January 25, 2015

Whipple Couloir and Waldo Couloir- Combat Skiing

Why didn't we ski north-facing terrain? Well, when one friend says he has always wanted to ski these elusive lines-you simply go make it happen, when conditions are safe. On Saturday, with a 6:10 AM start, Jared, Aaron and I climbed to the top of Neff's under clear skies, very minor breezes and amazing views of the Cottonwood range. Passing through soft north-facing powder, we kept saying to ourselves, "why are we going to ski death crust?" At the top of Neff's, we quickly found the enigmatic Whipple Couloir, guarded by steep east facing ramps and dry western walls. It looked remote and super aesthetic.

With cold conditions, Whipple was rock hard, and few frozen roller balls were thrown in between. It made for fun, icy skiing all the way down to the bushes. We quickly learned why very few have skied this line. There really is no good way out. We decided to link another line instead of exiting at the bottom or heading back up Whipple and down Neffs Canyon. 

Finding our way like lost goats we moved northeast, back up to the top of the ridge, allowing us a look at the west side of Raymond, limestone walls and the whole works. We skinned over to what we thought would be the Banana Couloir and it turned out to be Waldo instead.  We were thrilled to find the top soft and powdery, but then hopes were dashed as the snow turned to death crust and unsupportable.  Our exit was Mill D North, arriving to our dropped car at the S curve.

While combat skiing for sure, it was amazing to ski these two magical lines.  Even better was the company.

Brothers, Jared eyeing Whipple. Aaron, not sure what he is looking at
Looking down Whipple
The difference in Jared and my camera, amazing.- Courtesy SLC Samurai
Aaron near the top of Whipple
Me, midway- Courtesy SLC Samurai
Jared loving it

More Jared
I love this photo of Aaron atop Waldo Couloir w/ mtn. goat tracks ahead- Courtesy SLC Samurai

January 19, 2015

Broads Fork Twins- East

I forgot my camera. It was Saturday morning (January 17, 2015) 7 AM as we arrived in the upper meadows, surrounded by the waking giants of the Broads Fork cirque. Dromedary, Sunrise and Twin, each with gazes that pierced our souls,  hesitantly welcomed us as we were the first group in after the storm earlier this week. 

Headlamps began to die one by one, in reverence towards the crescent moon peering between Dromedary and Sunrise. Ours was a large group. Each of us entered the cathedral, laying down our own stresses of life before the great summits that now surrounded us. Some of us have spent decades in this part of the Wasatch and for at least one it was their first time. Regardless, each entrance is sacred.
Crescent Moon- Courtesy Jason Dorais
We worked, one by one to efficiently set the skinner up the southeastern shoulder of Broads Fork Twin. The snow was a mixed bag between thin wind slab, graupel and some great quality in between. Reaching the south ridge, segments looked more like an Autumn ridge than dead of winter. The wind had done its work. Lucky for us, it had ended and there was hardly a breeze. Fingers, faces and toes were still freezing as temps were low. Fortunately, the sun was quietly exploding over Dromedary as Teague, with ski off, swung is leg back and forth to warm toes. 

South Ridge and a beautiful skin track- Courtesy Jason Dorais
Ridge and the Slab- A most stunning picture, courtesy Jason Dorais
The standard route to the summit was enjoyable, with the slab section helping some fill their appetites for exposure. 

Part of the group planned a single descent down the eastern face of East Twin, while others were doing multiple lines. Jared, Justin and I, skiing off the top worked our way into the upper East Face, while dodging rocks which regularly presented themselves.  Me, the fool-hearted one, having already skied the East Face chute in years past and thinking it was too rock laden, decided to ski just north of the main East Chute. Thinking folks were following, I was alone, skiing what I guess I'll call the Terraced East Face route. It was neat line, with great, stable snow while skiing above the horizontal cliff bands. Glide avalanches in warmer conditions on this slope are a dramatic reality. My chosen route required one small down climb. I know folks have jumped this section in prior years. I should have communicated better. Jared, Justin, and then the others skied the main chute in very enjoyable conditions.  Reuniting at the foot, Justin, Jared and I headed for home. It was an amazing morning.

The rest of the crew then went on to link an impressive line down the Northwest aspect off of Twin East.

A note- Jason Dorais is not only one of the region's greatest alpinists, his photography work nearly keeps up with his fitness too.

The magic of the morning- Lars soaking it in. Courtesy Jason Dorais
 Upper East Face- Courtesy J Wilson

Jared always hard charging. Upper East Face- Courtesy J Wilson
Tom Goth- Courtesy J Wilson
Jared- Courtesy Jason Dorais

January 11, 2015

The Alpine Triangle- Chipman Peak- Pfiefferhorn-Box Elder Peak

The "Alpine Triangle." While traversing in a veil of dense fog/clouds yesterday morning and unable to see 10 feet in front of us, Jared called this the triangle. What the heck,  the "Alpine Triangle" sounds pretty good. See video below

At 6 AM, under kind of clear skies, a partial moon and upper elevation temps in the low 20s, Jared and I left his car at the Box Elder peak trail head in Alpine, UT.  The trail overall was good. A few small log/river crossings and we reached our junction where we then moved into the intriguing south faces of the Little Cottonwood ridge. The early sun put on a show against the firm, shining snow. While steep in various sections, the ski crampons performed well taking us to a granitic knife ridge. The exposure was intriguing as we followed the tracks of one of the ghosts of the Wasatch along the ridge.
Box Elder and a moody dawn

Jared in the morning alpenglow

Big Horn and the amazing south drainage

The expanse of the greater south faces was glorious as the deep blue sky of the morning showed the emotions of the weather that were quickly brewing. Reaching the top of Chipman Peak, the low clouds greeted us, chasing away the beautiful views of other familiar peaks. 

