Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Experiencing the Obelesque

Most of this post will be pictures, because my personal photographer is pretty much a rockstar and takes excellent photos. Today was another beautiful cold day in the Wasatch filled with wind, new snow, clouds, Sun, and Solitude. Perfect. I don't know about you but I feel like we are having more of those days that are good powder days that its still snowing, but not too bad... like today. Its great for keeping the crowds down. (where else do you say that about the backcountry?) Even though the skiing was excellent, and I mean excellent, today was really about spending some time in the mountains. We spent hours skinning and just a few minutes skiing. We crossed 4 drainages and only skied about 3 lines. Granted one of those lines was big. If you read the forecast (and I hope you did: ) you would have noticed as I did that we have got some serious snow form this storm 24-28 inches, and after testing and evaluating the depth, i can say that its just about right. Densities where up today which caused me a little trouble, but it was definitely 'worth skiing.'

2 notes worthy of mention today are 1.)The Obelesque, and 2.)Hogums 200.

We where really just messing around and ended up on the ridge between Maybird and Hogum and decided we should skin to the top in Search of Hogum's 200. After reaching the top we noticed that not more than about 20 yards was the Obelesque. A unique rock feature that can be seen clearly from Maybird and always looks like a person, that never movers and is always watching. I have no idea the history behind it but it would be nice to learn. So we spent some time looking, touching, and photographing. There are also some stellar lines into Maybird from this location that I plan on skiing soon. After this we skirted the ridge in search of Hogum's 200. I'm personally not very familiar with this but my ski partner remembers clearly seeing it form the top of the Y. We looked for a long time and finally came up with a very nice slide path that we skied, as you can see in the pictures. Not sure if this was it or not, but it was definitely the highlight of the day. Big long run, good turns, deep snow, face shots, and snow covers glasses. A good day.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

All Hair and No Air

So yesterday we recieve 20-24 inches of snow in 24 hrs or less. So that computes to around 1 inch per hour. Hopefully that sets off a red flag in your brain of a elevated danger. Yesterday mid day the Utah Avalanche Forcast Center raised the danger to Red or high. The danger here is the RATE of accumulation. Its not neccessarily the amount, but how quickly it came in. Anytime you hear the 1 inch per hour number you should start to pay attention. Remember that storm a few years back where we got 100 inches in 100 hrs? Ya, lots of bad things happened because of the RATE that the snow accumulated. Slabs don't mind getting new snow, but they need time to adjust to the new weight and to consolidate. As Bruce would say, a slab is like a rubber band if you stretch it our and touch it with a knife blade it will snap, (or add lots of snow to a snow pack quickly) but if you add it slow and give it time to adjust to the weight and consolidate properly its like touching the knife to the same rubber band when its not stretched--nothing happens. That being said we also had a storm beginning at high temps and slowly cooling. (Hopefully we learned from 'the perfect storm' that this is usually a good thing. That being said if you look at the temperature stations throughout the Wasatch you'll notice that if you get high enough (Flagstaff, Collins, etc.) the temperatures never got about about 28 degrees. This tells us that at that level, the new snow isn't going to consolidate as well to the old hard, suncrust as it did lower. Also check the winds over the storm cycle and you would also notice the the wind loaded mostly from the West moving from North West to South West of the high wind cycle then slowing to an insignificant level.

Just to step aside here for a moment to mention a pet peave (sp?) of mine. If you where writing a synopsis about Wind in some type of Forecast it might be a good idea to mention the direction of the wind as either FROM or TO. If you don't, or there is no preset standard, that is readily available to the ignorant public then its almost a useless planning tool because you've got a 50/50 chance of getting it right! My uneducated opinion would be to ALWAYS state it as a TO or FROM as to cause no confusion for those who are not in your loop.

