Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dusk Patrol, Bountiful Ridge, 01-18-2013

Easy skinning compared to last week, it was hip-deep a week earlier.

Surface hoar.
40 inches at the flats.
Antelope Island.
Rectangle Peak.
View south from Rectangle Peak.
View west.
Turns in lower Crescent Bowl.
Skinning back up Rectangle Peak.
Skin track at dusk.
Location is everything. Bad air, cheap lens, and I can't stop snapping photos. All the pixels in world can't compensate for bad optics.

Oquirhs, SLC (really) and City Creek Canyon.
SLC is down there somewhere.
Oquirhs at sunset.

Top of second run at sunset.

Going . . .
. . . gone.
The big house. Bountiful LDS Temple through the manky air and dark of night.
Bountiful Ridge Dusk Patrol, Friday 01-18-2013

I love descending a mountain on a cold winter night. I'm not sure why but skiing through a dark, silent forest just after sunset brings peace. It brings tranquility. I love the cold silence and the half-light of the moon and stars casting shadows of aspens on the snow. After dark, the sound of skis running over the surface-hoar is loud and dominate, whereas in the daylight it is hardly noticed. Too many distractions in the daylight. The sound drowns out all others, like the hiss of a far off steam engine, and each turn sends shards of glass cascading in that half-light down the fall-line beneath your skis. And when you stop and listen, all is silent, but as your ears adjust you will catch a rush of subtle, quiet tones that were previously unnoticed. There is plenty to hear if one is willing to still the mind and listen. It is the sound of a forest readying itself for the chill of night. If lucky you might hear the deep, guttural, bass harmonies of an owl calling for a mate or maybe the howling of Coyotes on a distance ridge. We saw their tracks all afternoon, out on the hunt, but never saw them, but now they are heard. Maybe it’s the sound of creaking as a Douglas Fir adjusts under the weight of snow or the deep thud when the snow falls to the ground from its upper branches. If the breeze picks up, maybe you’ll hear the crinkling of diamonds tumbling across the snow as the current carries the hoar crystals in the moonlight, sparkling as they pixy-dance to the next safe haven. I love descending a mountain on a cold winter night.

Today I ditched work at noon to go backcountry skiing. I told Brett to bring a headlamp and plan for a dark descent. Last week I attempted Bountiful Ridge but was stopped by way too much snow. Skinning and hiking in four feet of new, 5% density snow is NOT fun. Skiing down is not much better. It's all work and little play. Face shots and snorkeling is over rated. If all you can do to maintain speed is point them straight, what is the point? Last week we (Clark and five others we met at the trailhead) didn’t make it half way to the Ridge before bailing and going for short runs on the pipeline cut in lower North Canyon. It offered easy access, so we gave up on the Ridge. We skied short, straight-line-shots, but that failure to gain Bountiful Ridge toyed with my ego all week. I had to get back to finish the job.

Skiing on weekdays is better than weekends to avoid the crush of humanity that head to the hills when the week is done. I just feel happiest when I’m alone or with few people around. Society tells us to go along with the crowd, and I tried that when I was younger, whether school, career, religion, even recreation, and the results were mixed at best. So, years ago, I stopped acting, started being myself, and I’ve found better success and more happiness. For me, it works.

Skiing in the afternoons and evenings are better than early mornings. Yes - dare I criticize the vaunted Dawn Patrol - but skiing before work has always been a big let-down. It’s not the alpine starts, or the waking at 3AM, what I hate about a ‘Dawn Patrol’ is its link to a work-day. Do you ever hear anyone talk about a dawn patrol without chiming-in that they made it to work by ten? That is the problem; it is really tough to ski in the wee-hours of the morning before work without constantly watching the time and stressing as the work-bell looms closer and closer. I start worrying about that nine-o’clock meeting. How will I sneak in late unnoticed? Thinking about the job destroys the freedom and fun of skiing. Yes, springtime and warm temperatures dictate an early start, but, in deep winter, late starts and nighttime descents are the best.

I’ve concluded that fans of the Dawn Patrol don’t have real jobs. My reality at 50 is a time-clock existence where I’m expected to be at my desk from eight to five, each and every day. True Dawn-Patrollers get to work at nine or ten, stinking of unwashed, hound-dog-polypro (i.e. human body odor amplified by factor of ten) then brag at the water cooler until lunch about lapping the moguls in Cardiac Bowl. Apparently their bosses don’t care. Unfortunately, mine does.

