Sunday, February 7, 2016

Wheeler and Jeff Davis Peaks

With Jason's coccyx still being somewhat painful, we bailed on plans to traverse the Oquirrhs again and succumbed to the allure of exploring new terrain and skiing in the desert.  Unfortunately, we blew the week powder skiing and just had Saturday with a soft deadline of being home around dinner.  

None of us had skied in Great Basin National Park so we set the alarms for the middle of the night and left my house at 4 AM.  After a pit stop at Maverick to start our adventure off right and another at the deluxe bathrooms at the visitor's center, we were skinning in puffy jackets by eight o'clock.  

We were pleasantly surprised to find a skin track from the plowed parking area that roughly followed the three and a half mile trail to the top of the scenic road.  From there, we contoured around on mellow gullies and ridges to the summit of Wheeler Peak.  By the time we were approaching the summit and looking into the massive cirque abundant with towers and couloirs, any lingering grogginess had evaporated and we were psyched to go skiing.  The only problem was the lack of snow due to what must be some truly wicked prevailing winds.  

We were blessed however, with a bluebird day and nary a breath of wind.  On the summit, our plans to ski back toward the cirque changed when we looked down to the south.  These slopes had better coverage and looked long and sustained.  

Unfamiliar with the snow pack and alarmed by some recent debris from wind slabs, I belayed Tom as he jumped around ski cut the upper slope.  Satisfied he continued on to a safe pull out and coiled the rope as I skied down to him.  The others followed, incredulous that we were skiing corn in February.  What had looked like a loaded up slope was actually baked down and icy and was just coming into form in the strong desert sun.  

We leap frogged each other for another thousand feet before deciding to work our way back up to the top of Jeff Davis Peak to have a look at another couloir.  Stripped to T-shirts, the climb was fast and easy.  We kept peering over the edge into the dark hallways to the north, only to find a bunch of talus where there should have been snow.  With less wind or more snow, this area would hold a dozen amazing chutes, each worthy of the trip.  

On top of Mr. Davis, the most prominent chute was holding just enough sastrugi to allow clean passage.  This NW couloir is lined by huge spires, mellows as it goes, and in total probably measures over two thousand feet.  It felt amazing to actually ski something kind of steep and firm after all the powder the past few weeks.  

Regrouping after utterly abusing our skis in the "dust on talus" at the base of the chute, we debating heading up another couloir versus heading home.  A desire to keep our ladies happy, urged us home.  After a few hours of loosely adhering to speed limits and lively discussions, such as the most effective way to expel foul odors from a car, we arrived home at 7 PM.  

Booting the talus for the last thousand feet up Wheeler

To the summit!

This descent to the south was the surprise of the trip.  


Lars dropping into the Jeff Davis Couloir

Tom skiing the deceptively flat chute.  

Big Lars almost stayed home.  I took him to the grocery store the night before and convinced him to stop being stupid.  Hopefully, when my boys grow up, I'll be able to have talks with them too that will be just as effective.  



A train of pansies, scared to ski the "dust on talus" at the bottom of the chute.  

Lots to do next time...

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