedule.  

Once above the ramp, I was actually excited as it's reminiscent of a mini Otterbody snow field minus the rappels, the degree of steepness, and the grand scale of the Grand.  Nevertheless, it still gives one the experience of skiing out into space.  

Looking down from the top

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Big Provo Ramps

There's a gorgeous ramp down into Big Provo Cirque that we've been eyeing for years.  It's hard to get to and is really short so I guess we never really thought it was worth the effort.  Well, it's nice to be wrong.  

Jason and I were joined by Tom Goth and Matt Galland for what turned out to be one of the cooler, albeit short ski descents we've done in the Wasatch.  Actually, Matt missed out as he kindly stayed perched above some cliffs to shoot photos of us in the chute.  I'll add those soon...

JD looking for the mystery chute

Tom Goth taking the fun way to the chute in the background

The top was STEEP and measured at 58 degrees.  Here's Tom peering over the edge into nothing. 

Beta:  We started in Dry Canyon from Lindon.  We were on dirt for a couple miles before dropping into the gully to the climber's right of the trail.  That will ascend to the summit ridge but the chute is still 400 meters to the south.  Alternatively, one could ascend past Stewart Falls into Big Provo Cirque or climb any of the other chutes from the SW.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Red Castle Peak - Uintas

Jason and I both had the week off but weather and plans never materialized.  We were itching for some adventure and at the last minute, I hatched the idea of obtaining a snow mobile to go check out some rugged terrain in the Uintas.  Jason was on board immediately and Lars, after some convincing, finally agreed.  What's with that guy?  

I picked up a rental sled from Trax Power Sports in Woods Cross on Friday evening in between making a million trips between our old house and new house to complete an annoying move.  At the shop, I watched (and sort of helped) two burly dudes muscle the sled into the back of Jason's little truck.  I wasn't sure how we'd manage out in the wild but I've been bailed out of sticky situations by burly men before and we figured we'd figure it out or ask for help. 

With a 4 AM wake up it was going to be a long day.  Little did we know, we had about 20 miles of flat skinning in store making for a much much longer day than planned.  

We decided on the fly while looking at Gaia Maps and Google images in the car to go check out Red Castle Peak.  At least on the map, there looked to be some promising couloirs that we made our goal for the day.  

The snow mobile fired right up and we were soon riding deep into the Uintas northern slope.  Jason was on the back and Lars was towing on skis.  He only asked me to slow down once on the 8 mile ride over frozen tracks.  

Arriving at China Meadows TH, we could see two sets of sled tracks ignoring the wilderness designation and the sign that plainly stated that snow mobiles were not allowed.  Lacking the same disregard, we parked the sled and started slogging.  

The map hinted at an eight mile approach but reality was more like eleven.  Somewhere along the way, I realized that if we were to return the sled on time and make it home for dinner as promised, we wouldn't be able to ski anything.  I made a decision for the group that we would pay late fees and piss off our wives in the name of adventure and steep skiing.  There wasn't really any discussion as Jason and Lars were thinking similar thoughts of mischief.  

Approaching the Castle after two hours of flat skinning. 

We were horrified to see that our first two choices of chutes were blown free of any substantial amount of snow.  All that remained was red talus.  Quite disheartened, we chalked up the day as good recon and started walking up the talus to at least gain some vert and perspective on the place.  Topping out the dry chute, the mood changed in an instant as we discovered a cirque with a half dozen amazing chutes.  With any sense and planning, we would have been able to discern that recent 100 + mph winds from the west would result in exactly what we accidentally discovered.  Sometimes it's more fun to go in blind.

Option B didn't look any better 

Jason really wanted to go skiing.

Topping out the dry NW facing chute, we finally found snow.

Jason looking down our first chute of the day. 

I convinced the guys that anything would be better than the chute we just climbed and scrambled over to get a better look at a promising weakness in the cliff below us.  Finally, our luck changed and I got a clean glimpse of a nice sustained chute through the red rock.  I was also realizing that this was just one of many other worthy chutes in the cirque.

Lars, happy to be on snow instead of rock. 

JD working to the entrance of the chute. 


At the bottom of the first chute, I think we had all planned on skiing straight back to the car but one quick look around convinced us all to revise our timeline.  We gave ourselves thirty more minutes to climb one of the many tempting chutes in the cirque.  

Amazingly, the out was just barely downhill enough that with a lot of double poling, we were able to ski seven of the ten miles and made it back to the sled in half the time it took on the approach.

Also amazingly, we managed to rig up our skis and ride with all three of us on the snow mobile back to the truck, where a snow bank made for the perfect ramp to drive it right into the bed.  We aren't very good at power assisted adventures, but I'm intrigued by the possibilities.  

We made it home only four hours late.