While Laura and I were enjoying French toast at @breadandsaltrest in downtown Frisco this morning, @chuckmarty and friends were living in an alternate reality, high above the clouds and over our heads. The damp morning low clouds were exceptionally beautiful this morning. Between sips of hot coffee and bites of buttered French toast, I was dreaming of flight and retelling the story of how @willrawstron and I made it down from Victoria one night in an unexpected way.
Thanks for being a total boss of a mountain partner Will and for your mentorship in my early years of flight before our serendipitous West Vic flight that evening.
Free flight To The Rescue
Remembering Will “Realstrong” Rawstron and our first launch West ‘over the back’ of Mount Victoria Frisco Colorado
That evening Will and I had been Para-waiting on the summit of MT Victoria. The mountain air went from strong and gusty to light before switching to “over-the-back” He blew his acl on a light rolling reverse attempt at East after I aborted one with rock snags. Then, like magic, the air switched. I had barely ever considered West and didn’t know for certain about the glide to shore/middle school, or possible venturi or rotor we might encounter while crossing around over Royal. But it all seemed reasonable enough. It was either we launch into the possibility of the unknown, or call SAR and start hobbling down into the night. I looked at Will and he looked at me. I said how unstable is it? Who should go first? if I launch can you launch ok? Or should you go first? I don’t want to leave you. He said he was good and best for me to try first. Team trust. As the sun set, I stepped off.. I hung-a-right and looked back in the low light creeping at his toes. Will was setting up hobbling with a freshly blown knee. My legs and fingers were crossed.
The rotor crossing over was probably more unsettling as I simply did not know what to expect. Though wind on launch was 4-6 so I was hopeful, as I tried to balance ground clearance with directness of heading toward the lake in case we encountered sink in the lee, and wind from the canyon/katabatibc flow.
About half way to the shore south of the Marina I kept looking over my shoulder. Common’ Will, you got it. Don’t stay up there alone… and finally saw my buddy rounding the corner over Royal! I was nearly parked in the evening strong NW flow and descended like an elevator with zero penetration. Will landed even closer to the Marina. Tom and Todd said that in 15+ years of working the Marina each summer, they had never seen anyone launch Vic let alone land at the Marina. (I’m sure Gary or someone had long ago, but we had been exploring in a vacuum here those days and had to figure this all out on our own, grateful for the process )
They bought us beers and whisky and we sat there enjoying the evening until the @Charlie_Martin and Jackie retrieval! We all celebrated a fun self rescue by free flight as he said “oh, my blown knee!? No problem, I’ll get it fixed later. That was WAY more fun than walking or waiting for SAR (tho I know they’d have our back!) Let’s enjoy these drinks on the house! Thanks Frisco Marina! Cheers to Vic!
What if we had an incredible snow season and it fills in the blanks just enough… Nahhh, keep dreaming. That’s too far out there…”
We often ski around our home range in wonder, “Could you imagine if that mountainside could ever hold enough snow? What would it take for that face to fill in enough to ski? The spring skin track ramble often rattles of how snow and ice sticks to more formidable faces in some of our favorite backcountry ski destinations like British Colombia or Chamonix. What would it take for some local dream lines to hold snow in this continental snowpack?
April 9th, 2019
Epine D’ Argent Ski descent- Baldwin/Holmes
1540’/470m in .34mi/1800’ *50+ with one or two *60+ degree 1m-5m segments of dry-ski, or air.
North Face East Ridge of East Thorn 13,333
Mount Silverthorne Willow Peak Gore Range Summit County Colorado
Six or seven years ago as I rolled out from skiing on Willow Peak and it’s col with its East Thorn, The East Thorn shoots into the sky and is the most prominent peak viewed from the north end of Silverthorne and is the towns namesake. To shred a line on it’s unskied north face would be incredible. I looked up at its hectic and formidable North Face, and I asked these questions. It was more of a fantasy daydream rather than considering a real ski line with some shred of probability. “If this range could ever see a maritime snowpack, the line might go!” “What if we had an incredible snow season and it fills in the blanks just enough… Nahhh, keep dreaming. That’s too far out there…”
Colorado,s Gore range alone has over 100 prominent summits, 1400 square miles, and thousands of couloirs, faces and ski lines. But we are always dreaming. It’s the creativity and mystery of snow and weather that keeps us searching for a fun new combo enchainment or that new way to ski another summit.
A waking dream…
March 31st Jason Killgore, Chris Baldwin and I Skied what we thought should be called the Precipitation Traverse from Willow Brook in Silverthorne. We started out with two lines on Rain Peak, Hail, Sleet and snow Peak and out to the Gore Creek Trail Head in East Vail. While ascending the east ridge of Rain I noticed the north face of the Thorn for the first time in many years since that daydreaming exit out that valley below. I asked the guys to have a look and snapped some photos. My eye was immediately drawn to the straight line slot, bookended below with a geometrically leaning cliff that formed a semi hanging panel of an escape. I thought it too narrow to fit skis through. Jason eyed it up and had hope. Otherwise, there was a skiable option around the lower portion of the keyhole slot. Options. I fell off the pace to the summit of Rain as the face and possibilities captivated my eyes.
Snow conditions had become very stable. We had been skiing the range all season and more specifically in this zone for the last few weeks. After getting on the significant lines of the Precip Peaks we had a very good sense of the snowpack in the zone. A week later with moderate temps, mostly high pressure and a couple of light refreshes, it was time to have a look at The East Thorn.
