Monday, March 29, 2010


It seems the skiing is starting to get pretty fierce out there these days and the motivation is getting thin. On Saturday I headed up solo to have a look at CoalPit #4 and all its glory. Turns out I'm not sure exactly how to get to it... no surprise. So I ski a fabulous coulair in the same region that hasn't seen tracks for a while. After skiing up sloppy wet snow (all good alpine starts have this right?) I notice a very unique snow surface up a head that I've never noticed before.

It has the look of a miniature river delta for lack of better words. Turns out its a gropplanche! How cool is that? Apparently so much gropple fell on Friday that it slide... but only in the way that gropple can slide... like sand or even a little like water creating a beautiful smooth, unconsolidated snow surface. A small note of interest is that snow, when in motion, does not take on the mechanical characteristics of water, but of something else entirely. I would spend more time on this subject but frankly I'm too tired after 3 nights of work. So skipping the explanation in between, this gropple avalanche was completely different than a normal one, it didn't slide the same way, it didn't settle the same way, and it sure didn't ski the same way. Once up into the slide path it looked more like the lower end of a glacier moving though a canyon on its way to the see. Totally cool... I guess if your a snow geek. Another analogy would be like one of those swimming pools full of plastic balls you remember as a kid? Same principle except steep and the balls are smaller...

The down side to this was that based on its complete lack of consolidation, you couldn't skin, and when booting you would sink to the bottom of the groppel and slide backwards on ball bearings. (a testament to why gropple is a bad bed surface) There was a small sun/temperature crust on top but was completely unsupportable. Just like in sand you would step down and the gropple would immediately fill in over your boot. I was trying to think what the best method for movement would be and skinning and booting where out, crampons- useless... What would one use? Maybe a paddle or flippers? Or one of those fancy Ordovox shovels that bends 90 degrees at the shovel

The good news is that with enough weaving around you could usually find some old buried wet slab debris to walk on beneath the gropple. After a semi-successful boot the ski turned out to be pretty amusing. If you ever get the chance to ski on 36 inches of pure gropple--do it!

Oh and when you get to the Y and want to turn right, go left.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Super Traverse

I've been itching to ski for a week now and I think my quads would explode if I sat around one more day... So I dragged the only willing ski partner up for a 600am meeting for the coalpit headwall... or whatever we decided to do. After of course sleeping in and being like seven minutes late we arrive at the trail head and I'm looking through my scattered gear and noticed that I had left my coat (the only one I planned to carry) at home... good start, and I didn't even think of bringing my helmet. The good news was that my ski partner was willing to share his super tech patagonia shell with me. Its a super light mountaineering shell, looks like a rain jacket its so thin... and uninsulated... But its March right? We will be putting on sun screen in a few hours! Wrong, it was snowing, blowing, my camelback froze, and my hands went numb several times in my Marmot gloves (being that I left my trusty extra patrol mitts home since it was spring). Anyway off we go in the dark. Some unknown time later we have crossed White Pine, Red Pine, Maybird, The Obolesque, and are at the bottom of Hogum drainage looking way up at the Hypodermic Needle.

One of my personal favorite features in the Wasatch, and the best part is its not a road side attraction, so not everyone has the gusto to make it. I was trying to figure out on my topo the actual vertical associated with the decent, or in our case the ascent. And it looks to me from the river bed to North Peak of Thunder Mountain to be over 2000ft, so we could estimate the total decent of the Hypodermic Needle including the runout to be about 2000ft. After you've done the boot pack, you would probably agree. We tried with all the meager skills we had to skin as far up as possible but due to the temperature crust with 2 inches of freshies on top it was very difficult, if not impossible. So we prematurely started to boot because it was easier... at least a little. If you could find a crust thick enough to not sink to your knee anyway.

I think there is some type of Omen associated with Thunder mountain because its always covered in clouds.. For example if you go to Ian Provo's blog in my watch list you'll see their decent of the Hypodermic, in the clouds. Two of my friends tried the Super Tour a few weeks ago but where stopped in there tracks by 0/o vis on the Thunder Mountain Pass.

Today was no exception, when we reached the top we could see very little and got a few glimpses here and there of our location and really none of our destination. So I jumped on the nearest ridge that I thought would lead us to one of the three chutes on the headwall... unfortunately it was Thunder Mountain Ridge, not so much CoalPit ridge. So we did a very sketchy traverse looking for an entry into CoalPit.

After we noticed the angle mellowing out we decided to pull out a map and a compass and quickly figured out we where no longer in Coal pit but in Thunder bowl, via Thunder Mountain.

The good news was that the easy angles of Thunder bowl skied the dust on crust much better than I think CoalPit would have. Not to mention we actually had a lot of fun in lower Thunder where it joins into Bells.

There is something special (and punishing) about skiing from 11000ft down to the end of the snow and then hiking down to the city. Not that I want to do it again tomorrow, but it gives you some feeling of accomplishment. So because of my lack of attention to detail and decision making based on the assumption of our location we got to ski what I think

I'm going to call the Super Traverse, after the Super Tour, but one step farther North than the North Super Tour. ll miles, 5000ft of climbing and 7000ft of decending. Lets see it on the next addition of the Skiing the Wasatch maps!