Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Line Has Been Drawn...WURLOS Over*

We played Pachinko again yesterday. We were gunning for a ski version of the WURL, a line drawn by Jared, that we then drew in our minds, and then drew with our tracks. We altered the original WURL, preferring major ski descents like Superior South Face over traversing Patsy Marly, and completely avoided Alta (because they aren't friendly to skiers).

The Line :

Start at S-Curves, up Broad's Fork, up Bonkers to Twin N. Ridge, ski Twin East Ridge, up Sunrise, ski Sunrise E. Ridge, up Dromedary, ski Drom E. Face, traverse above Sundial, ski an access couloir to Heart of Darkness, up Heart, up Monte Cristo N. Ridge, over to Superior, down South Face, to tram deck at Snowbird for gawks and laughs, up to Baldy (Jared only), Hidden Peak, AF Twins, Red Stack, up north facing couloir on Red Baldy, traverse ridge to White Baldy, ski NW Face down to ridge at head of Red Pine Drainage, traverse over to Pheiff, ski Southwest aspect of Pheiff, traverse down into Hogum, up to saddle between Lightning Ridge and Chipman, up and down Chipman N. Ridge, out Bell's Canyon to car.

There's an asterisk in the title because Jared's line included Big Horn Peak and Lone Peak. The WURL does too. But for now, the WURLOS is over, at least for least for this year. I'll try to explain.

We dropped a car at Bell's, drove back over to the S-Curves, and were skinning at 5:22 AM. All of us felt energetic and positive relative to our first attempt. We skinned into Broad's with views of the high peaks as it was getting light and it was decided that the most direct line up the Twins would be to take Bonkers over to the North Ridge and go from there. I was wary of the new route because we'd been up the East Ridge twice, and knew what to expect.

Twin, N. Ridge in morning alpenglow

Jared thought the N. Ridge would be faster...and he was right, for him and Bart. They topped out marginally faster than the other way and had more fun on the new route.

Bart investigating glide cracks on Bonkers

Twin, N. Ridge

But for me, it took marginally longer with significantly more perceived effort. I looked at my watch as Jared topped out and arrived 7 minutes later. Bart had probably been there 15 minutes or more. I wallowed in rotten snow, post holing often. My early high spirits turned sour and I switched into survival mode for the rest of the day(s). I've been battling a cold all week and wonder if it contributed to my bewildering state of fatigue. Serious thoughts about bailing so as to not hinder the others were entering my mind early and often.

Nearing the summit of Dromedary

Jared was Jared. Fast, efficient, and brutal on the descents. He battled some allergies and seemed to have lost liters of fluids out of his nose, but was solid as always. And Bart, he was as strong as anyone I've ever seen in the mountains. He put in booter after booter, never complained, and let me follow all day. Jared would often surge to the front as well doing his fair share. Me? I led for maybe 25 steps over 21 hours.

Last attempt we dropped around the Sundial and then skinned up to Monte Cristo. This time we took a more direct line down this little couloir.

And then up the Heart.

Got a good look at the sky ramps, which could be incorporated into our line.

Jared topping out the Heart of Darkness.

A really difficult scramble through rock and rotten snow up the N. Ridge of Monte Cristo led to the summit.

Superior S. Face was great buttery skiing. We were worried it might be too hot and late in the day as Jared kicked off a small wet slide. Its OK though, his brother Sam says wet slides are nothing to worry about. In fact, Jared said not to bring avy gear at all since it was a spring time tour. He meant shovels and probes but Bart and I left it all. Not too comforting since we were setting off small but very manageable slides all morning in the new snow.

We were again, the butt of many jokes as we lounged around on the tram deck taking a break.

