Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lone Peak: First Descent?

Last year I spied a discontinuous, rather contrived ski line from near the summit of Lone Peak down into the cirque.  Jason and I tried to climb the mixed section but were turned around rather quickly before thoroughly enjoying the lower couloir.  Yesterday, Josh Anderson jumped at the opportunity to explore some new terrain (he just moved here last year) on one of our more proud mountains.
A new line?  Even if this has been done before and has a name, I'm calling it the Lars Line from here onward.
I picked him up at 5am and after consulting the internet, found Hidden Valley Park, jumping off point for the Sawmill trail and Big Willow Canyon.  Here, we readied ourselves with ropes, pins, crampons, and other assorted junk.  Heavy ladened, we were finally off around 5:40, feeling our way by headlamp.  Josh's skis catching on nearly every possible branch of scrub oak foreshadowed later events as the sweat began to roll on the steep trail.

A lot of good looking rock in Big Willow Canyon
Unfamiliar with the approach into Big Willow, we followed the trail as long as possible before the terrain opened and the dawning day revealed awesome ski potential, even in the lower canyon.  Today however, the goal was higher.  Big Willow was chosen as the approach so as to explore a new corner of the Wasatch. 

Initially firm, conditions soon softened and made for slow travel.  Once in the upper reaches, we became concerned enough about the conditions to stick to a sub ridge, avoiding the wind board over 3-4 feet of recent drifts.  A quick pit revealed a couple different layers failing on isolation.  Spatial variability?  As we climbed the ridge, my eye was drawn back to the "Notch" and its steep short couloir.  This smallish feature is highly visible from I-15 and is already on the 'to do' list.  

The Notch, visible from I-15 and home to the classic rock climb, Giggles
Alternating between skinning and boot packing a small sub ridge
Along the gentle portion of the summit ridge
Lone Peak's summit starting to appear
A couple rock moves later, we pulled out onto the gentle lower portion of the summit ridge.  The air was clear and frozen, seemingly an extension of the new rime that was grazing the hearty vegetation.  We skinned until the ridge fell away steeply on both sides, thousands of feet to the east and hundreds of feet to the west.  To the left I could look down and see the Northeast Couloir and to my right, our intended line: a steep short couloir that opens into space as a 50 meter cliff, before continuing into the Cirque as a beautifully steep and exposed series of ramps and chutes.  In reality, there are two options for the initial descent that both converge after the rappel.  My first choice was the snowfield/chute that descends immediately from the summit block to the NW but this appeared rocky and too spicy for a Monday.  Instead, we chose the chutelette to the north and were happy as I was still able to ski from a bump on the ridge and feel like it was from a summit. 
The more spicy portion of the summit ridge
The two chutelettes: Upper left from summit and foreground from small bump on ridge.  They are divided by the small rocky spine but converge below the 50 meter cliff
However, it was here that our dilemma ensued.  We knew the snowpack was suspect and a friend of mine was recently injured in a slide when a wind pocket pulled out, strafing him through some talus.  Even though this upper section was only 100 feet or so in length, the consequence of even a small slide would be death.  Not one hundred percent sure (or even close), we chose to ski belayed.  While some may view this a cowardly exit, I'm not as opposed.  Style wise, free and clean as in climbing would have to be the most pure.  To ski on belay I think can be equated to the "murder of the impossible" as Messner called the submission of climbs through siege tactics and fixed gear.  However, to not ski that upper section with a rope would have been a game of Russian Roulette.  How many bullets need to be in the chamber?  
A look back up the upper chute from the rap anchor
Looking down from the rap anchor
As it happened,  I descended first, on belay and made a series of tight ugly turns until I could pull over and build an anchor. Fortunately, the upper chute felt stable, albeit shallow and rocky.  Regardless, I am glad we skied belayed and look forward to hearing about the next guys or gals with bigger balls than me, who are able to advance the style meter.  I then brought Josh down on belay before heading off again with the rack, unsure if the ropes would reach the lower couloir.   