I’m a professional and I am paid to complete a job. Sadly, capitalism-U.S.A. is all about accountability and we’re all mistrusted by management due to the slackers of the world. You know the type: employees that abuse every last bit of freedom, like milking time off without burning their vacation hours or asking to arrive a few minutes late but then don’t show at all. Don’t get me going on the continual lame excuses to leave early, but I’ve heard it all. My favorites include: semi-annual dog grooming; getting the earlobes waxed, or, God-forbid, waxing some other body part that we mammals should NEVER have waxed, all at company expense. The bottom line, some of us still put in an honest day’s work only to be mistrusted by the boss because of those who abuse the system.

So, I like to take off in the afternoon, make a clean break, legitimately use four hours of P.T.O. with no stupid excuses, no deadlines hanging overhead if the skiing is fantastic.

Brett and I skin up North Canyon gaining the single track in less than 30 minutes. Last week, in the deep snow, it took an hour-and-a-half. We follow a snowshoe track up the main drainage of North Canyon. I recognize the meandering route as that of a neighbor – Dave –recognizable because he walks circles (almost) - backward, forward, sideways – fighting his way through the brush of the lower canyon. The bad route finding is maddening, so we eventually give up and just set our own, direct track. Dave hasn’t figured out there is NO clean line. It’s best to just plow straight ahead. A guy (or girl) on skinny skis had also used the summer trail, but we opted for the much shorter drainage, but it is noted for a possible descent to avoid the hell-brush. Just below Rudy’s Flat, at the junction of the drainage and the summer trail, the skinny ski track and the snowshoe track merge, but both tracks abort at Rudy’s. From that point on we’re breaking trail to the ridge.

We set the track up Rectangle Bowl, the bowl SW of the Rectangle, my favorite run NE above Rudy’s Flat, a favorite because it hold one of the longest, cleanest and most continuous lines of all the descents off lower Bountiful Ridge. Plus, Rectangle Bowl gets a lot of sun and I needed some warmth. It just felt good to be up in the clean air, blue sky and warm sun after living in the mank of the infamous red-air of SLC for the last month.

We work up Rectangle Bowl, the sun tanning my face, to the top of Rectangle Peak and transition to ski. Due to the age of the snow and the probable sun crust on the Rectangle Run (west aspect) we opt to ski the north-facing Crescent Bowl, named for its shape as seen from the valley (like the Rectangle – real imagination went into this), located on the north side of Rectangle Peak/Ridge/Run. It is protected from sun and wind and the angle is convex, starting at 38+ but flattening to 25 degrees. The bowl is broken by intermittent stands of Douglas Fir, but it consistently holds quality snow and offers 800-900 feet of safe (mostly) skiing. Perfect for laps. Several years ago, skiing solo, I skied the upper, steeper half then skinned back up for seconds, where upon my first turn I watched the upper slope slide away below me, taking out my signature turns from my first run. It only ran a couple hundred feet due to the flattening angle, but SCARY!

With the sun setting as we summit Rectangle Peak for a second run, we climb northeast up the main ridge a short distance for a slightly longer line. We ski a hundred exquisite turns in old, creamy powder. At the transition, the sun fully set, a cold breeze is funneling down the bowl and that familiar chill is back with us. We’re silent as we transition back to skins for one short climb before gliding down the canyon and home, and in that silence I hear a Great Horned Owl, it is calling for companionship on that cold winter night. I imagine him perched in a big fir, feathers plumed and warm, he’s at home where I am shivering, and I feel peace with that thought, and I’m glad to be headed for home instead of work.

We skin over the divide and glide down the summer trail to avoid the death scrub of the main drainage at night. The skinny ski track making it easy rather than work. Periodically we stop to gaze at the moon casting shadows through the trees on the surprisingly bright snow and Brett points out constellations while I strain to that Owl. I don’t hear it again, but feel blessed to have caught his call higher on the mountain. I imagine him back up on the mountain, feathers puffed and warm, calling deep bass harmonies to his mate, as we ski the nighttime shadows of the canyon for home.


  1. The sunset pics have really great light and color, cool shadows. Love it when the stars come out and the large hoar frost crystals sparkle in the moon light. Excellent evening and great skiing.

  2. A comment about work... The corporate bosses need their bonuses and the share holding institutions need commissions, that's why we work long hours for chump change. On the other hand you really have to have a cut throat personality and be able to stomp everyone else into the ground to be in a top spot on the corporate ladder. Of course skiing is probably done at Vail, or from a helicopter, on those rare occasions when they can get away, or when they finally have made it and are old and spent and don't have to work so hard. So basically they get the big bucks, but they are not the sort to really take time to enjoy things like a dusk patrol...