Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Timpanogos, North Shoulder, April 21, 2012

Bright ideas.

Grunge Couloir.

Bear Grylls?

Cold Fusion on the right with too many rollers. Ski conditions were less than steller.

Cold Fusion Couloir.

North face of Timp.

Lower Forked Tongue Couloir. Biskets anyone?

Bare ground on NW shoulder.

Cold Fusion Couloir on left, Forked Tongue center, our ski tracks on right.

Mount Timpanogos – North Shoulder, Saturday April 21, 2012

After five miles of following their tracks, we round a bend in the road, just below Cold Fusion, and there they are.  “They” are two climbers who have just climbed the Cold Fusion Couloir, a 3,000 vertical foot avalanche path running NW off the North Peak of Timp.

Anyone driving south out of Salt Lake City on I-15 has seen it, assuming they have a passing interest in the Wasatch. When under snow, the ski potential of Cold Fusion is palpable, as viewed when driving past the Utah State Pen, it just begs to be skied. Those damn convicts must go nuts when they have yard time, staring up at the mother of all Utah ski runs for its length and drop.

Our plan (Brett Fuller, me) was to ride mountain bikes, skis strapped to frame, from the Timpanogas overlook along the Timpenooke road to the base of the Cold Fusion Couloir, hike up the heart of the couloir to the North Peak of Timpenogas, then ski the Cold Fusion back to our bikes. About 8 miles one way and about 4,660 foot elevation gain. We had a great plan, but the execution was bad. From the parking lot, about half mile above Mutual Dell Campground in American Fork Canyon, and where the road is gated during the winter months, we rode the bikes less than two miles before hitting continuous snow. Basically, the road was impassable about half mile below Timpenooke Campground, so we  dump bikes at the campground (chained to a tree) and started booting Timpenooke Road, about 4 miles to the base of Cold Fusion.

We got away late due to poor planning on my part. The forecast was for hot temperatures overnight, and without a solid re-freeze even at mountain locations, and instead of heeding centuries-old mountain wisdom of “go early-leave early”, my weird logic led to sleeping late. I mean, why rush it with an Alpine start? If no freeze, might as well go well rested, right? The smart thing, given the recent dump of snow and the sudden heat wave,  would have been to NOT go at all. The lesser smart thing would be a 2AM start to take advantage of the tepid cold temperatures that we did have. The stupid thing would be to sleep in and wait for the snow to turn to total mush before we start.

So, bikes chained to a tree at Timpenooke Campground, we start booting up the road. By 9AM, and a mile of post-holing later, we finally don skis to provide some float. We skin the road for five miles, below the impressive, Canadian-esque, North Face of Timp and it’s Grunge Couloir and the Pinball Alleys of the north face. Along the way we find very fresh bear tracks, fresher then the boot tracks of the climbers we're tracking. The Ursa tracks are about the size of my hand with fingers outstretched. Ironically, we cross those tracks in the exact sport where a young boy was killed by a hungry black bear several years earlier.

Now, six miles later, we come face to face with the two climbers we’ve been trailing all morning. They ask where we’re headed. I say, “we’re gonna ski Cold Fusion”. The shorter, cockier one, about age 25, smirks and tells me we should have started way earlier. What’s with young know-it-all climbers? I climbed that thing back when he was still in Pampers and playing with Power Rangers. Admittedly, he is right, but the lack of re-freeze makes him practically as stupid as I. If he were so enlightened, why would he pick the hottest day of the year to climb a steep and serious avalanche chute, just two days after a 24-inch dump of wet spring snow? “Stupid is and stupid does sir”, to paraphrase my mentor and hero, Forrest L. Gump of Greenbo Alabama.

Anyway, they tell us the fall line of the couloir is choked with avalanche debris and virtually un-skiable. “Climber Sensei” offends again: looking first at me, then down at my skis, then back to me, and says, “I’m sure glad I didn’t carry my skis all this way to ski avalanche boulders”.  When on the defense I can only communicate as allowed by the superior breeding of a Reeder: grunting, shrugging, mumbling, and maybe gesturing with my hands a bit, but never getting a coherent word out. Brett, coming to the rescue, jumps into the fray and says, “we’ll find something nice to ski”. With that, pleasantries over, we bid each other good-day and we continue on. Senei and his sidekick post-hole down the snow covered road just wishing they had our skis.

Brett and I round the last corner to finally see Cold Fusion, and yes, it is choked with debris from about 8,000 feet up to nearly 10,000 feet. Simply put, it looked like nasty skiing.  We both agree to not hike it but go explore for better offerings. We can see smooth, steep snow in the forest glades on the north shoulder that look promising. We skin up and over towards the Forked Tongue Couloir, the sister chute of Cold Fusion, only to find it also choked with avalanche debris. It's full of washing machine size boulders of snow, from wet slides, stacked and jumbled for 1,500 feet above us in the narrow gully. What to do?