Rapping over the edge, I took in the ice flutings and chimneys and marveled at how cool the climb up would have been.  Yelling, "off rappel," it was then Josh's turn and down came his wash of snow and ice as he made his way.  Now established in one of the coolest spots in the Wasatch, we skied the same line that Jason and I did the year before and with Question Mark Wall as the back drop, I shot photos of Josh while grinning at how incredible our day had been thus far.  
Looking up from mid rappel
Looking down from mid rappel
Josh on rappel
Josh, working his way into the cirque
More Josh, more Question Mark Wall
The little sneaky right hand dog leg to the lowest chute

Big walls, April Powder, and a new line?
The Lars Line?

Josh pointing out the descent

One more because it's so beautiful
The lower couloir is really a chute connected to a chute by a little 50 foot right hand sneak and oddly, the lowest SW facing section held the best snow of the day.  From there, we debated climbing out of the cirque and descending back into Big Willow or heading along the Draper Ridge and eventually angling skier's right to meet up with the Crow's Feet and the lower Big Willow Drainage.  We opted for the latter, arguing that this way we could explore twice as much terrain.  Turns out that for someone who has stared at those lines for years, I had no idea where they were located.  We did indeed try to find them but were off multiple drainages.  

Our exit meandered through low angle meadows where the snow was confused about if it should be powder, sun crust, or glop.  Not really caring, we kept traversing skier's right, thinking that "just over the next ridge" we'd find our home run shot.  Well, just over the next ridge led to another and another and eventually a wet stream bed surrounded by the most vile and densest scrub oak.  What ensued was a lot of desperate thrashing, swearing, and odd jerking as every piece of clothing and gear was attacked by the snarly little branches.  After a couple hours of this I contemplated leaving my gear to make a smoother exit as I had to be at work that evening and our progress was disheartening at best.  But, feeding off Josh's surprisingly cheery mood, I pressed on, thinking that this was the humbling price for such a brilliant morning.  
The first level of hell

Deep into hell
Eventually, a barely perceptible deer trail led to more established game trails.  Then we were half jogging in our ski boots laughing and claiming salvation.  

One more patch of terror brought us back to reality before finally breaking through and landing on a real trail above the Bonneville Shoreline.   Then it was a blister on my toe and some achy old bruises that kept me from really enjoying the ease of travel.  Oddly, we ended up at the top of Kodiak Court, where I took off my boots and walked down the asphalt in socks to a nice patch of grass where we waited for a rescue from Josh's lady, Anne.
What just happened to us?  And where is Pioneer Rd and Kodiak Ct?  

So there it is.  A new line in the Wasatch?  Maybe. There was no evidence of prior rap anchors although I believe that gully is an actual climb.  I don't know of anyone else that has been stupid enough to carry a bunch of stuff to the summit of Lone Peak just to make a few turns and rappel over a big cliff.  Pretty contrived, I know.  But, the Cirque is a magical place and that very line is visible to a million people.  At some point it becomes less about the skiing and more about exploring the mountains and getting to wild places.  I guess that's why I got into climbing/skiing in the first place.  
So, if anyone knows some one who has skied the Lars Line in the past, I'd love to hear about it.  BTW, the name is after my new boy, Lars, who is now 4 months old.  And, for what it's worth, the other variation from the summit is still waiting...

Baby Lars admiring the Tetons on a recent visit
Gear List:

Skis: Dynafit Nanga Parbat
Bindings: Dynafit Low Tech
Boots: Dynafit TLT Performance
Poles: Black Diamond Whippets
Rack: BD Angles and Lost Arrows
Ropes: 2x70m Half Ropes (HEAVY)
Harness: BD Couloir
Ice tool: BD Venom with hammer
Clothes: Dynafit tights and OR Ferossi Hoody
Food: None - sour stomach that day


  1. Love it! Thanks for sharing.

    The act of putting on skis to slide down snow anywhere is wonderfully contrived!

  2. Via Big Willow too! Nice. The scrub oak must've been a good time.

  3. Baby Lars definitely appreciated your choice to ski belayed. In fact, I think he would appreciate it if everyone skiing his line in the future was on belay as well.

  4. Nice work, and I agree with your sentiment that yes, it's contrived, but who cares? It's more about the setting, than the turns.