Baldwin and I left the trail head at 7 am and mate our way into the Eagles Nest Wilderness along North Willow Creek to Salmon Lake. After about five miles of peaceful forest, we got a good look. It was so interesting and improbable. So many moves in unknown terrain. The first major feature of the line was to bypass a few hundred-foot gash and cliff above the apron. We started up the apron and then trended right up the hanging snow panel, over the cliff and into into the gash. This would be the second to last move on the descent. From here we were established in the lower couloir. The entire face and lines above are fully exposed above this cliff and the additional series of cliff bands of the North Face to the West. We continued booting the line and found consolidated settled cold powder without any wind skin. We were gaining even more confidence with each step. As we ascended we took note of slight ski variations for the descent, and safe’ ish zones to hide from slough on the way down. Getting caught in any amount of moving snow was not an option as the exposure anywhere on this face is inescapable.
Once we made it to the East ridge, we enjoyed an elegant knife edge scramble on reasonably sound stone. 6 miles, and 4500’ and 4 hrs after leaving Silverthorne we were on the summit.
The East thorn is one of the more aesthetic and prominent looking summits of the Southern Gore. It pokes out in the sky behind, and in contrast to the East Summit of Red Mountain when viewed from the Town of Dillon. It surely is the namesake of the Town of Silverthorne.
We found a reasonable place to clip in and took care to clean the tech divots and get the clean crisp heal snap and locked out the toes for certain. I skied along the exposed ridge to a 1.5-meter ledge that I was able to pass with dry ski and some hand-foot match down mantel moves. This way I could drop in on the line a bit more direct without the exposed wild card traverse below. Chris dropped in direct on a wildly exposed panel, trusting that he could find a way through to pass under this cliff band and he did without incident. Our turns off the ridge onto the North Face were memorable as the terrain viewed down through our skis here on the Thorn is a cross-hatched pattern of mostly stone and meager snow panels tilted significantly further on the inclinometer. My visual experience and feelings at that moment were new to me in my home range. We were originally drawn to the Couloir from the ridge that narrows to a keyhole slot, dropping straight to the lower choke and cliff band. We were able to open it up here as the angle backed off to about 45+ and the snow was incredible. I charged in staying ahead of my slough until ii could pulling out to dive left under a rock to watch it rip by and funnel into the second and very narrow stage of the keyhole slot. Chris ripped down to me all smiles. From here, Chris chose to bypass the slot for a more skiable and fluid experience. I was drawn to the directness and tight challenge of the slot. It rolled over and narrowed. I used the axe for security in the slough zone and dry-ski chimney technique to lower into the vertical walls of the slot. I moved as decisively as a could and was hit by a small but unnerving slough. The snow was generally still dry but it was warming up and I was in the barrel of the gun. It opened just enough that I was able to make a few precise peddle hop turns grazing the wall with tip and tail until it narrowed again and it was back and hand against the wall with ski bases pasted against the opposing wall. The slot finally let me go and I emerged to some more open skiing down to Chris who was perched above that major lower choke. Chris, once again, more reasonable than I, simply down booted the final choke while I chose some tight turns to my third spot of dry-ski before finally skis off to down boot the last 5 meters as to not keep Chris waiting with my dry-ski antics. From here I took direct creamy warm turns to a 5-meter hover-move air, over the thin cover and small cliff to exit the lower hanging apron back into the lower main couloir. As we ripped hero turns together out to the moraine below it felt like the gravity of the line lifted and the unbridled joy of completing the process poured over. “Well Chris, we made it to Chamonix for one day this season!” We laughed involuntarily as we looked back up at a new adventure in a near-vertical world, discovered right in our own back yard.
This is the recap I wrote to the Santa Barbara Soaring Club
Hey all you birds and rad humans!
First I’d like to express my gratitude for this Paragliding community. I’ve learned so much over the three November‘s that I’ve been visiting. You all have been so dialed with welcoming all pilots into your beloved Mountains. This speaks volumes to your character and life visions. Thanks for all the hard work that the club members do to keep the sites open and to help us all fly safe.
It’s been a wonderful ride from my first flights with Dale Covington at the point of the mountain in 2012 to opening new mountain sites in Colorado and trips to the alps.
I look forward to flying with you all next November but I may have to transition back into flight progressively and stick to those soft and beautiful Guadalupe Dunes at first!
San Rafael Mountains California
Mitch Riley, Brian Black and I hiked up Little Pine Mountain from Paradise road. We all agreed there was an ideal forecast back there for the day to head west. Mitch was considering Big Sur being possible. I was focusing more on flying my own day and staying ahead of the game with terrain, keeping options as I flew a new zone. Brian Black is Canadian and always dialed and stoked!
After launching at about 10am SSE from near Little Pine summit, we were able to work Alexander Peak and the Old Man Mountain ridge up to around 5000’ before making the first move West to Santa Cruz Peak. We had a nice tailwind 5-9 out of the SE with a northern wind on the N side of the taller back range of the San Rafael Mountains. It formed the convergence as Mitch forecasted. We worked a cohesive cloud bank/street but out in the front range as to not get too deep out back as cloud base was at about 5400’. And you could actually start to feel some rotor/sink from the north the higher you climbed toward the summit ridge line. The cloud bank was directly over the spine of the range. We found the best lift along the shoulders of peaks like Santa Cruz. I got a little low on glide and found sink across Happy Canyon so I enjoyed a nice flat grassy landing.
