Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why Snow-Pits are Bull


Snow-pits are like sex: 

1 NO means NO . . . . . 5 GO's (minimum) means MAYBE


Ski tracks on the left, skin track on the right. For an aerial view see next photo (about 1/2 way down), which looks flat but is actually at the point where I'm entering the pitch-angle which is prime for a slide (27 degrees at mid-slope (next photo) to 37 degrees at bottom of photo). In my grumpy-old-man opinion (take or dismiss at your discretion), breaking trail on that skin track provides much, much better info on snow pack stability than digging multiple snow-pits (and wasting time and getting soaked). I'm not just lazy, I'm so lazy that I try to gain the most education with the easiest obtained, and widest breadth of data. Breaking trail does just that. Step, probe, watch, listen and learn.
  

Upper Rectangle where it opens up off the tight ridge. Here I'm nearing the rollover on the face, where I'm always a bit nervous about starting a slide. The angle steadily increase from flat (on Rectangle Peak) to 27 degrees here to 37 degrees at the base of the open slope. Yeah, it looks flat from this aerial view, but look at the previous photo for a better perspective on the real slope angle. This is in the prime angle for a slide, but I bank on the lower elevation, westerly aspect and breaking trail. A wily sense for stability can be gleaned from same-day trail-breaking (same hour preferably), to get you to your ski run. I hear of folks who regularly ski the Central Wasatch (Big, Little and Millcreek Canyons) who have miraculously NEVER broken trail. Given that, and the huge number of B.C. skiers these days, I am stunned and amazed that there have been NO avy-deaths in the Central Wasatch the last two years. After years of digging pits, I'm convinced that trail breaking and being acutely aware of the sound and site signals that come only from breaking trail, give one much, much, MUCH more information on stability than one or two or three bull-shit snow-pits.  The problem with the "pit mentality" is that a snow pit gives you a tiny, minuscule, pin-prick of information in an incredibility huge universe of data. The information gleaned from one pit can be, and often is, completely different just 100 yards in another direction.

Yes, pits are all the rage and they do serve a purpose. But put it in perspective and don't bank on very little data. The professionals don't. One, two or even five pits is not nearly enough to stake your life on. Breaking trail in virgin snow is a much better source of overall data. Pits are good only in huge numbers. Keep in mind how avalanche forecasts are calculated. The results of many, many pits are provided by many, many observers, coming from many, many different locations, aspects and elevations. These results are then summarized as a general consensus and overall avalanche rating for the next day, provided by the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center. Read it every day and don't be afraid to say no to your dumb-ass buddy who wants to ski everything just one day out from a 20 inch dump.



Friday, April 6, 2018

Bountiful Ridge, March 6, 2018


"So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!"
 J. R. R. Tolkien

Helter skelter ski tracks on the pipeline ROW in lower North Canyon. 

Spidy was quick considering the location. I thought arachnids were cold-blooded and paralyzed when cold?

KPF.

The most snow I've seen on the "snow stake" all winter.


33 inches at Rudy's Flat.

52 inches in Rectangle Bowl.

The last storm dumped on the Bountiful foothills,  I had over 15 inches in my driveway, but north of Centerville was mostly bare. A lake affect storm for sure.

Lower Rectangle Bowl, view west.

Frosted Mountain Mahogany.

View from upper Rectangle Bowl. The shadowed face/Ridge is what I call Dead Tree Ridge, which often has protected snow when this spot is sun crusted or sloppy. View SW towards SLC and the Oquirh Mountains. 

First run ski tracks on the Rectangle.

A cold, sunny day makes for a beautiful day in the mountains. By the end of my day the south aspects had a sun-crust, but the north still had great powder.

View NW shows how little snow the north received when the lake dropped 15 inches on my yard. 

This is my fifth day in the Scarpa F-1's and they are so much better than my old TLT-6's. I haven't lost a toenail since I switched  last month.

Crash landing after it followed me flawlessly down the Rectangle. I hope it's as waterproof as claimed.

Tracks in lower Rectangle Bowl.

Skin Track and ski tracks in Rectangle Bowl.

