Monday, November 23, 2009

It's Hard Living in the Wasatch, Seriously.

Well I can think of lots of thing people complain about in the grand Wasatch Dessert, the people, the government, the salt lake, the bad drivers, the unfriendly neighborhoods... how about the grumpy back country skiers? You don't usually hear about that... but now and then your friend will tell you about well, in this case me...

So the day started this morning at work at about 5:30am leaving Idaho Falls for SLC and work ended at 8:30am, just how I like it. But the problem is I have to work TWO days this week Tuesday AND Wednesday, Not to mention that its like from 8-6! So Today I had to make it worth it, so we loaded the VW up to the roof with everything nice and headed for LCC. First stop, Great White Icicle. If your an Ice climber in SLC you have already realized that a moderate climate, dessert isn't really the best place to ice climb.... So when people like me start getting the itch to go, we tend to go with ANY ice at all... Maybe its on your windshield... in your glass of water... ya. Being this is my Third time on the great white this year (yes I know your thinking, has it even come in yet? and the answer is a big fat no) and by far the most enjoyable. Pitch 1 was the best its been, stubbies in slush... just about normal. 2 screws later and a lot of steep thin slush over beatiful granite and the first pitch is complete, not nearly as fun as the M3ish crack line on the left side. Pitch 2.... getting thicker! I didn't step through into the waterfall even once, AND I had 2 cam's and probably 2 more good screws, that's a record. But what is really important is not the shower of icy cold water; or the beautiful, natural sky lights made of ice that you can see the water splashing up into from below... or even the deap resounding thud of the tool sinking into the huge (and we are talking huge) de-laminated sheet of ice you have you, the tools the crampons and all the screws in, but pitch 3. Here is where it is seriously hard to live in the Wasatch. In SLC there is 1, just 1, ice climb that comes in just about every year, and yes its the great white. being that there are hundreds of ice climbers (so it seems) in SLC, it gets pretty hammered--to say the least. I can't remember a time, EVER that I have climbed pitch 3 when it hasn't been stepped out, picked out, and turned into a staircase for pointy objects, and you come to expect to not really have to swing a tool, but to just set a tool. Today, although you really cant tell in the pics, I felt like I was the only person to climb it this year (probably the case since most don't grovel through slush, rock, river, mud for 300ft to get there). Yes, it was thin, and Yes it had some holes spraying water and yet, it was probably 30 percent delammed, but I didn't see a single pick mark, crampon step, ice screw whole at all. It was immaculate, beautiful; filled with shiny deep blues, whites ,dark black with all types of shapes from perfectly smooth dinner plates, to cauliflower of all shapes and sizes to sky lights giving you a glimps to the builder inside. But as the true capitalist that I was raised as, I took my sharp objects and sank them deep into that beautiful work of art, over and over again. It was definetly the best I have ever had the great white, pitch 3. Now that I've posted this I'm sure it will quickly be destroyed by the legions of ice climbers... but I must.

After returning to the car and having the best cold cut I've ever created (really not that difficult to reach this catagory) we drove up the end of the road to start our skin into Albion basin near the gun sight. Now There may be leagions of ice climbers, but in SLC there are whole countries that migrated for the skiing, especially if you consider the wire riders. Two small things I've learned about the Back Country in the Wasatch is there are two times you are sure to get burned. Pre-season snow, and weekends. These are the times when the ignorant (yes I know, I was ignorant once too), the weekend warrior (yes I know they have a REAL job so they are forced to do things on the weekends) and the wire rider show up to hike the 1 day of the year they will actually reach the top (or in most cases far short of their actual goal) by their own power. This can be difficult for them because A) They are usually unaware of how to dress properly B) They are usually severely out of shape for the task (and yes it is much harder than it looks) C) They usually don't have the right tools for the job. But what selfish ME cares about is how the effect my perfect double hitter day. First of all, I have never (not once) had a pre-season day where someone didn't completely destroy the skin track with there nuckle punching boot pack trail, that of course should be in exactly the same place as the skin track. This annoys me to no end, especially since A) Its early season so I have skinny skis and even skinnier, crappy skins that don't really climb that well anyway) B) the skin tracks usually heat up enough to get really hard and very slick. C) As you learn when you ski with somenone from outside the wasatch, our skin tracks are always ridiculously steep. So because of their laziness (or maybe its lake of excess available energy) they must destroy our way to the top so they can reduce their pain by 5%. So what do you do? Do you tell them, 'hey I'd appreciate it if you walked anywhere else other than the skin trac, because it makes it useless to us.' or do you just skin by smiling, or scouling while secretly heaping curses on them. I've tried both methods and am always met with limited success. Have you noticed that when people (at least some) are new, beginner, or inexperienced with a new activity they are also very defensive (for lack of a bigger vocabulary) about outsider input? I find this to me true most of the time in this scenario, and so I usually end up being the selfish jerk (Honesty this is really the truth, maybe that's why I dislike it so much) who cant just be nice as he goes by us in our pure agony. The scowl approach is definetly worse, especially if they are the ignorant, because they don't even know WHY your scowling at them! Then I am a jerk for sure! Anyway, I guess the real answer is learn to accept their deferent approaches to the same goal, and appreciate them as a human, living person who is just trying to enjoy the beautiful mountains (just like me). OR I should just keep the ski's put away until all the wire riders, and such are at the Bird, Brighton, or best of all the Canyons. Funny the same answer really applies here that applies in most places... are you ready? It's not about me. If I could just get that through my scull, I bet this all would be easy! Too bad.