Yes it’s called happy Canyon ha!
I found a good place to hike up about a thousand feet and 1.5 miles/30 minutes to relaunch as it was only about 1 o’clock and great conditions. The darker cohesive cloudstreet I had been following was breaking up over happy Canyon, so it was partly sunny with just a few small cumulus clouds obscuring the sun as I was setting up. It was a bit of a cliff launch with some rocks on either side but a couple mild scoop shaped runways to launch south, southwest through south south east. Also nice North east and west options, all with smooth tundra/grass and perfect grade to set up with plenty of steps before it rolled over. I noted the primary hazard to launch were the rock outcrops on either side, for potential rotor or a heading change. The thermals were coming straight in from south face. I waited as I noticed the cycles coming down after a cloud came over. With the nature of the launch, I wanted to trade stronger lift on launch for more predictable mellow air. (Would love to talk more about this as Mitch made some points about how to find more stable thermals on launch based on taking the mid cycle instead of when they are lighter for less turbulence etc. longer explanation and details here) It had been a great flight and I would have been happy with a sledder further out the valley and love hiking but thought I may be able to keep heading west behind Brian and Mitch. A cloud was obscuring the sun and cycles came down seemingly almost too much. I expected the wing to surge a little once I got it out of the wind shadow. When it did I stepped toward it but I think I was a touch late to check it because as I stepped forward to decrease the power it did overshoot me a little bit and I got plucked gently a couple feet off the ground and was in the air reversed. I did not want to get in the brakes too much to spin or stall or to get more lift. So I was basically airborne reversed.
In that moment I could hear my instructor and mentor Dale remind me to not be in a hurry to turn around. Fly the glider reversed to clear terrain first before turning forward. I felt calm and after the brief pause (should have waited longer, again lots to talk about here and many variables to consider) I started turning slowly, but as the risers opened up, I was swung wildly into the rock on the side. It may have been some rotor under the left-wing tip that I didn’t feel or check, or a stronger thermal edge or rotor lifting the right tip, but it also may have been accidentally pulling brake with the left hand as I slowly started to turn back to forward and or a weigh-shift. I may have just pulled that left control and carved into it as I went slowly from reverse to forward. I do remember coming up off the brakes some after trying to stay on the ground when I got lifted up. When I thought, “fly the glider don’t spin around quick” it’s hard to say. I impacted the small vertical wall with both ankles first, then wrists and right hip. The pendulum swing was immediate the impact was violent. I had one of those strange moments of clarity a split second before impact and thought, “Yep this is really happening.”
I already knew my right ankle was very bad as I rebounded off the wall and dropped a couple feet onto the decent ledge. I immediately did a self assessment and was 100% sure that my spine head and neck was unaffected and that my right ankle was badly broken, my left ankle was sprained or minorly broken. Both wrists felt a little dinged up maybe fractured but not terrible. I unclipped from my wing to get safely free as I was sort of on what I’d call a comfortable cliff. I had set up a group text the night before that we all had responded to. It was Mitch, Brian, and Mike Pennings who was on the ground in San Luis Obispo available for support and retrieve. I texted that I had crashed, broke both ankles, could not walk and would need a helicopter if available. Total time elapsed after impact was maybe three – minutes. Brian Black immediately initiated the rescue from the air. Fully dialed as I said. Once I crawled 10’-12’ up around the 4’x6’ wide rock wall to the top and safer spot and positioned on my harness with my feet uphill, about 2 minutes, I called 911. Also got my wing free in case I needed it to stay warm and disabled it for the heli.
They told me that Brian had called and the rescue was underway. She kept coming back to confirming that we were paragliding on Little Pine Mountain. Despite being clear that little pine was currently irrelevant for the rescue and that I had flown and hiked to my current location high in Happy Canyon She was confused ant thought it a mistake. She told me that the coordinates that we had confirmed did not make sense if I had started at Little Pine. I also mapped and confirmed that I was exactly 1.33 miles due west of Cachuma Campground on top of the high point, with glider out but disabled. I feel like this is an interesting sidenote to consider for rescues because the 911 operators may have no concept of the ground that we can cover with a combination of hiking and flying. So I was just very clear with the coordinates and she said that search and rescue would be calling me to find out more, and that I should keep the line clear.
They never called they just flew right to me with the helicopter and told me they flew right to the coordinates that we gave them. I think I maybe waited for 20 minutes. I’ll have to look at the actual times still. I believe I was at the hospital within about an hour to an hour and a half of the accident. Backcountry rescues don’t get any better than that.
I had surgery Saturday night to fix my shattered talus, right ankle. I have a couple very small minor broken fragments on left ankle, though weight bearing in a boot. They should be a non issue. A small minor fracture in left wrist that is about the most non-problematic bone you could break in your wrist. Non-structural and wearing a removable brace. and and a little fractured scaffoid bone in the right wrist that is casted. Zero spine or head injury. I’m super fortunate for that.
Just got results back from the final images today to confirm all this.
