April 27, 2013

Lone Peak Northeast Couloir

Lone Peak- Northeast Couloir (directly below north summit- photo taken 2011)
The last sentence in Alexandre Dumas' infamous tale of the Count of Monte Cristo states simply "wait and hope." I, like others have gazed at the northeastern aspect of Lone Peak for a long long time. Lone Peak is a most fascinating mountain, seasoned with near vertical walls creating a west facing almost holy cathedral, rugged and exposed north ridge and an exceedingly steep northeast face with two prominent groves defining the wrinkles in its complexion.  These couloirs are relief points, deposit zones for the mountain. The northeast couloir (looker's right), for me like for others has been a claim I have hoped to stake. It is very steep, aesthetic, long and in one of the greatest regions of the Central Wasatch Range.  Simply put however, timing is everything.

In watching the weather closely, it seemed this past Monday that the week's forecast was brewing up the perfect recipe for a visit to the couloir later in the week. It couldn't have worked out better as each day up til' Friday, temps were cold at night and then warming during the day, creating perhaps the first real corn snow of the season. Storms had ended the previous Saturday.  Jared Inouye, Bill Demong (yes the Olympic Gold medalist Billy Demong-- it was great to be with him!), Scott Wetzel and I set out at 6 AM Friday April 26th up Big Willow. In fairly short order we found hard unbreakable spring snow on which we skinned all the way into the cirque and then up the headwall on variable winter like conditions. We topped out with some excellent rock scrambling on frozen granite. At around 9:50 AM, as we neared Lone's summit the south west aspects were frozen. However on the knife ridge just above the northeast couloir, with a few taps from the ice axe, we knew we had hit the jackpot. The corn had developed on the northeast exactly as we'd hoped. We were concerned though about the heating of the snow and the warm temperatures that had quickly developed. We needed to make haste.

Our choice of entry was to drop directly into the line just a few feet to the north of Lone's true summit.  As I peered down the top section, what remained below was hidden by the precipitous head wall basically dropping away into the abyss. As I put on my skis, I thought of Jared as he was watching me, "well he was right again, it is crazy steep." The first 100 feet or so were sustained; however upon skiing and some slipping down over the head wall above a small cliff band it steepened even further!  Fortunate for us though the corn snow was perfect allowing cautious turns to be taken, providing for creamy edging. It was exhilarating, making us all feel so alive.  I said to myself while making turns, "sometimes, good things do come to those who wait." The timing was perfect. Skirting skier's right past the cliff band, the chute proper began and it skied perfectly all the way down the choke. At the bottom of the choke we skirted above the bottom cliff band to the right and then into an elegant apron set perfectly for some of the best skiing we'd had all year. The ski out of Bell's couldn't have been better as we put on the trail shoes near the lower falls of Bells and happily cruised down the trail. The sun was casting its yellow silent glory down upon us, as the mountains graciously once again gave us way, allowing another excellent adventure to be cast in our memories forever. It was Bill's, Scott's and my first time skiing the NE couloir and it lived up to every expectation we had and then some!

--A note, Jared's boot buckle broke on the knife ridge above the couloir. Regardless, Jared made Samurai like perfect turns down the super steep line.
Big Willow headwall
Top of Big Willow Headwall- Other Wasatch emeralds in backdrop

Jared and Bill
Summit Ridge. Bill and Scott and a huge valley below

Top section- Entering the Abyss

A look up the headwall

Approaching the choke

Billy Demong, charging the choke, cliff band far below
The endless apron and Big Horn in the background right

Happy Scott and Bill- Lone looming above
Big Horn and Lone on right, upper Bell's Canyon- the exit