We got separated heading up Snowbird and Bart and I ended up waiting for Jared at the Warming Hut on Hidden Peak for quite a while. Eventually, Bart stepped outside and saw a lone figure on the summit of Baldy. We had figured that since both Baldy and the Twins were closed, we'd save our run in with the law for the big one that counted and went straight to Hidden Peak. Jared on the other hand, blasted covertly through the trees to the summit, to tag it for the group. Which brings up the topic of Snowbird policy and the ski patrol. Yesterday, they were cool as hell. They told us we could stay in the hut as long as we wanted even though they were closing soon, and that if we were leaving the resort, they couldn't care less where we went. Stark contrast to the skier hostile monsters at Alta.

Red Stack, Red Baldy, White Baldy, the Pheiff and beyond...long way to go still.

Looking back at Red Stack, Bart took the super cool ramp down the ridge.

We were losing daylight fast as we summited White Baldy. It was a beautiful crisp evening. Too bad I was losing my mind after 16 hours of exposed scrambling and skiing.

Nearing summit of White Baldy with Lone Peak way out in the distance.

A couple looks back at where we'd been.

In the waning light while crossing yet another knife edge ridge, I was pretty sure I'd try to make it up Chipman and then descend out Bell's and let the others go on to Big Horn and Lone unfettered. Pretty sure, but not sold. I brought it up with Jared and he just said, "Be Strong."

The moon was bright enough to cast a shadow, and sitting on the Pheifferhorn at 9:30 PM, the view was sublime. We donned our massive headlamps, and skied/traversed down into Hogum. While Bart was putting in yet another booter, clouds started creeping in and a few snowflakes drifted by. Chipman is a 15 minute ordeal, but in that time, the snow started falling harder and we noticed the summit of Lone Peak being engulfed by clouds. We traversed north seeking passage to Big Horn's East Ridge, and while doing so, became swallowed in clouds ourselves. The visibility went to near zero and my struggle to decide whether or not to continue became a moot point. Jared and Bart reluctantly gave up on the last two peaks but I have no doubt they could have continued on if the weather hadn't made scrambling around with thousands of feet of exposure too dangerous.

We stopped midway out Bell's to brew some ramen noodles and then limped out twenty one and a half hours after leaving the car. Making it possibly the longest single push without sleep I've done to date.

So did we do the WURLOS (Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup on Skis)? I'm not sure. We did ski over 16,000 vertical and cover close to 30 miles while climbing and skiing some of the gnarliest terrain in the Wasatch. We linked up 13 named peaks over 11,000 feet, ate a lifetime's supply of Gu and Snicker's Bars, and learned a lot about what we can do on skis. As far as I know, this is the first time this line (an approximation of the Cottonwood Ridge and the Alpine Ridge linked, in a day) has been "completed" on skis. There's room for improvement in skiing the last two peaks, style (completely self supported except a snack and water at Snowbird), and the time it took. We could stay more on the ridge, tag more peaks, or do more descents. That's the beauty of Pachinko though, the only limits are one's imagination to see the lines and possibilities in the mountains.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Terminal Cancer, Ruby Range

I saw a couple pictures a friend took while in NV this weekend and spontaneously decided to go on a little trip. I left SLC at 4:45 and made the boring, dark, solo drive to Elko, which is the launching off point to the Rubies. I planned on skiing the Terminal Cancer Couloir and nosing around a bit to see what else the place had to offer.

The Couloir looks imposing but the only difficulty lies in the narrow width that is sustained throughout. The hike from the car to the top of the couloir took about an hour.

Looking up from near the entrance
From the top
It's easy to drop off the other side from the notch at the top of the couloir and skin over to a small peak that offers great views of the range.

Easily day tripped, the Rubies make for a nice change of scenery to the Wasatch.

I made a super corny video filled with atrocious skiing that I'll post as soon I'm able to get it uploaded.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

WURL/Playing Pachinko, Part II

In my previous post I mostly talked about what we did. I think I’ll take some space now to mention what I think we could change and what I’d like to do next time. Also, I’ll steal some thoughts and words from Katsutaka Yokoyama, one of the peerless alpine climbing group, the Giri-Giri Boys from Japan. These are just my thoughts and don’t necessarily reflect Bart and Jared’s opinions, though I’d be interested to hear them after our disappointment settles a bit.