Mitch and Mike got my truck to the hospital and visited. They were awesome through all of this couldn’t ask for better partners. My wife came out to help and my primary goal is to be a happy cooperative patient so that she doesn’t divorce me! Ha ha! I wouldn’t want to lose her she is an angel. Two of our best friends from Breckenridge are flying out tomorrow for Thanksgiving and to help with the drive back whenever we are cleared to travel maybe Sunday.
I would love to share my basic wrapup and assessment on what went wrong and what I think I could’ve done differently,but I’d rather just leave this for us all to just take in, our own ways, and make our own assessments of basically what happened and how, and add it to our tool box of awareness and understanding of the sport.
So much gratitude to Trevor and I believe it was Bryce the flight medics and John the pilot. So much gratitude to a truly incredible, comfortable attentive and capable hospital. I think it’s the best hospital I’ve ever visited whether a patient or visitor. The food is actually really good! Hope you never get to enjoy it! A massive thanks to my surgeon Dr. Danielle Thomas orthopedic ankle specialist. She’s also the orthopedic surgeon for UCSB an I am incredibly fortunate to have her mega ortho skills!
I would love to chat about the details and what I think happened and I would love to hear from the community. So much knowledge and experience out there. Its all good food for the brain in a most wonderful mountain sport that involves a beautiful and raw balance of great risk and perhaps greater rewards, that we may ever experience in life.
Partners, Jason Kilgore, Chris Baldwin and I were able to seize the great weather and prime snow conditions this Saturday the 18th. Skiing Maroon Bells, Bell Cord and North Face in winter, in a day from Breckenridge, starting at the T Lazy 7 trail head was, well, AWESOME! And obviously we named it the ‘Double Bells Day!’
We made complete ski descents of both the Bell Cord Couloir 3937′ from the summit of Maroon Peak 14,156′ and the classic North Face 3858′ of North Maroon Peak 14,014′ to the lake. We got a little conditions report help from Zach Guy and Chris Miller as they had made a descent of the South West face of Thunder a couple days prior. It’s always fun to be able to forecast conditions and open a line for the season!
The Bells hold classic ski lines on all three, and they are in the neighborhood of 4000’ long. So to enchain even more than one is a committing tour and means a minimum of almost 9000’ of skiing. Even if one chooses to take a snowmobile in.
Autumn Photo from FB
Jason and I have bumbled round the hills long enough, always seeking to learn how to move quickly in the backcountry with out always being in a rush. So the extra 6.5 mile approach from T Lazy 7 with out a sled isn’t so bad. I think it’s actually easier and probably takes less time than maintaining, fueling and trailering a snowmobile. When it’s warm in the spring I guess having to stop to shovel snow on the engine sounds like it takes around an hr to get in to Maroon Lake anyway. It takes us 1:30. So not a big trade off really. Now don’t get me wrong! If I lived in Aspen I would have a sled. It just makes sense if you live there. But we don’t. And sometimes the simpler we make things, the richer the experience.
The road was refrozen and fast so we skated in about 7k from T-Lazy 7 trail head, then skins on for the last couple miles. We left the trail head at 3:30 am and were on the summit of Maroon Peak at 8:30am including time to asses conditions, discuss options and take in the views along the way. Keeping a reasonable pace on the way in and up the first climb was key to making rest of the day enjoyable!
…yeah pace is the trick… -Interpol
The “Paradise Divide” and Crested Butte beyond.
On the summit by 8:30 gave us plenty of time for the Bell Cord, though our minds were on the North Face of North Maroon. We did not want to be in that terrain if the winter snow was going to bake in the sun. Our saving grace, or so we hoped, was the lower mid March sun and the business of the line being between 12,500′ and 14000′. After waiting an hr on the summit for the temps to be a “slightly- early- just- right” we dropped in on the East Face of Maroon at 9:23. The sun had warmed the cold winter snow just enough to be perfect! We skied the steep east face for about 500 vert before catching the big wide obvious ramp that gains access to the Bell Cord proper. It was cold settled powder all the way down the right side and warm wet pow on the left. The ski conditions were all time!
The option to make a high traverse out of the Bell Cord to skip 1000’ of the 4000’ line was suggested. After some discussion we realized it was not for us. Beside the massive exposure and hazard that traverse would entail, we were there to ski the lines in their entirety. I mean WOWZA! they are really something! Traversing to chip them short to save on vert or ease the challenge diminished the direct beauty and length of these classic lines! We are out to SKI big beautiful lines from the summit to the lake! And style matters!
There was also talk of the Trifecta. This would include Pyramid. Skiing 3 complete lines on all three Bells would be rad. The Trifecta would be 12,000′ of positive gain on three major lines. Many have dreamt and talked about it. There are a few combos that could work. But to ski all three lines true to their length would have to wait for another day, snow conditions and ‘we are not there yet’ if you know what I mean.
The opening turns from the summit keep you honest
On to North Maroon!
After skiing the line right to Crater Lake on valley floor, we skied up the drainage and ascended the North Face of North Maroon. The snow was “hot wet pow” in the trees below 11K and our confidence took a hit. Jason reassured us… “But that high North face under a mid march sun…” Once up under the tall cold face we were quite confident in the snow conditions at this point and chose to dig a hole and test our assessments again. After booting up and getting established on the first major ramp we assessed the snowpack and performed a CT and ECT. This large face is a complicated series of hanging snowfields, unsupported panels and frames of snow that are disconnected and peppered by major cliffs and rock. With this exposure, consequences, and it being late in the day, we really wanted to be confident in our stability assessment before committing to the massive exposure of this line. We found an unreactive, consolidated winter snowpack that supported the multitude of previous observations we had been making from our avalanche forecast to our ‘nowcast’. We did note new surface hoar development at 4’100 meters up to “punk pock. This could be a sliding surface problem after the next snow.