First run ski tracks on the Rectangle, skin track on the right. For an aerial view see next photo (about 1/2 way down), which looks flat but is actually at the point where I'm entering the pitch-angle that is prime for a slide (27 degrees at mid-slope (next photo) to 37 degrees at bottom of photo). In my grumpy-old-man opinion (take or dismiss at your discretion), breaking trail on that skin track provides much, much better info on snow pack stability than digging multiple snow-pits (and wasting time and getting soaked). I'm not just lazy, I'm so lazy that I try to gain the most education with the easiest obtained, and widest breadth of data. Breaking trail does just that. Step, probe, listen, watch and learn.
  

Upper Rectangle where it opens up off the tight ridge. Here I'm nearing the rollover on the face, where I'm always a bit nervous about starting a slide. The angle steadily increase from flat (on Rectangle Peak) to 27 degrees here to 37 degrees at the base of the open slope. Yeah, it looks flat from this aerial view, but look at the previous photo for a better perspective on the real slope angle. This is in the prime angle for a slide, but I bank on the lower elevation, westerly aspect and breaking trail. A wily sense for stability can be gleaned from same-day trail-breaking (same hour preferably), to get you to your ski run. I hear of folks who regularly ski the Central Wasatch (Big, Little and Millcreek Canyons) who have miraculously NEVER broken trail. Given that, and the huge number of B.C. skiers these days, I am stunned and amazed that there have been NO avy-deaths in the Central Wasatch the last two years. After years of digging pits, I'm convinced that trail breaking and being acutely aware of the sound and site signals that come only from breaking trail, give one much, much, MUCH more information on stability than one or two or three bull-shit snow-pits.  The problem with the "pit mentality" is that a snow pit gives you a tiny, minuscule, pin-prick of information in an incredibility huge universe of data. The information gleaned from one pit can be, and often is, completely different just 100 yards in another direction.

Yes, pits are all the rage and they do serve a purpose. But put it in perspective and don't bank on very little data. The professionals don't. One, two or even five pits is not nearly enough to stake your life on. Breaking trail in virgin snow is a much better source of overall data. Pits are good only in huge numbers. Keep in mind how avalanche forecasts are calculated. The results of many, many pits are provided by many, many observers, coming from many, many different locations, aspects and elevations. These results are then summarized as a general consensus and overall avalanche rating for the next day, provided by the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center. Read it every day and don't be afraid to say no to your dumb-ass buddy who wants to ski everything just one day out from a 20 inch dump.


1 NO means NO . . . . . 5 GO's (minimum) means MAYBE


Just off the top of Rectangle Peak and dropping into Crescent Bowl. I take a few turns into Crescent Bowl (great powder and avoiding the rocks on the ridge) then traverse back over to the ridge and then down the big open slope  (photo above) that I call the Rectangle, named for its shape as seen from the valley. When I was a kid I thought it was a cut ski run, but no, just a natural opening through the Douglas Fir.


Rectangle Bowl. When the avalanche danger is high this is usually a safe run, although it's angle (32-36 degrees) still qualify it as prime avalanche terrain. It's generally safe due to its low elevation (7-8,000 feet) and SW aspect. In comparison, the shadowed area above me in the photo (Dead Tree ridge area) slid several times this winter. It's less than a 1/4 mile away but it has a distinctly different make-up when it comes to avalanches. It's steeper (35-40 degrees), faces due north so it rarely gets sun during the winter. Any instabilities last much long than where I'm skiing today. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Meridian Peak (Hokkaido East), February 25, 2018

Oquirh's from the North Salt Lake Bench.
I did a quick hit this morning on Meridian Peak, which tops out at 5,973 feet, a low-elevation affair with the prerequisite thin snow pack. I call it Hokkaido East, not for deep snow of course, but for the sort-of-similar flora. Hokkaido, Japan, has the deepest and lightest powder in the world and those who 'know' say it puts Alta to shame, but the vegetation of Hokkaido reminds of the foothills of the Wasatch with its deciduous Canyon Maples and Gamble Oak. So no, there is not tons of snow on Meridian Peak, but I still think it looks like Hokkaido.