So the most loading would be found on the East aspect (and I might add the best skiing). So to summarize if I was skiing I would try to stay on the higher, but not too high elevations in reasonable protected terrain at a reasonable angle at either below 35 degrees or significantly above 38 degrees using stability tests to check out your current slope. Its OK to ski cut soft slabs (new snow creates soft slabs, but are usually on top of hard slabs) but never ski cut a hard slab. Reason being a soft slab usually releases AT the trigger point (the skier) where as a hard slab usually releases ABOVE the trigger point. If you are ski cutting, make sure to plan your escape route, ski fast and don't fall! (back in my professional days we where ski cutting a steep 38 degree slope and deep new snow section and I turfed it in the middle of my ski cut. The I wolloed for a good 5 minutes to get right side up in the deep powder, not one of my safest moments and of course was followed by relentless heckling) Cornice kicking is a very effect was to test slope stability but the key is again, don't fall onto the slope by either breaking the cornice out from under you, or kicking it off and then losing your balance and falling headlong onto the slope. A refrigerator size cornice is perfect. Make sure you do this on an accurate representative slope, or the same one you are skiing. (Same aspect, angle, elevation, anchors) A note to remember Cornices ofter break much farther back than you expect so start really Conservative and work your way closer. Oh, and of course get a belay. The other option is to saw them off with a snow saw or a peace of cord. The cord being my personal choice. We did both a cord cut cornice and the stamp method today with good results. My favorite method for cornice removal is explosives, but unfortunately they don't just let anyone carry those around these days. So where did we decide to ski today? East aspect, 37 degree average angle with a steep point of 41 degrees. A perfect recipe for disaster right? Yes. Good thing we did multiple stability tests with cornices and ski cuts. This combined with Drew's forecast ( today gave us enough faith in the snow pack to give it a run. I would normally disclose our location but I've recently been getting some feedback that people may be skiing my secret stashes of good snow, so I won't be disclosing our location do to our NEED for huge amounts of powder to share with only the select few who we ski with. Not to mention its a long, long skin in with a dicey exit and for 4000ft of climbing you only get a good 1000ft vertical run (although I might add it is, well... Nirvana.)
So after a big climb, a lot of trail breaking we reached our own special powder park, if you will. After doing our stability tests we jumped in to ski (of course one at a time from safe zone to safe zone). And as has been my experience with this place, it was steep, and very deep. After the first few turns my face was freezing and I had to remove my sunglasses because they where covered in snow, I would have been gasping for breath except that I was skiing with my Avalung in. A skill I've found more and more useful. Most people describe this phenomena as 'face shots.' Well worth the hike. After completing or first run, we are all smiles and covered in snow.

After this the story has a short section of disappointment. After setting the return skin track to the top (not a small task) we show up at the top and a gang of 4 skiers had arrived at our secret stash. One in particular was the Wizard of the Wasatch. If you know this particular skier, he doesn't exactly have top notch people interactions skills. He greeted us with profanity and then quickly 'hucked' himself into our , tested, and designed personal powder stash that we had labored on not just to test but also to put in the skin track for. Unfortunately the Wizard has more Hair than Air, as one of his friends pointed out. After that his 3 friends jumped in to remove all available untracked sections left. Nice, work... If I recall I think the Wizard had a post about someone following his skin track up to Silver fork (or somewhere near there) and then stealing his line... We then decided to change to a north aspect and we skied a HUGE line into what I'll call A-basin after the ever overrated ski resort in Colorado. The snow wasn't as deep, and had a weird layer in the middle that made it feel like upside down snow, but it was still a good time with snow that was worth skiing. At the bottom of this line the signs where there to tell you we where sitting in a massive slide path. The tree's where flagged to like 40 feet up (all the branches had been removed except the down hill side) and the center or runout had only little short trees or no trees. (meaning that the slides have been removing them) I should have a good photo of this. We then skied out to a car we stashed at a different canyon. All in all, another stellar day in the Wasatch.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A marginal Wasatch experience.

Today was one of those fun informative days--not because of the skiing. If you've been out recently in the Wasatch, you probably already know that the South aspect, or anything close to that is corning up, or has already reached corn stage. The North aspect has settled out significantly to about 20-40cm. with reasonable skiing conditions. You can tell the Inversion is in (not just because you cant see across the valley, or the ice on your window)because the high elevation snow is showing signs of higher temperature bonding (really its just happening faster than normal). Good for the snow, not so good for the skiing.

If, like me, you decided to skin up a South Face early in the morning before it softened up (bad idea) you quickly became aware of the rock hard sun crust that has developed, and the sheet of ice that the skin tracks have become. Needless to say that was a very painful skin to the top of davenport. Next time, take off your ski's and boot pack. If its too hard to skin, then its perfect for booting.

Apparently people have forgotten how to properly ski corn. Its a timing thing: You ski it after the surface softens up, but not once the whole snow pack fills with water. Bruce would say if your booting and you sink up to your knee, then you need to be off the slope. I'd say if it feels like your skiing in 12 inches of mash potatoes your too late. The idea is to not ruin the surface for future skiers, but to preserve it for many good corn days to come. To review. You just want the surface to soften slightly enough for good turns but not so much that your skiing deep potatoes. Another clue that its too late is if you keep hooking up in the back end and losing control. Easy fix? Change aspects slightly to one that hasn't had as much direct sun yet. You can micro-manage your corn depth by this one trick, not to mention you wont leave huge ice jumps for the next guy to brake his knees on.

Instead of skiing today, I really spent most of my time doing a full blown snow profile. Mostly because I was so annoyed by the skin up I didn't really want to ski much! Anyway, here it is. Actually, its a pretty good snow pack compared to what we started with. If we where in Colorado we would have been done on the the North aspects until spring, luckily we ain't in Colorado.