Chris approaches the foreshortened North Face North Maroon.
It looks way worse from this angle though.
The North Face skied sooo well! Settled winter pow!! Also had to do three very short 1 meter dry ski steep moves at the crux in the center couloir. No problem here.
Jason and Chris use flawless ‘dry ski technique’ to pass a tight spots.
We choose to link both lines to their completion at the lake in one day, all human power from the ‘everyman’s’ winter trail head at T Lazy 7 Ranch 8200’. Jason and I had left Breckenridge around 12:30am and met Chris at the trail head at 3:30am. We all skied out to the safety of the lower apron below the North face at 2:30 pm. This was a culmination of incredible snow and weather forecasting by the team. Light, bold and efficient ski touring technique made it a fun tour!
23 miles (37kilometers RT
10,300′ (3140k) vert and all smiles n high fives!
(8941’ from Maroon Lake)
The 2017/18 Alien RS is a game changer. No really you watch.
Gear and Style
Both Chris Baldwin and I were on Faction Agent 90 Skis, 1350 gram skis and ‘freeridey! Jason and I were on Scarpa Aliens. Jason the Alien RS and I on the full carbon Alien 3.0. We all use a Plume Guide toe, combined with a Plume Race heal, binding combos. One can charge if the skill and touch match. Perfect set up for remote big mountain missions when you want to really ski! More to come about equipment, techniques and choices that enable quality skiing, in a much shorter amount of time and effort.
I just left a grip of incredible steep couloirs in Cooke City Montana. It was raining.This is my spring ski trip to explore and shred new mountain ranges in Montana and Idaho, but it was just too warm. While chilling in Bozeman plotting my next move, I checked the weather in all of the major Rocky Mountain ranges. I have them all as icons on my iPhone. Snow nerd? Maybe I just like steep skiing and its all about the weather.
The high Tetons were going to see low 20’s or even teens at night and mid 30’s during the day for the next few days and it was currently snowing. But it certainly wasn’t a “new range” for me. My buddy Mike and I had one line in particular we were waiting and watching for the ideal conditions to shape up. I called Mike from wet and warm Bozeman on Thursday afternoon. He returned my call in 30 minutes and said he and Chris would leave Breckenridge Friday at noon to meet at the Taggart Lake trail head for a 2am start Saturday morning.
A ski descent of the mythical Otter Body may just come together. 1957 We wanted to ski the Grand Teton in powder. So, of course this means deep trail breaking. It also means the potential of being ‘lanched’ in the Stetener Chevy or Ford Couloirs if there was a party above us. This, and knowing the sun hits the East face at first light, meant a 2am start. We have paired our entire kit down to the lightest, yet solid mountain tested tools. Mike choose his Faction Agent 100’s with Dynafit TLT Carbon boots and of course a Dynafit binding. Expecting a mixed bag of deep pow and glazed east facing spring ice, I grabbed the Agent 90 and Ultra light Scarpa Alien 1.0 carbon boots. I’ve learned to enjoy both the big guns for shorter days and the smaller light equipment when going far and high. I’ve learned speed equals safety in the mountains and the easier the skinning, the more rad lines we ski! Two teams started some hours before us. We were able to catch up, and after thanking Inga and Blake for their hard work we took over the trail breaking duties on the Teepee Glacier. Once in the Stetener it was waist deep wallowing and our speed really slowed. We still had time with the early start and unseasonably low 15 degree temps above 11k. So hateful post-holing ensued.
We tied in and I lead up through the ice bulge the Chevy Couloir. It’s only a few spots of Ice with one AI 3 bulge to clear. Mike set off breaking trail into the Ford Couloir while I finished belaying Chris.
Booter up the Ford Couloir pictured here. The summit was close now and the views got real.
Shot of Inga and Blake at top of Ford where previous photo was taken from.
A tall summit always feels even better with skis doesn’t it!
We had been forecasting the snow stability from far away for a couple weeks. Checking precip, wind, temps, Avy forecast and other skiing activity. Doing our homework leading up to a big high consequence line is a prerequisite for my partners and I. I don’t go for the send unless I learn most of the deck is stacked in our favor.
Here we make the final assessment of recent snow before committing to the steeper wide open East face. Soft and stable. Check!
The upper east face skied a foot deep of soft with 3-4″ of light and fresh on top. That is, until we were 2000′ lower and it rolled over steeper. Right before the first rappel the new snow had sloughed off to reveal the spring glaze. Thank you JD at Alpine Sports Breck for the 3 degree side bevel! Slow it down and locate the anchors man! Mike and I worked together to find them.
One 30 meter rap brought us to the line’s namesake Otter Body. Despite this snowfield hanging over a 700′ cliff it didn’t seem as heavy or steep as other pitches on the line. Maybe 43 degrees here but the gravity below kept us honest. And the snow was great again. Of course until it steepens right before searching for hidden anchors. I was sensing a devious trend here.
