Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 42: Homicide Chute - We like it hard?

Yesterday I rallied back from Zion to try and get a ski in before work. I thought I'd be alone since I missed the Bart/Jason/Zack show on Box Elder but trusty Adam was up for a quickie. We had been premeditating Homicide Chute for a while and yesterday we were feeling impulsive. Viking Lars likes to say that we like it "hard," implying that our best adventures happen when the danger is low and the snow more on the hard side. Normally I'd say that tends to be the case because the skiing is more interesting and the terrain more adventurous, but yesterday was murderous. This was in part because I was on race skis (tried to throw in some intervals up pole line) and in part because frozen avy debris interspersed with breakable crust and a helping of ice makes for "interesting" skiing at best.

We warmed up with a run down from Little Superior, booted up Suicide, and then tried to avoid getting killed in Homicide. I lost an edge a couple time when the wimpy skis got bounced around and took a couple slides above some rocky chokes...not cool. It was the first time this year I really wished I had my whippets.

Cornices are getting big this year:

Adam smoothing out the ice:

Adam feeling confident with whippet in hand and his reliable Mt. Baker's:

The next few days should restore order to the's nuking out there.

On a side note, Greg HIll is only a few thousand feet away from his goal of 2 million vertical for the calendar year. Congrats! After spending a few days in his back yard this month, it's easy to see how he's stayed motivated.

As for me...175,000 vertical for the season. I wonder if I could be half as manly as Greg?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Zion NP: A Winter Tale

Lil JD has a rare break from work, so to take advantage, we are down in Zion National Park for a couple days. The plan was to explore the park as much as possible by running many of the classic trails. Sunday, we drove down from SLC, checked into the Desert Pearl Inn (which gets a solid A), and went for a short run along the Virgin River and up the canyon to the Emerald Pools. In many sections, the trail ended abruptly as the bank was washed out from recent floods. Up high, the peaks were snow capped and shrouded in clouds. It was a stunning change from typical splitter desert weather. Unfortunately, the rain kept me from bringing along the camera.

Today we wanted to do something big. We thought about an out and back of the West Rim Trail (28+miles), lapping Angel's Landing for a 10,000 ft day (without skis), or doing a loop from the Weeping Rock Trailhead, along the East Rim Trail, to the East Entrance, and back on the road (24ish miles). The East Rim option won out since the west side ends around 7,900 feet and was more likely to be impassable because of snow and the Angel's Landing option sounded boring.

Zion Canyon on a crisp winter morning:

After gaining a thousand feet from the parking lot, the trail emptied into the river.

JD didn't care. A river of December snow melt didn't bother her:

Too much:

We took the out and back toward Observation Point with spectacular views along the way.

Once rejoining the East Rim Trail, we took off toward the east entrance of the park, 8 miles away through high plateaus, side canyons, and relatively unfrequented winter desert (at least this time of year).

Shortly after committing to the loop, Jessie slid on some ice and suffered what initially appeared to be a serious knee injury. After flashing through my options - spint her leg, make a crutch, carry her out - she declared she wanted to continue on. That would have been nearly 8 miles over moderately rough terrain, alone, in winter. And, once reaching the east entrance, we'd have around 14 miles on the road to make it back to the car.

I was relieved she could walk unassisted and squashed her plans to complete the loop, turning the East Rim loop into more of an 8 mile East Rim foray.

Things could have turned out much differently today. We were on our own, without a map, extra clothes, phone, ability to make a fire, or first aid kit. We did have two bottles of water, two packets of GU, a package of Cliff Bloks, two long sleeve shirts, and one pair of pants. I'd say we were fortunate that JD's fall didn't happen farther back, and that it wasn't more severe. I haven't often felt vulnerable in the backcountry.

Moral of the story?