First, sleep, or rather a lack thereof, was a problem. Starting at 2 AM meant 1 AM wake up and 2ish hours of sleep for Jared and Bart. I made the mistake of napping on Thursday, thinking I might be able to sleep from 5 until after dark. I woke up at 6:30 and then wasn’t able to sleep at all after. I think a 5 AM start might make more sense in these winter/spring conditions especially since one of the technical cruxes is encountered early on. If thinking the whole thing might take 18 hours, we’d finish in the dark but should be starting more well rested.

Second, conditions were just OK. Waiting for the snow to settle to provide quick travel and easier skiing would save a lot of time and energy. And, would make toting around those crampons worthwhile.

Third, we carried too much water/food resulting in heavy packs. Too much, that is, if we plan on descending into Alta and climbing through Hidden Peak where provisions can be restocked. Which brings up some style issues. Should we go fully self supported? Have a car with a food cache at Alta? Fill water at Hidden Peak or bring a small stove to melt snow?

Last, and most important to me, is the route. We were trying to establish a winter version of the WURL, which stays entirely on the ridge from Broad Fork Twins, around the head of Little Cottonwood, and back along the ridge to Lone Peak. Because we are on skis, and want to incorporate some good descents it doesn’t make sense to stay on the ridgeline. Nor is that my goal.

This is where playing Pachinko comes in. Apparently Pachinko was a popular pin ball game in Japan in the 1970s full of erratic up and down movements on irregular trajectories. The Giri-Giri version of Pachinko is a linkup of multiple routes in the mountains. WURL stands for Wasatch ultimate ridge linkup and happens to go over all the peaks as a consequence. To do so it crosses through two ski resorts which when open, in my opinion pollutes the experience.

Yokoyama wrote, “Though climbers should leave no physical marks on a mountain, we like to believe our passion remains on the lines we draw. We want to follow the lines that only we can make out, that only we can climb….I realized that all of climbing is illogical. Because we live in a modern, rational world, the value of climbing increases with its irrationality. Pachinko – climbing up, coming back down, then repeating the process – has no rationale. It could be the answer to this age of advanced equipment, technical skills and information: Does our reliance on these means weaken our passion? If so, pick a mountain range. Open a map and trace a route, any route. When you do, you might see that we’ve only been playing on a portion of a mountain. The more you think about how to enjoy the mountain fully, the more possibilities you’ll discover. ”

Add skiing to climbing and it’s easy to watch the range grow as the possible linkups are much more plentiful than the lines themselves. I’d like to play this game again, but the most beautiful line to me would be a peak enchainment rather than a ridge traverse per se. It would include Twin, Sunrise, Dromedary, Monte Cristo, Superior, down to White Pine, up AF Twins, Red Stack, Red Baldy, White Baldy, Pheifferhorn, Chipman, South Thunder, North Thunder, Big Horn, Lone Peak. I would rather play Pachinko with the peaks outside the resort. This wouldn’t be the WURL and we’d lose a certain symmetry as well as Sugarload and Baldy from the experience. So what? They aren’t as aesthetic as the Thunders. And Lightening Ridge is far more beautiful than traversing above Alta.

Yokoyama talks about Ryoma Sakamoto, a nineteenth-century Japanese samurai and a Shi-Shi, a “man of inner resolution.” Yokoyama and a partner named an incredibly difficult route in Alaska Shi-Shi, to reflect that meaning. This route, in winter conditions will require self discovery that will push one’s limits. Who better to pioneer this particular peak enchainment than the SLC Samurai? (Not me, I’m the Sherpa who copied a blog name. But, I want to go along)

“I wanted to paint my way of living with the lines I climbed…In this world of boundless information, all you know for sure is what you see with your own eyes. But when you stand before a wall, you may have doubts. The act of climbing remains the only path a climber can trust. It is only when you act that you can truly see…Pachinko starts with a desire to keep climbing. And by continuously climbing, it takes on physical form. With fair weather, good luck and imagination, any modern climber should be able to discover his or her own Pachinko.”