I know you love to hear about the snow pack, (oh wait, no one really does-- thats what the avalanche forcast is for) so here goes. The small hand pits that I dug today revielled that up high (maybe 9000ft) you have some old snow from the ground up to what appears to be a temperature crust of about 2cm thick with a thin but very noticable layer of facets directly underneath and a very poor new snow bond on top (I would assume its because it was pretty cold at the arrival of the new snow (maybe in the 20's or colder) and so there was little or now bonding. So we have basically a cement floor, turned up to a given angle piled with new snow. The new snow originally showed 10 inches at collins (9700ft I think)but by the time we got to it, it had settled to some where around 4-8 inches. But in some locations there was an additional week layer in the new snow approx. half way down, creating a shear at about 4 inches down and then the big shear at 8 inches then 1/2 inch hard (maybe between 1 finger and pencil, but I didn't check)over a 2-5mm of facets, then semi consolidated snow below. While skinning with a patroller friend I mentioned that if it breaks below the temperature crust I was thinking it would be a hard slab, but in retrospect I think that was incorrect. Unless just the temperature crust slide at a wopping 1/2 inch crown... but I don't think that would be very life threatening. More likely the temperature crust would just create a great sliding surface. I didn't do any measurements, but about the level the skiing starts to get really fun it also started to get unstable, so would guess around 35% (I didn't read the forcast but I'd be willing to bet above this the threat level takes it up a notch)

So we skin accross a large path that has the potential to go 2000meters if all was right and I start to get nervous and so does my friend, so we skin to a low angle section to de-skin a ski out of the uncomfortable zone. No later do we start removing our stuff but we hear a yell from above, it was Dus hba ggins. We are directly below a snowboarder on a splitboard with 3 way collapsible poles (which means he has a considerable investment in back country skiing, so I would expect some good judgement also) Aware that we are in his line we work quickly to clean up and move on. But after a minute or two, he loses patience (or something) and decided he should start skiing, directly above us, on a steeper slope, in what I consider slightly concerning snow. Perfect. I have been unable at the moment to come up with a similar experience in other activities that would help show the actual danger associated with this situation, but I will try to explain. IF Dus hba ggins pulls out a slide of ANY size even very small with are immobilized on the slope without a means of moving with a huge (and I mean huge) section of snow below us that would most assuredly come along for the ride and most likely leave all three of us at the bottom barried in 30ft of snow, rocks, and trees. The good news is, I've got my beacon on, so my friend (who just happens to be the fastest guy with a beacon like 5 years running in annual beacon testing) I am confident could save me, would be barried right next to me. And Dus hba ggins barried just above us. This is what some would call an objective hazard... But I think of it a little bit like negligent man slaughter. I personally don't want to leave this world because someone kicked a slide off on me. (and I'm sure this has happened before)... So Dus hba ggins was had invested the $800 in a split board and at least another $100 on the poles and I'm sure some other stuff, or over $1000 in gear, responsibility should come along with it. You buy a car, run over someone while texting, are you going to be held responsible? Maybe if Albion basin was some unknown snowy hill on the side of a boring mountain in a small town filled with lots of big trucks, and not lots of Skiers, this wouldn't happen--and others wouldn't gamble with my life regarless if they where ignorant or just uncaring. So, the moral of the story is yes, It's hard living in the Wasatch, but if you don't ski pre-season or on weekends, you can eliminate a significant part of those 'objective' hazards!

I know that was just a big complain fest and I appologize, Just don't be Dus hba ggins when you are in that position? Yes they may have skinned right into your fresh tracks, and are taking forever to get out of the way, but is it worth risking their lives?

So, Dus hba ggins I forgive your attempt on my life and hope that others will forgive me when I do the same dumb thing and Today was a most excellent day in the Wasatch and tomorrow will be another fabulous day!