A few notes to mention on the profile:
1. Facets near the ground is normal in most snow packs because the ground heats up the snow from below creating a temperature gradient between over a short distance near the ground. Because of the depth of pack (180cm) its unlikely that it would fail at the surface (although if it did it would be one big mother of a slab, not likely survivable) When we move into spring conditions this will be something we want to watch. Watch for trigger points like rocks, trees, things with a shallow pack that are surrounded by facets, or old, big slide paths that have much shallower snow packs. Below you can see the facets from the ground are actually rounding out pretty well, and are somewhat bonded.

2. The Rain crust is the coolest! But its not really a fear at this point because of how the new snow bonded to it on the following storm; of more interest would be the facets under the rain crust, but again they are pretty deep and its unlikely for a slab to fail that deep. Below is a bad photo of the rain crust.
3. Between 100-115cm there is a interesting hard layer of snow that my feeble brain can't seem to remember, but I would guess its from the extended warm section in January. It also had a harder layer at the top that I was unable to isolate, needless to say I'm pretty sure it was the temperature crust from January.

4. Finally, there is some serious surface hoar (I'm told anyway) in certain places. I didn't see any today, but that because of where I skied. I would be suspicious of it anywhere you have a good clear view of the sky in a cold place (the bottom of drainage's) or places that receive only light wind.

Ski recommendations? Go rock climbing, in the desert, maybe it will snow again before spring.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Photo post.

Being that I like to look at pictures more than read I'm going to post a handful of photo's for your viewing enjoyment. This is a sampling for Mr. Stevens's camera work on one of the best powder days of the year. These photos are all located on the East aspect of Pink Pine Ridge.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Just another day in the Wasatch

So its Sunday night, Arizona just lost the Superbowl, and I really don't care. In fact my eyes hurt from looking at a TV screen for soooo long. The good news it was good friends, and good food! I've had a killer week (so it seems) after 3 days of skiing, 1 day of ice climbing and stand ups. Our perfect 36 inch storm snow pack is quickly turning to old snow and soon will move to corn if the forecast is right.

My last day of the week we spent our time in Lambs canyon doing a leisurely tour. The picture on the right is our view of Alexander basin. The peak on the left is Wilson where we skied on my last blog. As you can see, many lines exist that we didn't ski that day. We had a day of crazy winds but thankfully we where able to ski on the more protected North Aspect where the snow was still intact. On the skin up we chose the South face and for the first time of the year I had to pull out the glob-stopper to keep the snow from building up on my skis--way too early in the year (interestingly enough neither of my ski partners seemed to experience this but me, must be technique). We skied two drainage's that skied pretty well, or I guess they where 'worth skiing.'

A freeze thaw crust has developed that is very altitude dependent, so the higher you go, the better it gets, although it's a double edged sword because the higher you get, the more wind damage and loading accrued from the previous day. So to find the perfect snow you would want to be on a high, yet protected face that hasn't had too much wind loading. Paying special attention to aspect, slope angle, and above all, wind loading. The South aspects have now all but been hammered by the sun and in a few days should be good corn, but until then it would be good to stay off them as it will probably be a breakable death crust or wet slab zone. I would check out the the temperature profiles over the last week to get a good idea what is happening before choosing a location. Check them out at: like I said before, knowing the micro weather data history to where you are going is paramount for not only safe decision making, but also for choosing the best pow. Needless to say we had a good day in Lambs, not just the snow but the company, and of course the high quality beverages.

Saturday I had the opportunity to wake up at 430am drive for 3 hours (yes that's an extra 30 minutes for driving past the turn) for some stellar somewhat unique Utah ice. The most beautiful ice I've ever seen is at this location. Imagine thick, blue ice flowing out of a orange sandstone drainage surrounded by a thin layer of old snow and desert foliage. Then think of a clear blue Utah sky with temps somewhere around 35 degrees with perfect, hero ice. With 4 of use we made good work of the ice and started something new (at least for us). For lack of better terms I'm going to call it Ice bouldering. Or climbing close to the ground, on Ice and Rock. One of the flows where where climbing on had a cave behind it with one wall steep sandstone and the other a large overhanging wall of ice. The room was glowing blue as the light filtered through 2 feet of ice to the cave to make a very beautiful location. Its one of those experiences that help you remember why you like to ice climb. We spend some time working on a few mixed routes that either went from rock to ice, or ice to rock.

Unfortunately none of the 4 of us brought a camera so I don't have any cool photos. After a season of ice climbing with the likes of Jared (A LCC hardman) my ice climbing seems to have improved dramatically (or it could just be my confidence). But today my arms, abs and calves are telling me I'm not as strong as I think. Regardless it was a great time, and I can't wait tell we get back! Speaking of the desert I'm thinking of a trip this week, anyone interested?