We continue skinning upward and south-westward towards the north shoulder of Timp hoping we’ll find a steep  chute filled with perfect spring corn snow. As we traverse to the west side we find a very thin to non-existent snowpack. Lots of rocks and sage brush, but nothing great to ski. So, in a steep scree slope, sitting on sun-warmed rocks, we eat out lunch, and decide we’ll just ski the glades of the North Shoulder.

Skins off, we ski about 1,300 vertical feet of very fun, albeit slightly overcooked corn, all the way back down to the Timpenooke Road. Fun skiing, although we’re both disappointed for failing to climb to the North Peak of Timp. Back on the road we need no skins; poling, kicking and gliding carry us quickly along those six miles of rolling terrain back to our bikes.

Along the way back, we see the post-hole tracks of Sensei and Sidekick and we ridicule them for what pathetic TOOLS they truly are for NOT bringing skis. We figure we covered that distance in a fraction of the time they did post-holing. Back at the bikes we load up and head out. A good day even if we started late, totally miscalculated the snow, brought bikes for nothing and didn’t climb or ski our main objective.  Tired, disappointed, but smiling. A good day indeed.

And for the record, that is NOT a gut! Yes, my ass is huge (my Grandpa was a genetically superior Australian rugby player, with an uncanny low-center of balance) but that is NO gut. It's an optical allusion: baggy shirt, tight belt loop and maybe some trick photography on the part of Brett Fuller . . .   

Sunday, April 8, 2012

BC Skiing - Burro Mine/Peak #7, April 5, 2012

Two-thirds the way between Rudy's Flat and Black's Peak, near the top of the peak I call Rectangle Peak .

Near the summit of Peak #7, and the top of the run I call Big Drop #12.

Old Burro Mine road, built in the late 1800's, now inaccesable from below but remnants still showing up high.

View from the top of Black's Peak No. 2 (standing atop the run I call Big Drop #1). Grandview Peak barely showing behind (right) Peak #7. Also, Big Drop's #12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6 (left to right). Bad snow year; most of the brush and small quakies are covered by April.

Deer hunter lost his (her) bedroll.

Grandview Peak from the knife edge ridge between Black's Peak and Peak #7, above Cottonwood Gulch (the upper north fork of City Creek Canyon).

Wasatch Powderbird Guides (WPBG) landing-zone-wind-marker (heli-ski operation out of Snowbird). Today I found four of these between Black's Peak and Peak #7. They (WPBG) call it Sessions, but Sessions Mountain is actully north, across the canyon, where they also operate. In years past I've only seen one L.Z. along this ridge. Seems like their operations in Davis County are expanding as they get more flack from the SLC/Centtral Wasatch BC crowd. One man's gain is my loss. And being the nerd that I am, I track their flight days. This winter they flew up here 5 times, which is 5 times too many. Not sure why I'm so territorial, I've never seen another B.C. skier this far up the ridge (hey, just answered my own question).    

My ski tracks on lower Big Drop #12, off the peak I call Number 7 (NE of Burro Mine/Blacks Peak, and SW of Grandveiw Peak) one of many ski shots along the ridge running NE from Rudy's Flat to Grandview. I stop making turns about 1,300 feet down (of 2,000 total) because all that vert must be re-climbed to get out. The angle lessens below that point anyway.   

Yesterday's lunch. Many signs of Mountain Lions. 

Just crossed the old Burro Mine road while skinning back up to the ridge after skiing Big Drop #12 (Peak #7).

Roller balls below the Citadel.
View SW from the top of Peak #7 (my back to Grandview Peak), with partial views of other ski offerings.

Red zone, top of the run I call Big Drop One, direct north aspect off the top of Black's Peak #2. 1,000 foot drop at a consistant angle (shown) and another 1,000 feet at 32 degrees. When I was 14,  with friends (Scott Cutler, Mike Lloyd, Scott Shaffer), pretending we were mountain men, camped atop that peak in late October with no tent, no sleeping-bag, no food. Our only protection was a thin blanket we each took off our beds at home. The wind raged all night and we froze.

Meh, they're new, but too tired to remove.

