Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Twin Peaks: NW Couloir From Deaf Smith

Last week, a quartet of my buddies skied the West Bowl of the Salt Lake Twins while I sat at home suffering from a case of food poisoning.  To make matters worse, they started from just off Wasatch Blvd and ascended Deaf Smith Canyon to the rising snow line.  For some, I'm sure that sounds idiotic, but I like the idea for the sport of it and had had recent conversations with both Chad and Jared about doing just that.

Choosing to make an attempt at the NW Couloir instead of the lamer, tamer West Bowl, I recruited the mirthful Josh Anderson, who happens to live 3 blocks from the Deaf Smith TH (note: I'm sure the West Bowl is awesome and perhaps the NW Couloir is the lamer, tamer line?).  Anyway, both lines are highly visible from the Salt Lake Valley and have been on my tick list for some time.

Arriving at Josh's house on Escalade Drive just after 5AM, I hastily packed my gear and we were off walking up the asphalt.  Soon, we were moving under a canopy of foliage that rendered the near full moon rather useless.  The trail was well maintained for the first mile or so but then abruptly ended in the stream.  Peering through the branches, rock walls were turning gray in the predawn light and it was obvious we were in some sort of box canyon.   Having recon'ed the route, Josh knew to always follow the stream, scrambling over rocky outcrops as needed to pick up the trail on the other side.  This game continued for well over an hour before we finally caught sight of Twins.  They were teasing in the distance looking far more rocky than snowy.  Contemplating the rationale of our approach, I became resigned to our fate.  This was going to simply end as a nice hike in the woods.

One of many stream crossings. This one came equipped with this deluxe bridge.
As it happened, we managed to "on site" the upper section of trail and eventually, the patches of snow became sufficiently confluent to consider skis but the frozen conditions allowed fast travel in the running shoes.  Sitting down for a Twix, we could see the NW Couloir emptying into the vast cirque at the head of Deaf Smith Canyon.  It looked like it might go.  After our near two hour approach, we were now committed to the adventure and pushed onward after changing to boots and crampons (TLTs and CAMP XLC 390s).
Josh crampons up hard snow towards the NW Couloir
What from below had appeared to be a rocky choke was easily bypassed to the climber's left along a sneaky subchute.  From there, we followed the couloir proper until it became somewhat ill defined, bordered on the left by a rock wall and on the right by a wind lip and beyond that, the expansive NW Face.  We punched it to the summit ridge and finally could enjoy the warm spring sun.

Josh taking the last few steps to the higher East Summit
Sitting on the windless summit, I was psyched to ski a new line and began to transition when suddenly a solo mountaineer appeared.  I was confused and asked him where his skis were.  He was a good sport and proved really curious about the surrounding mountains and drainages, seeking an alternative descent to, "see something new".  Inside I cringed as he inquired about descending Deaf Smith, but told him to follow the stream and he'd be alright.  In the end, I think he chose to exit via Broad's Fork and made it out OK.

Our descent on the other hand was certain.  We were going to ski the NW Couloir and then embrace the adventurous hike out.  The only hesitation was the firm conditions that given enough time, would find that magic corn hour.  For once, having the time but overcome by hunger and day dreams of the restaurant, Thai Basil, it was time to go.

Just off the East Summit
Descending the upper face (photo by Josh Anderson)
Josh entering the lower chute
Entering the lower couloir (photo by Josh Anderson)

More Josh

Josh finds undercooked corn on the south facing aspects of the bowl.  The lower portion of the NW Couloir is visible in the backgound
The descent was pure fun and reminded me that it's always "worth it", whatever that may mean.  We milked the low snowpack through boulder fields and into the woods until the very last patch of skiable snow had passed under our boards.  I then traded Dynafits for Dynafits and we shouldered our light spring packs as we started our hike, intent on Thai food.
Transitioning from my Dynafits to my Dynafits? 

All part of the allure

More allure

The well maintained trail

Josh tries to keep his feet dry...
The pictures make it look like the tail is either all rock scrambling or walking in the river but the trail is in reality well maintained but intermittently overgrown.  Plus, after our trip to hell and back on Lone Peak a few weeks ago, no amount of transient bushwhacking can vex us.
6000 feet later, we are startling women and children as we walk through a nice neighborhood with whippets and skis.

Another day and another check mark!  I really love sitting in the valley looking at the mountains while remembering blissful days like these.  My wife doesn't love it when I'm drifting out of my lane while peering at these magnetic lines from the highway but the appeal is irresistible.  The public nature of such lines gives the feeling of stealing such adventures from over a million pairs of eyes.  They see but they don't know...

Dynafit Nanga Parbat Skis
Dynafit Low Tech Bindings
CAMP XLC 390 crampons
BD Whippet x2
CAMP backpack
CAMP Speed Helment
OR Ferrosi Hoody and Pants
Dynafit MS Feline Superlight Trail Shoes


  1. awesome story. thanks for sharing.

  2. Amazing how perfect the weather was... not a whisper of wind nor cloud in the sky. Thanks for putting it down to look back on. Maybe I'll learn my lesson and mount up some shorter skis, those 180's are starting to stretch my mirth in these Wasatch thickets!