Friday, April 29, 2011

Highway Lines: Big Horn and Lone Peak

Went down to the County today with Zak and Adam and met up with JD for a mellow run up two more highly visible highway lines.  The South Faces of Bighorn Peak and Lone Peak can be seen from anywhere in Utah Valley, including my parents back deck.  

Photo lifted from (I'll remove it if you'd like)
Back in 1999, I had my first winter "mountaineering" experience trying to "climb" Lone Peak.  With two friends, we ended up on the shoulder of Bighorn after a cold night crammed in a snow cave.  We decided we didn't know what the hell we were doing and post holed home.  

Older and wiser, we were able to hike up from Alpine and tag both summits easily in a half day.  Skis, experience, and going light have made the mountains smaller

Heading for Lone, we "spur of the moment" decided to tag Bighorn since none of us had ever stood on top..  

Adam skiing the crust

Big Horn
Once down from Big Horn, we traversed under it's rocky southwestern aspect and headed over to the notch between the South Summit and Question Mark Wall.  We had intentions of skiing Pete's Staircase down into the cirque if it was filled in.  The ramp looked doable but the standard summer rap wasn't filled in enough to warrant the effort.  Looking back, I wish we'd done it as the cirque is an impressive place in the summer, let alone in winter conditions. 
Blow this kick turn and...DEAD! Jason skinning above the South Summit Wall.

Pete's Staircase below Question Mark Wall

JD ripping skins

While waiting for the other guys to tag the South Summit, we looked over and decided we should probably ski above Question Mark Wall because we thought the pictures would look cool.  I went first while Jason took pics and then we switched places.  

It's not really long enough to make more than a couple turns and it was much scarier for the person watching than actually doing it as the cliff isn't apparent on skis.

Zoom in.  JD skiing above the Lowe Route
After the photo shoot, we had some lunch on the South Summit and debated the descent.   A couple of us had skied the NE Couloir before and while the rest had the desire, we all decided to just take the rolling line labeled Heaven's Halfpipe in the first picture.  The steep stuff can wait, especially with all the tragic accidents of late.  The crust had softened nicely and we all made ridiculously tight 1980s turns while trying not to run into each other.
1980's group ski with tight turns for all
I have a couple more ideas for Lone Peak if it ever stops snowing....

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mount Olympus: Great Chimney Climb and "Ski" Descent

Mission accomplished.  Lars got scared.  Earlier in the week the patriarch of our family of skiers, the Samurai, wanted to climb and ski the Great Chimney on Mount Olympus.  His run of bad luck was extended as we never even found the entrance.  It's a line he's wanted to do all year so I feel bad poaching it without him.  Sorry Jared.  

The Great Chimney as seen from the Neff's trail head on April 24, 2010
For Lars' second and last day in town, we wanted to up the ante from yesterday's adventure on the Pfeiff and this seemed like the perfect outing given the mediocre weather forecast.  Up with the birds at 7:00, we started hiking on dirt around 8:30.  Found snow 15 minutes later and skinned up a debris choked couloir until the Great Chimney came into view.  The lower couloir (below the chimney itself) was icy, runneled, and fairly steep at 45-50+ degrees.  But, the chimney was almost completely filled in with a mix of snow, ice, and snice.  JD and I soloed the short 40 foot pitch and then brought Lars up.  
Looking up the Great Chimney

JD eagerly getting started

Fun, unnecessary stemming
After gaining the upper hanging couloir, we were surprised to see how continuously steep it was.  An initial reading with the inclinometer read 58 degrees on the double fall line.  Hmmmmm.... Just the kind of slope that inspires confidence in icy conditions over an icy chimney.  

We quickly booted up doing our best Ueli Steck impersonations in the firm snow
At the top of the hanging couloir, we were hoping to climb a final bit of rock/ice to gain the summit ridge but were turned back by the polished rock coated with an illusion of ice.

The final slab before the summit ridge
 Now for the scary part...