-Katsutaka Yokoyama
Alpinist, Issue 26

WURL/Playing Pachinko: Prematurely Terminated, Part I

In the movie Steep, I believe it's Lou Dawson who says something like, "You go to the mountains and partake of their good tidings and sometimes, you come home feeling blessed." For the first eight hours yesterday, I felt that's how the traverse/peak enchainment would end. The terrain was absolutely stunning and the skiing more than adventurous.

I met Bart and Jared at 2:00 AM at the BCC park n ride and we were skinning from the s-curves towards Broad's fork around 2:15. It was warm and moonless, but we could see the peaks above in quite some detail as the city light was magnified by the thin high clouds. Recent glide avalanches had left devastating debris piles through Broad's, which we quickly put behind us in spite of difficult travel conditions. There was a partial freeze at best and the surface was breakable. However, once at the Dromedary/Twin saddle, we were on familiar ground and made quick time through the rock step and up Twin's East Ridge.


Summited Twin exactly 3 hours after leaving the cars, right on our projected pace. Bart and Jared had put a ton of thought into the gear and did a great job modifying the Dynafit Low Tech binding to make climbing easier. They also put some thought into lighting and, voilĂ 

I used the one on the right. It weighs a ton but is like a car headlight. Still, simul-skiing back down the East Ridge with Bart while Jared's light bobbed in the distance was pretty eery, especially since we knew cliff bands were out in the blackness on either side. While dark, I felt like a trespasser. Like the mountains barely tolerated our passage.

Here's a pic from a week ago to show our path. From the saddle in the bottom right, we worked south, around the back of the first peak, booted to it's summit, skied down to the saddle , and then skinned up the West Ridge of Sunrise (peak on left). Night eased into dawn as we were booting up the unnamed peak.

From the summit of Sunrise. Dromedary immediately east with Monte Cristo in background on far right.

The probable skiing crux of the day was the descent from Sunrise to the saddle at the top of Tanner's. We moved a couple times to the north or south, but mainly stayed right on the ridge line. It truly felt like "you fall, you die" terrain and I was at times, terrified. Not much to do though but keep chasing those guys.

A look back at the descent on the East Ridge of Sunrise.

Bart on the last bit before the saddle. Steep.

From here terrain mellowed slightly and the trip up Drom was a bit faster. We were moving well with the perceived crux behind us and I was hugely optimistic about our chances. Everything was beautiful.

A look back again at Twin and Sunrise

Bart somewhere on Drom's East Face

We zipped down and around the Sundial and worked our way up into the bowl north of Superior/Monte Cristo. On the way talking about staying on the ridge line longer to be able to ski the sky ramp and then using the Heart of Darkness to access Monte Cristo. Guess we'll have another chance to talk about that one.

Bart and Jared with MC and ramp in question in background


We tagged Monte Cristo then dropped off Superior's South Face and walked over to Alta where part II of the trip would begin. At this point it was just after 10:00 AM. A number of mechanical failures (the cord on my boots broke, I lost a basket on my whippet, I lost a lens from my sunglasses, I lost a ski while skinning) and poor snow for travel and skiing had probably taken their toll but I was still psyched. I could feel the fatigue beginning to mount, especially on steeper climbs, but we were going to make it.

Then, all momentum was lost. An Alta mountain host lady caught us skinning up towards Sugarloaf and ordered us to turn around and move out of bounds. A total of 30 people were skiing the whole mountain. We pleaded our case, but she threatened to call police and patrol and wouldn't budge until we turned tail. She was mean. This turned a 1.5 hour climb into a 3 hour climb as we skirted out of bounds toward Catherine's area and then stole back in, traversing under the Castle, hoping the rock would help conceal our presence.

