Friday, January 28, 2011

In the Shadow of the Mountain

So no this isn't Wasatch 100 part III. But I had such a good day skiing to day I just needed to read about it. Not to mention, one of the photo's in my previous blog is exactly the same as in this one, except this one is winter! See if you can figure it out.
Today I didn't have a ski partner, except for one that didn't want to ski thousands of feet of blue ice (what gives?). So I went out Solo on a mission to Twin Peaks, which I've never summited in the winter. After Leaving the car at 7:15 am with my oatmeal and yogurt I was off.

I should go right out and confess, something changed in my skiing, something BIG. I was on a set of new 7 Summit Dynafit skis with Low Tech Race bindings and TLT 5 mountain boots. The Ski binding combo weighs in at 6 lbs 6 ounces, the boots are 5 lbs 6 ounces in a 27.5, which are bigger and I also ski without the tongues, so lets say 5 lbs 3 ounces. A total on foot weight of 11 lbs 9 ounces (not counting skin's or crampons). Sound like a lot? Well my light weight telemark setup is 11 lbs 3 ounces for ski binding combo (Chargers with switchbacks) an my Garmont Energy's weight 8 lbs for a total back breaking weight of 19 lbs 3 ounces. And actually, its not back breaking because the weight is on your feet. So that's about a 7 lbs difference; OR like carrying an extra gallon of water along with you... on your feet. All this to say I felt light and free, or like running. I actually did run for a while but quickly realized that it wasn't THAT light, or at least I am not that strong.

Altitude gained is difficult to average but when I'm going solo it seems to be somewhere around 1000ft per hour, depending on snow conditions and technical difficulty. Although times very widely, that put my total about 30 minutes faster than expected or about 10 percent faster over a 5 hour period. Not bad for just pulling out your wallet! Ok, so back to the story...

I started off at the S-turns in Big Cottonwoods and headed up Broads fork trail at 7:15. In 1 hour 15 minutes I was at the lower lakes (about 2100ft of easy skinning). After that I followed a skin track to the back of the cirque where I then started putting in my own track since no one had climbed the east ridge yet. Very shortly after starting, I first broke my crampon attachment (race bindings... shesh). and then started wallowing up an rock band that proved to be very difficult because it was covered in 5 feet of facets (think sugary snow).
Finally, I was able to get past this section and return to my ski's with ski crampons and quickly dispatch the next 600 feet or so before it became steep blue ice where I again started booting. The difficulty was finding the place where the ice was thicker than 1/2 inch so you could support yourself. Multiple times I would start wallowing in the facets, trying to pull myself back onto the ice, The visual picture is something like trying to pull yourself out of a whole in the ice over a lake. You reach for the next piece of ice and it just breaks, mean while you slide back to where you started. Very energy consuming.

At one point at about 2/3 of the way up I was wallowing and pulled a piece of ice off a tree into my face that then removed my glasses and sent them cascading down the 50 degree ice slope. I watched as they gained momentum and shot off the roller below... out of sight. My favorite photocromatic glasses, gone in a second. I was almost ready to turn around and give up, except that 5 skiers had approached behind me and where skinning up around toward the saddle between big and little (ya 5 skiers, on a Friday, in a cirque that's 4 miles from any road. Freaking Wasatch). So although I had broken my binding, lost my glasses, and spent endless amounts of energy wallowing: my pride wouldn't allow me to descend. So I just told myself I'd go a little more, and then a little more... And finally the snow got hard enough to walk again and I got a good 500ft of good old fashion, boot packing on wind scoured old snow. The crux was definitely at the top when it gets really steep, the snow turns to facets and there's a small cornice to tunnel through. With much fear I quickly dispatch my best wallowing/mixed climbing/cornice burrowing and was on the summit. About 5,100ft from the car and the last 2000ft where earned the hard way.

After a quick lunch, I pulled the skins off, and locked the heal down for the first time on these skis... at 11,300ft on blue ice surround by 3 sides of 50 degree slopes, cliffs, and chutes for a minimum of 2000ft.
For good measure, and lack of trust, I locked down the toe pieces so nothing would free me from my skies. Then with much anticipation I dropped into the steep, icey slope. Turns out it wasn't too bad on a set of fresh edges and thin, short skies! If it wasn't a 2000ft slide for your life I would have been making jump turns all the way down.But, I took it conservative and side slipped through the high risk blue ice and saved the turns for the safer ground. It is also scary the first time you do a jump turn on these skies because you over rotate, because they are so light and short.... Super fun!

Only on one section did I chose to self belay myself down the ice with my Wipp-it, and that was unique and fun in itself. I looked closely for my glasses, and finally I found them, about a quarter from the bottom where the snow got too soft. Now in much safer ground I let it go a bit and really enjoyed the turns on my new short skies. reaching the Amphitheater base, I quickly transitioned to skins (as quick as a free healer can transition with all those gadgets) and started up the ridge to Mill B to ski out via Blanch lake.
Once reaching the ridge I had excellent turning conditions all the way to the lake before it deteriorated into a 'soul searching bushwack' as Andrew McLean would say.

All in all, a fabulous tour that I would recommend to anyone! At least anyone who has the tools, the skills, and of course the bad judgment to do something like that. About 10 miles and 6000ft.