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 http://en.ortovox.com/safety_products/shovels/cougar.html
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.