The need to be dialed on steep skiing with the weight of our standard day touring pack, plus mountaineering gear goes without saying. But despite shredding with the heavier pack, the skiing is not the hard part for solid Freeriders. It’s the mountaineering spidey sense, to sniff out the usually buried anchors, and quick efficient rope handling skills. Then there is the ‘ski-to-rap, stash-the-poles, grab-the-ice axe’ type transitions. And no matter how smooth we are, there is always some jerry like antics to factor into the timing. It’s all good if we have built in the ‘unknown time suck’ factor and most importantly, Jerry doesn’t drop the rope. You laugh but it happened to the best. On this mountain, one week prior, twice in one day, by two separate pro Jerrys! I say that with much respect two of them are the real deal with ski mountaineering resumes to rival the greats! Keep it tight-loose!
If you look carefully you can see Chris rappelling through the last major cliff feature. One day on a monster El Niño year some bad ass will ski the 60 degree ice and send this 100 footer to the massive slough pile at the top of the Teepee Glacier. I bet that day is far away. Or is it?
We get a charge out of putting it all together. Isn’t it the process, the mystery in the journey that engages us? – The NE face of Bloodshaw and the NW Couloir of Peak O seemed so far from access points. The Gore mountain Range is so far away right? I was first inspired to ski these two lines a couple years ago while driving by the Gore Mountains. You know, rubbernecking with an eye for the biggest and best ski lines you can spy. During the pre trip route finding research we found no record of prior descents. Perfect. (surely they’ve been skied, how could the biggest faces in the range be overlooked) When there is no trail or skin track to the summit, no info available on how to navigate the complex face, and no complete photos to show if the line even goes, you know your in for a memorable day. – The rugged approach comes together and we are standing on the nearly 13,000′ summit, way out there, somewhere in the Gore Mountain Wilderness. I’m now staring down the barrel of the towering North East face of Bloodshaw. It’s powder from the summit, so we asses its stability, again. We trust each other’s judgement. We’d better be right. I look down 3,600′ to the river bed below. This line feels heavy, it feels different than some others. I pause for a moment to take in this place, the gravity, the moment of a mystery being realized. Does it go? – I roll in on cold soft powder, when all I’ve seen lately is corn or a little tired old storm snow. Floaty and smooth, way out there, exposed on this towering face, it was like skiing in suspended disbelief. We found our way through chutes, over ribs, around cliffs and eventually down to the massive run out and last steep pitch to the Slate River. What a ski run. And those conditions! We transition and search for a place to cross. It’s a ways to go to gain Peak O. Plenty of time to wonder of its North West Couloir. What will it ski like? Two more couloirs to get there… Once we gain the ridge can we climb to the summit? It’s a long ways out from west of Black Lake. I really hope it goes.
It’s funny how our perceptions are changed. Time, people who go before, personal bests and trying adventures change our perception of what is possible. And it’s just damn fun to hang it out there and realize the mystery of a new adventure.
Before I first moved to the Wasatch for the winters, I went on a long adventure with my friend Chris Covington. I say “long” because at the time, it was a long day of backcountry skiing on regular sized ski touring equipment for me. I had gone much further on race skis with a lighter pack in half the time. But this, was different. Like most, I had not explored much out of Little Cottonwood Canyon. The Wasatch still seemed huge and much of the terrain was still unknown to me. Here is a quick synopsis of our adventure. We started at the White Pine trail head- climbed the Pfeifferhorn and skied it’s North West Couloir, rapping the cliff in the middle. We then skied up the head of Hogum Fork up and over Thunder Ridge into Bells Canyon and up Lone Peak. From there we changed into our rock climbing costume, rapped into the Lone Peak Cirque and climbed the Center Thumb out. We changed back into our ski costume and skied a North east Couloir and out Bells Canyon where we hitched back up Little Cottonwood Canyon to complete our big adventure. It took about 12 hours and was likely 15 miles, 7,000′ of climbing and all with a rope and rack on the back. And ya know, I felt tired but great. What else could we do here? Of course I began dreaming up more big adventures and link ups in the Wasatch.
Over the years the adventures keep getting bigger. It’s the normal progression right? Fast forward past four winters in the Wasatch to last weekend.
“…yeah Noah Howell skied from Lone Peak to the SLC Twins during his ‘Super Coaster’ “yeah, thats pretty big.” “Timpanogos is a big single run.” “How about we link ski lines on Timp and Box Elder in a Day?” Andy Dorais- “Hmmm, why don’t we ski lines on Timp, Box Elder, The Pfeifferhorn, and the SLC Twins in a day.” It just kept getting more and more absurd. I don’t know who suggested it, probably Tom Goth, “…but why not add Mt Olympus and then its an enchainment of five of the most prominent peaks in Utah and Salt Lake Counties.” So we’ll ski from Mt Timpanogos to Mt Olympus? Why not? I like skiing all day and night!
Lars Tom and I made the nearly one hour drive to the Battle Creek trail head in Pleasant Grove. It seemed strange to drive for almost an hour mostly on the interstate only to get out with the intent to ski back home over some of the ranges largest mountains. It was still dark and I wasn’t awake enough to come to my senses before my light Scarpa Tru running shoes were on and we were walking up the dirt trail to the snow. I note ‘light’ since we would be carrying them for the next day and a half. This stretch of dirt was only a couple miles of the 6,500′ ascent and one of the times we gave the middle finger to global warming. We hit the snow at the dead elk caracas and enjoyed fast skinning and good booting to the summit in the rising light.