Bart and Jared

After tagging Sugarloaf, the plan remained: Baldy, AF Twins, Red Stack, Red Baldy, White Baldy, Pheiff, Chipman, Bighorn, Lone Peak, and out Bell's.

Baldy was closed.

AF Twins...closed.

At Hidden Peak, we pleaded with patrol but they said come back tomorrow cause they'd be open then. We didn't even want to ski back into their areas but...closed. It would have been too dangerous by this time to wrap south, losing tons of elevation and then try to ascend the Twins. Alternatively, too stupid to head down to Scottie's losing thousands of feet, only to head back up to the Twins. In essence, we were stopped in our tracks by people who can only follow irrational orders and not make reasonable judgements on their own. The morning was a blessing, the afternoon a curse provided by the corruption of man.

I don't know if we could have finished the route if given free passage. We were starting to get tired and it would have been an epic death march out Bell's, in the dark. I'd like to try it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

DAY 100! And then some

Well, I wanted to do something huge, epic, remote and wild for my 100th day. Jim Knight had recommended a big line on Cascade, but as a medical student, I am over worked and have so very little time of my own. Such is my plight. That said, today we settled for a guided tour down the Hallway Couloir by the Casey Londer, also known as the powda ganster. There were a fresh 15 inches and so it was going to be fun where ever we went. Since Casey was the guide, we made him break trail all along the ridge until he "thought" we were at the right place to drop off the ridge.

He was right.

The entrance to the Hallway is a devious one and hard to see from above. We picked our way through the upper sections and found the middle entrance. It's chokes down pretty tight and necessitates a mini straight line to enter the main chute. To test the stability, we sent our guide down, who found things pretty solid.

Sam doing what he does

A look back at the Hallway

Then today, Sam and I wanted to go check out the ridge line between the Twins, Sunrise, and Dromedary as a little bit of WURLOS recon. We parked at the Maybird Avy sign, intending to head up the chute to the Sunrise ridge, but were dumbfounded to find ourselves baking in the 60 degree heat heading up the massive Tanner's slide path. Somehow, while bush wacking through the scrub oak, Sam led us into the big gun.

Unsure of whether to push on or not with roller balls cascading down the steep side walls, we continued until a decent wet slide came meandering down the upper chute entraining tons of snow and clearing a safe path to the top. So, we kept skinning till we found ourselves at the saddle between Sunrise and Drom.

Dromedary's East Ridge on the right. We're gonna climb the dark?

The way down was slushy goodness that was a chore on the Hagans. I've been skiing the race skis as practice for the above mentioned traverse. Sam on the other hand

About half way down, we realized we'd overstayed our welcome a bit.

Tanner's wet slide from andy dorais on Vimeo.

In case you missed it in the audio, Sam says, " well, at least we know we can out run them." Good plan.

Sam laughing at his potential tomb.

Up attempt at the big traverse.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Day 99, Lisa Falls and Bell's Canyon

Yesterday was a pretty bipolar day. The morning was fast, light, full of adventure and ice. The afternoon was warm, slushy, and unfortunately casual. I woke up at 4:00 AM to meet Jared and Bart by 5:00 for a trip up Tanner's, into Broad's, up Twin, and down Lisa Falls.
We made quick work of Tanner's, skinning until the upper couloir, where it was a bit too icy to skin, but too breakable to boot easily. Apparently Jared was hoping for a sub 1 hour ascent. We topped out around an hour and a half, but had goofed around with the back and forth skinning/booting/picture taking for a bit.

Bart, trying to figure out if he should boot or skin the upper section of Tanner's.