Don't underestimate the desert in winter and don't underestimate little JD.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 41: Christmas Eve Tour

Gloomy skies in the valley were a little misleading as the morning up high looked more like this:

And this:

We (Bart, Jared, JD and I), started with a beautiful run down into Silver Fork from Grizzly Gulch. From there it was up to the ridge line where we stumbled upon one of the largest cornices I've seen in the Wasatch. Overhanging and the size of a bus, it was practically groaning under its own weight. We were wishing for a knotted piece of cord to drop the whole mother into a north facing chute above Day's Fork.

I guess the only alternative was:

Jared trusting Bart with the ole "pole anchor"

I was moving to the side to get a better angle on the carnage when it let loose and I missed the actual collapse. I felt the ground vibrate though. Jared said he gave it a single half hearted karate kick, with the result being:

Close up:

The chute had already slid down to the low density snow layer from earlier in the storm, but the multi ton cornice stepped it down to the bed surface. Safe to ski, we enjoyed soft avy debris into Day's. A quick climb brought us up to Flagstaff where we debated the Hallway vs Holy Toledo, with the latter winning out since we saw a party across the drainage we wanted to catch. They were part way up High Ivory on the western end of Cardiac Ridge. We rallied down into Cardiff making huge GS turns, skinned up the other side to the top of the ridge where we were greeted with a great view of SLC.

SLC beyond the Cottonwood Ridge, wonderfully undercast:

We laughed our way down another great run into Cardiff and then skinned up the drainage, rather impressed with the recent activity.

This pic doesn't come close to conveying the extent of the slides:

A run back into Little from the Black Knob ended our day around 12:30 (prematurely) because we all had family duties with this being a holiday and all.

Maybe it was the Holiday, or the clouds in SLC, or concerns for stability, but the place was almost eerily quiet. Very few travelers back there today. The snow was dense and fast and mostly stable. I would have liked to have stayed out until dark.

The next few days will be spent in Zion with the wifey.

Merry Christmas to all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Glacier, Selkirks, and Lars: The Video

Here's some choppy footage as promised. It's been a great first half of the month. The video gives a glimpse into what we've been up to...other than working that is.

720p from andy dorais on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 36: Superior for Breakfast

Zack, dropping a knee off the summit of Superior.

I don't think these guys can get enough of a breakfast like that. John above and Zack below, feasting on dry cold powder, lit up by the morning alpenglow.

It's cold up there this morning and the powder is nice and preserved from the cool temps and clouds yesterday. Now that my day is fulfilled, I'm off to work.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Days 32, 33, 34: The Lars Experience

Viking Lars, high on the Pfeifferhorn

So what is the Lars Experience? It's three days of touring with viking Lars. He's a great friend who hails from Colorado, and had been skiing once this year prior to his visit to the Wasatch. This is how it went down.

SATURDAY: Picked up Lars from the airport at 9 AM. He was waiting for me at passenger pick up in ski boots and full garb. Eager? WIth the overnight snow, we went looking for some powder skiing. Found it in Argenta, which provided a couple laps of glorious untracked fun. Then Tradition overwhelmed good sense and we made a stop at McDonald's before continuing the day with a powder run from just down the ridge from Little Superior. It was a great warm up at 6,000 ft for the day.

SUNDAY: I overslept and woke up to find 7 missed calls from JD and Lars and had to rally to the White Pine Trailhead to play catch up. Driving up, I saw them above the trees, entering the Little Pine Chute. Forty minutes later, heart redlined, I caught up. We pushed it around 2,400 feet up the chute before things started to feel a bit sketchy. Up to that point it was obvious the whole chute had slide with a large crown visible along the walls. Above the upper choke, conditions weren't so reassuring so we turned around and got the meat of the couloir in the best conditions I've had it...still not great.

The viking liked it though...