You only turn fifty once – if you’re lucky anyway – so best spend the day backcountry skiing. I’m not saying I was down about the milestone birthday, only that I couldn’t stomach the big day at work. All in all, the snow is going fast, and what remains is a mixture of hard, refrozen crusts, with a bit of sloppy goo lower down. Although, on the well sheltered northern aspects, I found some lightly crusted powder that made for really fun turning. It was a big day, with long miles of discontinuous snow and a healthy vertical climbed and skied. So, work or ski on my fiftieth birthday? I made the right choice.
Snow? For comparison sake, just over a year ago, May 26th to be exact, I did this same route and there was substantially more snow. Today, at Rudy’s Flat, snow coverage was about 80%, with 12 and  24 inches. Bare ground was showing on the most exposed areas. Last May 26th there was 100% coverage with 48 inches. Mountain bikers will take control in a few short weeks.

I hiked in approach shoes (amped-up running shoes) all the way to Rudy's Flat. I used the summer trail because the short-cut-drainages were melted out lower down, thus a bush-whack hell.  At Rudy's I switched to ski boots, mainly to kick steps up the steep climb up to the ridge. On the ridge the snow was still supportable so I was able to boot all the way up to Black's Peak #2, where I finally took skis off the pack and started skinning the knife-edge ridge towards Peak #7.  The snow was rapidly becomeing unsuportable, hence the switch to skis on feet.
Stats: 12 miles; 4,500 vertical feet ascended.

(video posted on facebook)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Farmington Canyon Bike-a-Ski, March 31, 2012

Rice Creek drainage from just above the Cabin.

Beavers have been busy the last few years. I counted eight ponds on lower Rice Creek.

Big legs. Not good for running, cycling, or fitting ski boots, but it hasn't stopped me yet.

Rice Bowl.

Mudd Bowl. In a normal year the brush is covered.

Mudd/Rice divide.

Upper Rice Bowl.


Zoomed view of upper Rice from the cabin.

Farmington Canyon Bike-a-Ski. March 31, 2012

The ski season is winding down early, March acting like a dry May, a bad ending to a stuttering winter.  With the current heat wave I knew I had to act fast if I wanted to ski Farmington Canyon.

Due to a minor washout, the road up the canyon has been closed since June. I’ve skied Farmington Canyon for decades and didn’t want to break that chain due to a minor issue such as no automobile access, so I’ve been scheming all winter to ride my mountain bike up to the sheriffs cabin (7 miles, 2200 ft. gain) then skin to the top of Rice Bowl (another 1.5 miles and another 2000 ft. gain). A big day for a 50-something, fat-accountant. The plan was to hit it in mid to late April, thinking the road would be clear of snow by then, but with no snow to speak of since February, and a major heat wave this week, the realization hit that I best not wait too long. Other than the heat and no refreeze of the snow pack, I reasoned it was now or never. I’d curtail the risk of slides by ‘billy-goating’ the fall line and ski lessor angles. Going solo requires thoughtful choices.    

The road has been closed since last June when the heavy weather of 2011 caused a steep slope to slough off onto the road. The Forest Service said they had no funds to repair the road, with estimates coming in around a million dollars, so they close the road. The FAA employees have been flown to Francis Peak ever since. Pricey, on all fronts. So yesterday while riding my mountain bike up the road I finally get a first-hand view of the damage. The ‘slide’ is just above the second switchback, about 1.5 miles above the turn-off to Farmington Pond. The damage consists of a 100 foot section of road partially buried with debris. Of that roughly two-thirds of the road width is covered with one to three feet deep with dirt and rocks (100 X 5 X 3). The outer edge is mostly untouched allowing easy passage for foot and bike traffic. I came, I saw and I’m shocked at the insignificance. A million dollar fix? I’m scratching my head on this one. To me it looked like a Boy Scout Eagle Project. A gang of 20 or 30 eager scouts with picks and shovels could repair the damage in less than a day. With a backhoe it could be done in several hours. What am I missing?       

Back on point, riding a mountain bike up Farmington Canyon is not a big deal, but loaded down with ski gear, and the fact I haven’t been on my bike since November, it was tougher than expected. To conserve strength for the skin/ski portion I didn’t push too hard on the bike, letting my heart rate be the guide. If I approached an anaerobic level, recognizable from years of trail running and B.C. skiing, I’d throw it into granny gear and spin until no longer gassed, then shift up and pound it until gasping. My biker friends may scoff at the granny gear thing, but then they’re not B.C. skiers either. Really just Neanderthals in biker shorts. Above the second switchback the angle lessens and it's an easy ride, aerobically speaking, all the way to the cabin, or at least until the road was pinched off with snow. Snow was first encountered at Sunset Campground and the road completely covered about a quarter mile below the sheriff’s cabin, so I walked the bike through 24 inches of unsupportable snow that last quarter mile.  The bike was stashed in the trees near the cabin and I wade the creek in my cycling shoes, they were already soaked from tramping through snow, and transitioned to skis, only to realize I left my GPS strapped to the bike so re-forded the stream. Although fast moving from snowmelt, the cold water felt good on my tired legs, like a shot of adrenalin just when needed.