Central Wasatch

At the top of Tanner's we considered a couple ways to get to the Twins. Since we're considering an insane traverse involving a lot of mountains, it might have been wise to go over O'Sullivan to familiarize ourselves with the terrain. Constrained time wise by Jared's promise to be at his son's soccer game, we took the more efficient path down into Broad's and back up to the saddle.

O'Sullivan is the peak in the middle. Up and over would have obviously been time consuming. Anyone been up there in winter conditions before? Best/fastest route up and down?

We followed the East ridge up the Twins and found a couple entertaining sections.

Look closely, Jared is drytooling with a whippet

Lone Peak, visible on the right, is becoming an obsession. I had hoped to head over there after Lisa Falls, but that didn't quite work out.

LIsa Falls descends from the saddle between the two summits and heads south (left).

Lisa Falls receives three stars in the "Chuting Gallery." The key reports *** as, "To die for...Major in every way...Do it now!" Yesterday was different. A direct quote from Jared, "This is the worst skiing of my entire life."

The Y looking pretty small below

It was still great fun though and the adventure factor high. Bart recently said that too much powder is boring and after a while, one starts to search out more interesting snow. We got more than interesting. At one point, the wet slide debris piles were so deep, we had to take off our skis and stumble through the microwave size blocks.

And, it doesn't let up. Near the end, one has to find a way to not have their day ruined by the cliff over which Lisa Falls pour. We went with the trusty boards buried in the snow deadman. Jared dug the pit while I equalized a couple boards and Bart cleaned up the old rope left on a scraggly bush that we used as backup. Abiding by the "biggest guy rappels first when the anchor is crappy" adage, I tensely lowered over the ice coated rock while Jared stood on the snow as my backup. Being the biggest isn't a good thing when trying to follow these two yahoos around.

Jared's turn sans backup

The anchor was solid but time consuming, and we still had to walk most of the way down the drainage because of the low snow conditions. We tried to move quickly though, as we had just witnessed impressive rock fall into the gully, and because by now Jared was 15 minutes late for the soccer game.

Back on the road, I called Tanner and Casey for round two. Casey claimed illness (whether real or not is on his conscious), but Tanner rallied up to meet me. I grabbed a couple Taquitos from Seven Eleven and we drove down Wasatch to the Bell's Canyon trailhead. We hiked about 1000 vertical in running shoes before switching to skis. The snow was mush, and we were breaking trail. About 4,600 ft up Bell's it became apparent that we wouldn't make it up Lone Peak due to Tanner's heavy gear, the hour (I had to get back for date night), and some concern over the warm conditions. We did however, make it far enough to get a painful look.

...Next time.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Day 98, Memorial Couloir #5

Sam, Lucas, and I suffered through another day of ethics and took off to Neff's at 2:00. It was 64 degrees out and we were going skiing. Lucas drove separately, and started up before us. Sam and I followed his humangous skin track (Lucas skies Mavens, 139 under foot), and hunted him like the big bear he is. Once united, we made quick time through the slush to the mouth of our designated chute.

#5 is on the far right and is greatly foreshortened in the pic.

The chute is just wide enough to skin, so we put in about a million kick turns and worked our way up. The snow is protected from all but possibly the early morning sun and was that fast dense powder.

Lucas, about half way up, had to split to make it to a meeting on time. Poor guy.

So Sam and I pushed onward. Two fashion savvy backcountry travelers. Sam in shorts (which he would later regret) and me in tights (which I rarely regret).

The couloir is lined by beautiful quartzite walls that create a double fall line and an adventurous ambiance.

When we topped out, we realized we were standing on the rugged ridge between the two Mt. Olympus summits, necessitating a bit of rock climbing to make it to the top of a rocky pinnacle.

I thought today might be a junk day because of the heat and lack of good snow. Wrong again. It was another beautiful day in the Wasatch and the skiing was great. Bart, you missed out.

Sam and his cold legs

So, 98 down, 2 more to go to reach my arbitrary goal of 100 days. Any thoughts on how to spend day 100?