From there we decided to bang around Cardiff a bit and the rest of the day went as follows:

Up Flagstaff and along the ridge to the Hallway. Down Hallway, then back up the drainage and up Holy Toledo and up Toledo Peak. Down Holy Mole, then up the drainage to gain the ridge which we took to the summit of Superior. Down the north face of Superior, then back up for a run down the South Face. At this point, I was sure the viking from the border of Nebraska would be done. Wrong again, he was up for another 1600 feet to break 10,000 for the day. As it was now getting dark and we were without headlamps, we took the most efficient way and ended by skinning up Chip's Run and letting the Snowbird lights guide us back down.

10,000 feet for the day...Lars' first.

Here are the pics:

Lars finds the Hallway:

The Hallway all rimed up:

Who needs that fixed line? Not a viking.

Lars finding sheltered powder in Holy Mole:

North side of Superior:

Bumped into John on the way bakc up:

Lars strutting it on the catwalk

Superior South Face at sunset:

A grinch or a viking?

MONDAY: Perhaps the greatest day of Lars' life? The plan was to ski the NW Couloir of the Pfeifferhorn and for everyone to make it down in time for their afternoon engagements. Lars and JD had to be at the airport at 2, Bart had to be home by 1 to make sure his kids got to school, and I had to work at 2. That meant a semi alpine start and that Lars would be pushed as fast as his weary (but surprisingly fresh) legs could go. The pics can do the talking for this one.

Beautiful morning in the mountains:

Approaching the Pfeiff, Bart charging ahead putting in his trademark bootpack:

On the summit ridge looking for a bypass ramp of snow as the normal entrance was a bit rocky.
We were able to down climb the ridge and enter from the side.

Bart keeping things mellow above the cliff:

Getting a little more spicy:

Lars figuring out how to use a rope:

JD on Rappel:

Bart skiing the lower half of the chute:



Been wanting to do that one for a while.

Then it was up out of Hogum, down Maybird a bit, then up and over into Red Pine. We found this great shot above the lake:

We were back in time to lunch and everyone, sadly (except maybe Bart getting to see his kids) made it to their engagements and back to real life. Monday was an awesome day in the mountains with great partners covering a ton of ground. Love it.

20,000+ feet for the long weekend.

Viking video to come...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 31: The Grunge

A recent trip report and the stable conditions inspired brother JD, Adam and me to take a long walk on the Alpine Loop/Timpanooke road in search of...

The Grunge Couloir:
(Photo by JD)

After nearly two hours of boredom, we finally reached what some consider to be the standard access couloir approach. Not having sleds or bikes, I might consider a more direct approach next time.

Adam skinning the approach couloir:

From the shoulder below the Grunge, looking SE toward Timp's other summits:

Booting the Grunge:
(Photo by JD)

Nearing the top with cornices threatening:

As the recent TR mentioned, the exit right looked excessively dangerous...wind loaded, yet to slide, steep, and above cliffs. They were comfortable stopping about where this picture was taken (20 feet from the top). We tried to climb the rock above, but it was too rotten and icy, and our Dynafit boots don't climb as well as we thought (or maybe we don't climb as well as we thought). So it turned out we stomped out a platform likely in the same place they did.

An overnight dusting of graupel and some wind from the west had erased any evidence of prior passage. A pit on the way up and a couple ski cuts convinced us that there would be some manageable sluffing, but likely little else. As reported, crowns were reassuringly still visible.

Just before this pic was taken, I made a rookie mistake and dropped my pole. It tumbled down the chute and around the bend left before stopping, giving me the privilege of skiing the top section with a pole in one hand and an ice axe in the other.
(Photo by JD)

It just felt better to hold something in my right hand, hence the axe.
(Photo by AO)

JD getting grungy:

AO getting started:
(Photo by JD)

Nearing the choke:
(Photo by AO)

Exiting the bottom of the couloir:
(Photo by JD)

AO milking the apron:
(Photo by JD)

From there it was still a few thousand feed to silky apron skiing to some trees to getting cliffed out to finding the secret passage, to some major bushwhacking, to the road and cars. Awesome day.

124,900 feet for the year