Lars and Tom saw Mountain Goats near the North summit while I was obliviously walking the rock ridge toward our descent.
Tom dove in first, opening the 4000′ cold creamy descent into the Timpanookie basin, through snowfields and gladded chutes, down a rad little couloir and out the road until the snow gave up, and spring pavement took over.
Aliens off, shoes back on and down the road we walked. Toms awesome girlfriend Dominique met us to refuel. Bellies full we walked the road up to the Tibble Fork trail head and began our ski up Box Elder. Box Elder took a while during the heat of the day. Luckily Tom had done great route finding homework and kept us right on course as we all alternated taking good pulls to break trail to the summit. Somewhere around the top we hit about 12k of climbing for the day and the legs were beginning to feel the accumulated vert. On the summit we ate and drank well. All three of us know these events are only eating and drinking missions with a lot of skiing thrown in. After skiing some ok snow down to the Shotgun Chutes the day got even better. The Shotguns always seem to deliver cold settled creamy snow many days after a storm. We laughed all the way down the 3000′ line.
-Phone dead no photos from Box through the Pfeiff 🙁
-Phone charged a bit when at aid in LCC Keep reading for more photos!
The climb up the Pfeifferhorn found us breaking trail about half way before we opted to take an existing skin track. We chose to avoid the steeper more direct and solar aspect approach with the hot temps and wet snow. Could be tricky footing and just a couple steep slopes to climb under warm snow. We cruised seemingly effortlessly on a low angled skin track before gaining the ridge and scrambling and booting to the summit. Climbing up the Pfeiff late in the day after an early start and over 15,000′ of skiing, produced a strange feeling . It was like we were suspended in time. As I booted the last steep pitch onto the summit I looked at my feet for careful steps in the icy boot track. When there were no more steps to take me any higher, I looked up and out past Box Elder back to Mt Timpanogos in all it’s grandeur. It looked impossibly far away. I turned to look at the Salt Lake Twins and felt, happy. This, this is where it all makes sense. It all works so well. This is perfect. The boys ripped skins and we dropped the east ridge and into the high North facing headwall of Maybird. We enjoyed a nice 4000′ run of shaded snow all the way down to Red Pine trees and the road below Tanners. Dominique showed up like clockwork with provisions to power us onward. We changed socks, mowed down donuts, pizza Coke and potato chips. Lars had broken a pole while crossing the creek so I attempted to fix it with a coke can, stick and duct tape. Nothing was going to stop us from finishing this thing.
Except maybe Tanners.
Nothing worked very well. We kept switching from post-holing in the mildly crusted iso-thermal snow to slipping while skinning on Avy debris. It was so slow. And then we realized we had followed snow up an east fork about 800′ vert off course. We planned to fork right to avoid the suspected melt out and waterfall of the main drainage but we forked to early. I gained a ridge and turned on the high beam. Yep, way off. The guys were demoralized. We really slowed down, stopped and messed around for to long deciding how to move forward. I figured we could continue and according to the map and memory, ski off and around Dromedary to regain our route up the Twins. It seemed like the conservative thing to do was back track. I hate back tracking. We were now 15hours, and around 17,000′ into the trip. We punched in and stumbled back down through the half frozen avy debris only to turn the corner into the correct fork to re-ascend. It’s now 9:30 at night and we need to punch and slip our way back up at least 2000′ to the top of Tanners. And then we still had the Twins, the Defsmith shwack, Wasatch Boulovard and Mount Olympus to go. Wow. And you know what? I didn’t give a #u$%. This is a small bump in a long road. We finally made it to the top of Tanners in 4 and a half hours including our detour. What normally takes us an hour and a half took three times as long in our state and difficulties. Happily at the O’Sulivan/Dromedary col we ate more food and drink. Throw the lever on the Aliens, rip skins and drop into the dark. Score! We surffed the cold dense powder down the North side high into Broads Fork. We cut left part way down and started up the fourth major peak of the “day” under the stars and calm night air.
At this point Lars started to act pretty sleepy. We all certainly had our moments. Once we met the rock step in the ridge that requires some exposed climbing I suggested he lead as I thought in his sleepy state that leading would cause him to be more on point rather than less engaged while following. We don’t use a rope for this section and the holds are good if you are awake. Plus, he had been there only a few days earlier to ski the South West face of the Twins. I followed as Lars quickly climbed up the rock step and we were booting toward the fourth major summit.
Once we hiked a leg up and pulled onto the summit, the expansive lights of the Salt Lake Valley flooded our eyes. What a sight.
It was 2 in the morning. We skied off into the sustained steep North west Couloir of the most prominent Mountain over the middle of this valley of well over a million. Most of which were sound asleep as one should be at 2AM. This 6000′ line would be a popular classic if it wasn’t for the shwack out Defsmith Canyon. During a regular tour it would be great to ski the top 3000′ and ascend to Bonkers. Or do like Noah Howell and ski the 4 or 5 major lines off the summits of the Twins. Why not?
Let’s not discuss the shwack out of Defsmith. This is one of the parts where we give the middle finger to global warming.