This has been a strange winter. Warm and bone dry, and when I finally give up on winter it starts to snow, which it has done now almost continuously for the last two weeks. I've been too busy with real-life stuff for skiing higher elevations, where the snow is deeper but the approaches are much longer, like at least a half day commitment. The result is I haven't skied in two weeks. But there is hope when the foothills get a foot or two of snow. I saw several trip reports saying the foothills were good, so Sunday morning I went for the shorty-short-short approach hoping for deep cover. And??? Yes, it was OK, not great, but a day on skis is better than a day not on skis. Besides, why amplify expectations when you're headed to stuff barely topping out at 6,000 feet? It is what it is. Just go with it. The cover was thin, between 10 to 20 inches (drifts), and on average just barely enough to ski but still a damn fine day on skis! Admittedly, my standards this year are pretty low. I hit the ground a lot and I was glad I went with my old rock skis (eight year old Black Diamond Justices). For the descent I chose a grassy hill to minimize the damage. I knew it was grassy - with few rocks - because I often ride my mountain bike up the adjoining drainage during the summer. The skiing was fun, if slightly off-fall-line (big right turns, shallow lefts) but I received NO core shots. I almost went down once or twice when the skis abruptly hit ground, nearly causing a face plant, and I saw dirt flying once when glancing over my shoulder. It is what it is.

And BRRRRRRR! It was frigid and cloudy at the start, sunny and warm at the finish. The clouds hung over the mountains until I was about done, but when it came out the sunshine felt wonderful on my face.

Antelope Island in the sun while I'm still under clouds.

An old corral from a forgotten era on Meridian.

Antelope Island from the flanks  of Meridian Peak.

I felt bad that I made these deer run up a snow-covered hillside. Wish I was that fast.

Still a gray day when I topped out on Meridian, but the sun was bright to the west.

This was an accidental shot . . . and I hate selfies, at least of me. Just too old and haggard to be flashing my face all over the place.

No motors? No worries, on my best day I could never motor anywhere. My legs are slow. That said, when I was in high school in the late '70's these foothills were torn to shreds by four-wheeler's and it has taken four decades to begin to repair naturally, although, the old Jeep roads are still evident, even under snow. 


View south towards Radio Canyon and Radio Ridge, and Salt Lake City beyond. That drone is a huge waste of time.

West view and the Great Salt Lake looking very blue beyond the now land-locked Antelope Island (far right out of frame).










It tracks and follows extremely well, but such a waste of ski-time.


I really made more than three turns. These are the final three after skiing down the SW face of Meridian (hidden behind) and then down the drainage of Radio Canyon (Jones Canyon on some maps). Besides, that hill directly above my turns looks even more sketchy (thinner cover) than where I skied. Conditions were cold and powdery with just a hint of sun-crust  from yesterdays very brief sun (like 5 minutes). 

Meridian Peak is the high point in the middle of the picture, barely visible behind its lower sister peak, the rounded hump just above my three turns. Radio Canyon (Jones Canyon?) is the right-side drainage and Radio Ridge on the right.




Such a beautiful day when the sun came out on the new snow.

The old CCC terraces (built in the 1930's during the depression) still visible.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Beartrap Fork, BCC, February 9, 2018

A warm (50's) and windy (20-30mph on ridges) day in Big Cottonwood Canyon. I went for a look up Beartrap Fork which I have never seen from the bottom up. Previous ski days up here were from Powder Park via Mill B North, so it was high time that I saw the whole thing. The lower drainage is tight and steep-ish, which was not a big deal on the ascent but kind of tricky when descending, clipping trees and rocks. In a normal snow year I'd guess the descent is easier with more the logs and rocks covered. The skiing kind of sucked. I didn't find much "creamy powder" as I was hoping. Most of it was sloppy spring snow and grippy. Skiing the aspens in upper Beartrap nearly resulted in face- planting 24-inch diameter (40-foot tall) aspens which could've been ugly (to me, not the aspens) but luckily I pulled out the near misses. Maybe it's best not to ski tight trees alone when the snow is 6-inches of mashed potatoes? 

From lower Beartrap, view south of Reynolds Peak and Dromedary  Peak (rounded peak on left).

From mid Beartrap looking up the drainage (North). 

View east and the Beartrap Glades.

Tight skiing in sloppy wet snow.




This was the only dry-ish snow found all day, on the sub=peak of 9990 (just above Desolation Lake. But it was short lived. 30 feet down-slope it turned to mashed potatoes.


View west towards the Salt Lake valley.

Mt. Raymond and Gobblers Nob from just above Desolation Peak on West Desolation Ridge.

Desolation Lake from the small peak just south of Peak 9990.

Desolation Lake and Powder Park beyond, from West Desolation Ridge (view north).

Thin snow pack made the descent kind of tricky. This was as wide open as it got.

My truck parked on the Big Cottonwood Highway.