Above the cabin lies Rice Creek, and the Rice Creek headwall, or Rice Bowl as we call it.  The summit is about 1.5 miles and 2,000 vertical feet above. The skinning was easy on supportable wet snow, like sloppy corn down low and idiot-proof corn up high. In the shadows, in stands of Douglas Fir, the snow was crusty, defying the 60 degree temperature. Me? I felt surprisingly energetic, considering I’d just ridden my bike for the first time in five months, up a semi-steep road for 7 miles with a healthy elevation gain. Lack of energy was not the problem. The problem was my old foe of muscle cramps, something I’ve battled for years. My snake oil cure is NUUN water treatment tablets; Pistachios (salt and protein) proceeded by a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. Unfortunately I ignored my own advice, ate a Pop Tart for breakfast and forgot my Pistachios. I did have my NUUN, but only a Snickers and a Cliff Bar for calories. I started cramping halfway to the summit and starting downing my water as fast as my stomach could take it.  Massaging helped, using the bar of my ski pole to rub hard over my cramping quads, trying to force out the lactic acid, but painful all the way to the top.

I’ve skied Farmington Canyon for years and it’s always accompanied by the drone of snowmobiles or, when spring arrives, the whine of four-wheelers on the road. Today I was totally alone. Riding up the canyon I saw no one. For my slow pace I expected to be passed by the hard-men/women bikers who frequent the canyon, but I didn’t see a soul during the ascent. Now, on the skin up to the peak, I could hear nothing but the wind. I ski alone, a lot, and I’m used to going solo, a lot, something that seems to renew my souls after days of way too much humanity in the trenches of my professional life, but today the mood carried an odd apocalyptic feeling for the lack of humanity. When you expect to see others but don’t, nor hear the belching of snowmobiles, it just seems weird or out of character. Further, on the snow I saw no tracks of snow-machines, nor skis, only that of a coyote and a Ptarmigan. It brought to mind scenes from McCarthy’s great book The Road; signs of humanity all around (roads, cabin, antennae’s), but no one in sight. I like the second part of that statement, probably too much.

So cramping and daydreaming about isolation and solitude in a lost world, I top out on a sunny but windy peak, sitting on the spine if the Wasatch Mountains, overlooking the Great Basin to the west, and to the north, my bike 2,000 feet below, and the sunny south face of Francis Peak nearly free of snow on this last day of March. While I feel strong, I am worried about my cramping legs, worried about the pain and wondering if I can ski the wet snow back to my bike. But as I push off, and feel that old, familiar sensation of carving turns on great corn, the pain vanishes and I’m in robot mode, cranking turn after turn, feeling the euphoria that only skiing a well–earned slope can bring. I have no doubt, if Orville and Wilber Wright made it to heaven, they are not flying, they are skiing.

The 2,000 vertical goes fast and soon I’m back down, with only one bit of drama, almost falling into an open beaver pond while trying to traverse a steep slope just above, the wet snow collapsing as I ski a few feet above the water. Luckily a hard crust underneath barely catches my edge.

At the creek I transition back to cycling gear and wade across to the bike, tie on skis and push the bike back through snow up to the road. On the road it’s more pushing through snow, interspersed with riding a bare ribbon of dry ground on the extreme southern edge, a scary ride due to the steep drop-off to the left with tires just inches from disaster. Where the snow ends and dry earth begins I see the first human I’ve seen all day: a young, decked-out biker ‘dude’ stopped at the highest bare spot on the road. He says he’s a mountain bike racer in training, that he rides the canyon as high as the snow permits, two times every Saturday. He takes off and I follow. He disappears around the first bend, but at the next curve he has stopped to talk to two more bikers. I wave as I fly by, wanting to be down and done so I pedal hard. A strong up-canyon wind blasts me as I round each outside bend, catching my fat skis like a sail and pushing me sideways, nearly stopping my descent in its tracks several times.  Pedaling downhill was tough on those outside corners. I expect ‘biker dude’ to pass me at any moment, but I don’t see him until I’m back at the truck. I’m no downhiller, especially while straddling skis and carrying way too much gear, but I suspect this dude was really no racer.

A great day in the Wasatch. Farmington Canyon never disappoints. I hope they never fix that road.

Bike - from Farmingotn Pond to cabin: 7 miles, 2,331 foot vertical rise.
Ski - from cabin to summit of Rice Bowl, 2 miles, 2,000 foot vertical rise.
(Video posted on Facebook.)