After escaping the grips of Defsmith we strolled over to the 7-11 to refuel. (Dominique was asleep like everyone else but us and the store clerk) He wasn’t sure what to make of our ‘get-up’ and red eyed wandering around the store, pulling pop tarts, chips and eating donuts right off the shelves. After guzzling coffee and Redbull to wash it all down, we staggered down Wasatch in race suits and skis on our backs. I fell asleep three times while walking and almost fell down. Thank god it was dark and everyone was still asleep.
We charged up the Olympus trail, Lars leading with renewed energy from the rising sun, making it to the summit in not much over 2hrs. As we scrambled the rock to the summit I felt a wash of emotion. These are the days. These are the days we feel alive. When we are at our best. Doing what we do well. When it all makes sense and it all works so perfectly. We were tested for 29 hours and were tired and couldn’t be happier. Lars and I looked at each other and felt the same thing. We smiled, put the boots on, and down climbed the bit of rock to the top of Memorial #1.
While walking through Olympus Cove, Lars a winning Ultra runner mentioned The Mt Timpanogos to Mt Olympus was the longest, furthest, and most vert he had ever completed in a push. I agreed. I looked back on my first “big” adventure in the Wasatch. It was far with a climbing adventure built in, a total blast and eye opening to the potential for exploring in the Wasatch. This Timp-olympus Enchainment was an absurd route idea and right in our back yard. It’s a riot to conjure up ridiculous adventures and then go see if you can pull them off. We end up forever changing our perception of what’s possible, and building relationships and memories. I believe it’s the collaborative minds and sequence of mystery, creativity and realization that make this game of adventure so damn fun. Thanks for the stoke Andy, Jason, Lars and Tom.
23,000′ ascent and 23000′ of skiing, 50+Miles??, 5 of the most prominent summits, 2 counties, 1 wrong turn, fantastic snow, horrendous snow, Scarpa Aliens, 6 Kate’ Bars, Gnarly Whey and Boost, 2 Redbulls, a broken ski pole, and two sunrises.
Jason and Andy Dorais and Tom Goth and I seem to share an insatiable appetite for ski mountaineering in a light full throttle style. We seem to to line up mountains and stack ski lines to march through with non stop enthusiasm and group mega stoke! This adventure found us taking brakes cooking and skiing in the dark. We were still able to complete a good sized enchainment and the down time along the way was a bit chilly, and awesome!
After a mid afternoon start from Salt Lake we drove to the Tagart Lake Trail head. After quickly packing and splitting group climbing gear and a stove we shoved off at about 2:15PM. After shouldering the packs up the South Teton we skied the NW down to the col. The crew of Andy Dorais, Tom Goth and Jason Dorais and I then booted up the South West Couloir of the Middle Teton in the waining low light. From the summit of the Middle Teton we were treated to a stunning sunset. After rapping in from the towering dark summit we clicked in. It was a surreal experience to ski the cold soft snow on the Glacier Route on the East face by starlight. Once we reached the foot of the Grand Teton we took turns manning the stove and napping while we brewed up some food and water and dozing off for a few hours. Well Tom and I manned the stove while Jason and Andy enjoyed their reclined position in our little pseudo biv snow hole. It’s ok, as they pull their share and then some. The Night air ushered us up the Teepee Glacier to the Stettner Couloir up the Ice bulges of the Chevy and on to the Ford where we climbed to our second snow hole to kill some darkness just below the summit rock. So now it’s about 4am and shiver-bivi only lasted an hour or two until Andy jumped up and shouted “I can’t do this any more I’m skiing!” We taped to summit, looked around at the stars since the stunning Grand Teton ariel views were covered in darkness, and skied off into the icy abyss. Sounds moons but it wasn’t bad as we all had skied it a few times prior. I had only skied it once, though it’s the kind of line that becomes forever etched into my mind. It felt so familiar, like an old friend you once feared and now love. While skiing the Ford Couloir in the total dark I closed my eyes to see the views I’ve seen during daylight adventures there. Turns out the feeling of exposure on a steep icy line goes away in the dark. The sun painted these iconic peaks of the Grand Teton National Park while we rappelled the Chevy Couloir. the word ‘grace’ came to mind. How lucky are we, to move through and take in this beauty? Once back on the Teepee Glacier we skated along the glazed ‘never gonna corn up today) surface to the Dike Couloir and out Glacier Gulch and breakfast at the Bunnery in Jackson Hole.
We completed The Teton Trifecta in a long overnight style quite different than our usual light and fast speed touring ways. And it sure was a unique ski mountaineering adventure. Switch up the style and who knows what we’ll experience!
The Landry Line on Pyramid 14,018′ Maroon Bells Wilderness Colorado. We made a rare descent of this iconic North American ski line last April.
Photo Ted Mahon and Chris Davenport taken from an airplane while we were a couple hundred feet from the summit.
It is 4000′ line that runs continuously steep to the valley bottom and listed in Davenport’s 50 Classic ski descents of North America. It ranks as one of the heaviest lines I’ve skied anywhere. My best ski partner Michael Schilling and I made the crucial Avy/snow forecast from many miles away with local info and the ever improving accessible weather and snowpack data. We said “its on!” and he drove to Aspen from Breckenridge and I from SLC meeting at the trail head and skiing the 5 miles in at 10pm. When we arrived we verified it might go! We bivied for a few hours and cast off at 5AM.