We put our skis on and timidly debated whether or not we should just go for it.  Repeated slope measurements came in at 57, 58, 61, and 62 degrees, getting steeper near the top.  Realizing that this slope rarely sees the sun and wasn't likely to soften any time soon, we lost some style points by making tentative turns for a rope length belayed off a single knife blade.  

Once off the rope, I side slipped the sustained icy 57-58 degree pitch until able to pull off skier's right and clip into a small tree.  I tried to get the other guys to ride the below pictured spine because I thought the pictures would be nice.  They declined.  

Urban Alpinism at it's finest
 Lars took the easy way and side stepped down to the tree of safety.
Lars, about to become a father for the second time...that he knows about. 
Psyched not to have fallen off the mountain and into someone's yard in Olympus Cove, we rapped 25 meters down the chimney and found that we had a whole new perspective on slope angles.  The lower couloir which had previously seemed steep, now looked comparatively flat.  

JD avoiding the runnel and patches of ice
Escaping from the lower couloir, the snow turned to corn, and then to an isothermic mess, and then to mud.  Grateful to have made it up and down in the best style we were capable of today, we rushed off to give thanks at church and then a scrumptious Easter dinner.

Lars got his fix for awhile but plans to be back next month....

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A New Line (for us) on the Pfeiff...and Lars

Viking Lars came to town again and wanted to get a little scared. I thought a new linkup in Hogum Fork that might be deserving of the name, "Spicy Hulk," would be a good way to go.  Each line was to involve a bit of climbing and rappelling.  First up was the ever inspiring Pfeifferhorn.  We wanted to climb the North Ridge again and then ski the upper section back to the rock bands and then rap into a NW facing couloir lower on the ridge.  

Old photo by Jared with our descent labeled
 The day dawned partly cloudy and we were hopeful for Mother Nature's blessing.
JD and Lars heading toward the Pfeiff
 We booted up the North Couloir again, shortcutting the ridge a bit and then jumped on the rock.

JD got to lead the fun stuff this time since I got to do the majority last time

Here I am giving JD an attentive belay

Lars is from Nebraska and doesn't get a chance to do this stuff that much.  He did an admirable job and we gave him a solid B for the day.
Lars just after he got caught pulling on gear 
Looking back down the ridge

Past the difficulties and about to put away the ropes

Still looking for the summit
We sat on top for a few minutes hoping the visibility would improve.  It never did so we skied down the ridge until there were cliffs on three sides.  From there we slung a rock, threw a couple 60 meter ropes over the cliff and hoped they'd get us down to the couloir that we had spied on the way up.
Lars going over the edge
 The rap ended up being about 45 meters validating the extra weight of two ropes.
The viking on the lower portion 
 I know this line has been skied before but I doubt it gets done very often. Not sure of its name but viking themes come to mind given the company.    RPP?
Lowing down to where we put the skis back on
For those interested, the upper ridge is part of the NE Face/Couloir and is probably in the low 40s but with BIG exposure.  After the rap, the couloir starts in the upper 40s/low 50s and eases after a narrow choke that may not be filled in during lean years.
Oh yea, the skiing was good too

The skiing was a bonus even though Mama Nature frowned on us.  We decided to bail on the rest of the day rather than grope around in the soup trying not to fall off cliffs.  We'll be back though.  

And Lars...

He wasn't too scared today so we'll see what tomorrow brings.  

Friday, April 15, 2011

How to Avoid Crowds in the Wasatch

JD cheating in his running shoes
Step one: Drive at least 45 minutes away from SLC.

Step two: Start hiking Teton style on a dirt trail from some low elevation trail head.

Step three: Bush whack for a long time.

Step four: Enter a couloir that has missiles whizzing  by every two minutes.

Good things come to those who...

Almost to snow
Well, that's what we did.  After putting on our helmets, we aborted the climb up the dangerous chute and ascended a branch that was still frozen in the shade.  Today's objective was a last minute choice on the south end of Timp.  These west facing cliff bands have a few little chutes that allow access to the ridge above.