Jared heading towards Chimpan Peak

Sky changing and South Thunder upper left

Unnamed Peak and Pfiefferhorn beginning to vanish

The consuming doom
Jared and Chipman
We pointed east along the ridge to Unnamed Peak. The snow was super firm on the south as cold breezes kept the snow surface in a deep freeze.  We skied down into the high drainage and then skinned back up to Unnamed. At the summit, nothing could be seen. Hogum's walls became shrouded by the white veil by which we were now engulfed.  Photo opportunities became completely limited.

The Pfiefferhorn, was not visible, but it was our next objective. The west-ridge was nearly all exposed granite, with patches of firm snow clinging as best it could. We reached the top, literally with maybe 20 feet of visibility. We ran into a girl that was working on freeing her stuck rope at the top of the ramp, as she and her partner were descending down into the NW Couloir.  She too was bummed by the visibility. 

Jared and I hunkered down for something to eat, coats were donned. We knew our ski off the East Face of Pfieff would be a bit unnerving on light race skis, as the snow was super hard and we had to go by memory due to the snow blinding conditions. Winds were in full force and the temps had dropped, freezing our hair and eyelids. The descent consisted of survival turns on the slide for life snow, with only our ski tips as visible markers. Making it down the face we then moved into the massive south drainage once more.
Top of Pfiefferhorn and a cold Samurai
Completely disoriented by the clouds, each turn felt like a swing at the pinata with a blindfold. It seemed to take us forever to get down. Motion sickness became real for both of us. Finally, we reached the floor as the visibility drastically improved as our next objective came into full view.

We moved up Box Elder Peak, in hopes of tackling some soft north facing snow. With fingers crossed the veil of clouds would depart. Our line of ascent was the north ridge. Conditions seemed to be in our favor and we found an old skinner already set. We followed it until in petered out.  On the upper north ridge, the second round of clouds and wind set in, becoming our constant enemy. Skinning on rocks added to the fun, along with a scary cornice which overhung the eastern brinks keeping us on our toes.  Visibility was every bit as bad as the Pfiefferhorn. At the top the box and cairn were all we had to tell us we were there. We hiked and ski descended back down the north ridge to where skis could permanently be mounted. Just west of the ridge, soft tacky powder welcomed us into the trees for a remotely nice descent.

Top of Box Elder

Jared taking advantage of the lower Box Elder
A hateful exit brought Jared and I back to his car, just in time to be chased by an Alaskan Malamute and to see some guy walking around in the muddy parking lot carrying a strange water bucket. Overall, an amazing day, really cool link up and another incredible adventure. 

Elevation gain- 9,400 feet
Summits - 4

Here's a video of the day from Jared

January 3, 2015

A New Year and a Week for the Books

This past week has been special. As Christmas has now passed into history, the last few days in the Wasatch have been remarkable. The cold Winter fluff came in quantity and quality.  Combing the incredible mornings in the mountains, time spent with family and friends and celebrating the past, present and future have made this week one to remember. 

The Best Skier in the World, taming Alta

Morning 1- December 30, 2015- Secret goodies. Bitter cold temperatures combined with 14" of new snow overnight, found Lars, Justin and I breaking trail in icy darkness and into our secret stash of cold Winter smoke. It had to have been -10 F.
The very photogenic Justin, disappearing in the smoke-Courtesy Lars

Morning 2- January 1, 2015-  Pfiefferhorn with Team Green. With our headlamps beaming and temps rising, Justin, Lars and I headed into Red Pine drainage. Crossing the densely frozen lake, we decided to head to LCC ridge and see what conditions looked like. We moved west and found ourselves on the Pfieferhorn in what felt like balmy conditions.  The NE winds were gone and we wanted to avoid western aspects due to loading.  After enjoying the views from the top, we skied the East Face and then down into Maybird. It skied well with chalky powder down both faces.  It was a gorgeous morning! RT- 3 hrs 45 mins.

Justin negotiating ridge

Lars and Justin

Lars and I on top looking 

Me, East Face

Justin, wind damage
Lars negotiating Maybird Headwall

My favorite vista in the Range

Afternoon 3- January 2, 2015-  Wolverine Cirque. I had scheduled to be off this day, but work emergencies had me super busy in the morning, so I resorted to a quick run up Grizzly in the afternoon. I worked my way around TL ridge line and up and over into Wolverine Cirque for some solo laps. While the wind had worked this east aspect, pockets in the trees were amazing. I don't like to ski during the day when my family is awake. I felt guilty being gone for a couple hours.

From Wolverine looking NW

Morning 4- January 3, 2015- Bonkers. Lars and I had planned another early morning. Work kept me busy in the wee hours of the morning.  At 630 AM we left the S curve and cruised up into the TP meadows and decided visibility would not permit a safe descent of one of the greater peaks, so we went Bonkers instead. Tough skinning made for a bit of work and slowed us down, but the skiing was remarkable. The top portion of the drainage was covered in a 2" hard slab but a third of the way down we found paradise. One and two-thirds laps concluded our freedom. The exit down Broads was hateful.  RT- 3 hrs 40 mins.

Lars third of the way down Bonkers

Not a bad day. Lars ripping it.