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.
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.
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.