We topped out our line, skinned up another few hundred feet to a prominent point on the ridge, and then turned it around for a couple thousand feet of fun corn skiing.

The crowded Wasatch
I have no idea what this chute is called, but until I hear otherwise, I'm calling it the Bart Couloir in honor of buddy Bart who hasn't been able to ski much this year due to one illness after another.

Bart likes to call himself a free rider.  He even spent some time on some reverse camber twin tip skis this year (even though they are 160cm).  So, to dedicate the Bart Couloir, we had to get our free ride on.
Who says you can't huck it huge on light gear?  What? 3 feet doesn't count?  JD doing his best "Bart."
Corn trumps powder

It was just as much fun on the way out.

The Bart.  The skinny variation that is more direct could be the Sick Bart.  That's where the missiles where flying.

Today was another great day in the Wasatch and the only other person I saw was my goofy brother.  Still a lot of new places to explore out there...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April Ice/Skiing Misadventures

Fresh back from Cali, we were bummed to find that the storm had followed us and that all we'd be able to do for a while is boring powder skiing.  Hermanito Sam had other plans in mind.  We drove to a to-be-revealed corner of Utah, skinned up a few thousand feet, and stumbled upon some mysterious alpine ice.  

Unfortunately, Sam was the only one with tools and crampons so we played around for a while before getting repelled by a few ice bulges. 

Lots of interesting side trips in this area.
We gained a few thousand feet before encountering a couple fun ice steps that were manageable with whippets and crampons.  Lacking the spikes, I wallowed in the near waist deep pow.
Sam taking the fun way 
Then, suddenly we turned the corner and found this 30 meter flow of what looked like AI 4.  We weren't sure how good the ice would be given the time of year, but I think the pics show how good the skiing might be.

A few pitches of alpine ice sandwiched between thousands of feet of great skiing?
Balls deep and excited!

 Lacking the necessary tools, we turned it around, vowing to come back the next day.
Uncle Roman finding boring powder on the way out

Well, we came back.  This time, uncle Roman and Sam were replaced by Samurai Jared and baby brother Aaron.  Knowing full well we wanted to investigate the larger ice flow from the day before, we jumped right on.  
JD on lead 
While JD was climbing, the sun made a brief appearance and the mountain began to fall down.  Small rocks were showering down around the belay but we didn't pay much attention because the forecast was for cold cloudy conditions.  I should have been jolted to my senses when a bowling ball sized rock bashed into my shoulder leaving me feeling weak and nauseous for a few minutes.  Rather than do the sensible thing and bail... we heeded our rallying cry of ONWARD AND UPWARDS!  

I joined JD at his ice axe/screw belay and we waited for Jared to join us.
Looking up from the top of the pitch.  

Jared pulling over the steepness
With the three of us at the belay, we yelled down for Aaron to come on up.  About that time, the sun came out again - full force.  Maybe five minutes later, with Aaron well on his way, this happened:

Untitled from andy dorais on Vimeo.

The video only captures the tail end of the wet sluff that pummeled Aaron as he was hanging on to his tools for dear life.  Five minutes later, the sun was gone, Aaron had down climbed to a safe spot, and we finally agreed to get the hell out of there.  

Chossy rock and aerated suspicious ice conspired against us, making finding a suitable anchor for the rappel difficult.  We had brought a tree branch for a deadman but it was down with Aaron.  We made a V thread, but no one really wanted to commit to it fully so it was backed up with a shovel buried as a deadman (to be retrieved in the spring).  
Jared eyeing the V thread 
Lucky to be making it down with only a bruised shoulder some sheepish grins on our faces, we now realize that we're going to have to wait until Dec/Jan or some actual cold weather to suss out these lines. 
JD retreating

The ski out wasn't bad
It's a bummer we weren't able to explore further as it appeared that the gully continued with fun low angle ice for some distance.  Couple that with great skiing, and you've got all the makings of a classic ski mountaineering adventure.  If you recognize the pics...shhhhhhh!  We're gonna keep this one a secret for a while.