Sunday, February 24, 2013

BC Skiing - Bountiful Ridge 02-22-2013

Out of the gauntlet, into the open . . .

I may have been born stupid but it’s getting better.


I first skied Black’s Peak (aka Burro Mine or Bountiful Ridge) when I was 13 or 14, back in the mid 1970’s. We accessed it by booting up the Rudy’s Flat trail with alpine ski gear tied to our packs, sometimes swimming through hip-deep powder. But that was the whole idea – ski fresh powder. At first we’d hike up the Mueller Park side, but as I got less stupid I realized the North Canyon side was much shorter. My approach has evolved over the years: first booting with skis on pack, then snowshoeing with skis on pack. My intelligence reflected a major breakthrough when I discovered telemark skis with skins. I was shocked how much easier it was to hike with skis on foot rather than on my back. Those skis provided much better float than snowshoes and offered the reward of skiing untouched powder. But those first tele skis (Chouinard-Tua Tele- Tour Neige) were long and narrow (200cm, 73-61-68mm) and those Merrill Super Doubles (leather boots) offered little downhill support. Yet somehow those were days of heaven. Somehow that floundering on skinny skis and floppy boots seemed like total control, like I was flying across the mountains of a perfect earth.


Only now, with the hindsight of perfected gear, do I realize how archaic those days really were. The young guns of today, with so much attitude and the latest SkiMo gear that is light as air, scoff at my fat skis, but they don’t understand my history and how they benefit from the evolution that I lived through. My long skinny skis were cutting edge in the early eighties. I see those SkiMo Dudes running uphill, passing me on the skin track, and I see them flounder on the downhill, and I realize that we’ve almost come full circle. They do fine in perfect conditions, like we did on tele gear and leather boots, but throw in some wind-blown or sun-crusted snow and their light gear does not always lend itself to control on the downhill side of the equation. That, plus a lack of real skiing ability has them flailing their arms and making wild uncontrolled turns, just like me on my long tele skis of 1982.


Yes, the SkiMo races are won on the uphill, but most of those guys could gain some real time, and perhaps a victory, if they knew how to lay down an edge. They should go to ski school. Take a racing class. In my college days I ran gates and skied bumps to escape from the world, which made me the adequate downhill skier that I am today. I got pretty good, better than many, not as good as real skiers, but good enough to recognize that I’d never be world class. Most skiers who think there are great are not good enough to know the difference.  During college I entered a time in my life when I could not afford a ski pass, which was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to return to my teenage avocation of hiking for turns. My lack of funds, and maybe a need to get away from the resort crowd, drove me back to the backcountry. Today backcountry skiing is my escape from reality, if only for a day or two each week.


I have skinned up North Canyon now for over three decades. Early on I used the summer trail, which was four miles of meandering switchbacks. As I got smarter I started skinning directly up the drainage, a straight line of two miles (vs. four on the trail) but also required a mile-long gauntlet of tight gamble oak and willow. I didn’t mind it because the open slopes of Bountiful Ridge are pristine and untouched (mostly). Over the years I’ve only met one other skier (John) who skis it regularly. All others use it once and are gone, presumably due to the tough approach. But nothing comes free. Over the years I’ve lost thousands of dollars in shredded Gore-Tex due to the buck-brush.  

A few years ago I had an epiphany. It was summer and I was riding my mountain bike up to Rudy’s Flat when, near the top of North Canyon, I noticed a minor sub-ridge dividing upper North Canyon into “Y” shaped drainage. And that sub-ridge was rimmed with big Douglas Fir. When I saw those big firs a light bulb went off in the hollow between my ears: Douglas Fir usually mean little or no gamble oak, which means little or no bushwhacking. So the next winter I started exploring that ridge. Sadly, those Douglas Firs were blanketed with brush, lots of brush. After that one foray I almost gave up, but after some soul searching I kept exploring that ridge. When the ridge-top did not pan out, I started exploring the lower aspects of the ridge. Over two years I tried a multitude of variations, none providing an easy line to the open slopes.


If success is 99% persistence and 1% luck, my persistence finally cashed in. With my latest attempts this week I finally found the Northwest Passage. I found a narrow, nearly brush less approach, the one I’ve been dreaming of for three decades. It is not perfect and not obvious, but with precise route finding the path is direct and clear. Oh, and it is also the shortest route I’ve yet found to Rudy’s Flat.


Without being too specific, I’m still a bit territorial, the path is not located where expected. I almost gave up and went back to the old bone yard approach, but on a whim last week I tried one last route. The entrance looking totally improbable, but, like many endeavors, I pushed forward and found Valhalla, a path through the tight forest that quickly opens and provides nearly a painless skin route to the open slopes of Bountiful Ridge.

Three decades of fighting brush for short, low elevation lines? Like I said, I was born stupid.

41 inches at Rudy's Flat.

8-inches of light density snow, on a sun crust on a 38 deg. slope. I couldn't hold an edge and took a short ride. Should've brought the Whippet for the skin-track.

61-inches in Rectangle Bowl.

Stupid is as stupid does, sir. The camera was shooting a burst of photo's when an airplane flew over, maybe 50 feet overhead.

Sun setting during the descent.

Friday night commute.

If these old skis could speak, what a tale they'd have to tell, hard-headed people raising hell . . .

Merrills. They were the LTL's of their day. I pull them out and ski them about once a year. . . just to stop my whining about needing another new rig.  
One last note, this dead tree blocked the route. In fact, last week I tried to dead-lift it and ski under, but as I went under and released, it came down on my pack and pinned me to the ground. It took much squirming to free myself. Yesterday I used my snow saw to take it out. Don't tell the USFS, but I've used that saw 10X's more on dead fall than snow pits.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Afternoon BC Skiing, Bountiful Ridge 2-15-2013

No more bush-whacking! OK, maybe a little, but the torn polypro, ripped flesh and the requirement of safety glasses is now much reduced. I've been exploring a new approach up the North Fork of North Canyon and now have it dialed. It used to be a mile of hell fighting those willows and gamble oak, now the bush-whacking is down to about 100 yards.

39 inches at the flats (elevation 7,100 feet). The valleys are buried but the mountains still have a thin snow pack. 

View SW, towards SLC and the Oquirhs, at about 7,800 feet.

View NE, towards Session's Mountain.

50 inches in Rectangle Bowl (7,700 feet). Two years ago I measured over 90 inches at this spot. 
View west from the skin track up the SW aspect of Rectangle Bowl. Although the smog is building, Antelope Island is visible. In previous posts, only the upper peak (Frary Peak) was visible.

The central Wasatch: (l-r, far skyline) Gobblers Knob, Raymond, Dromedary, Sunrise, Broads Fork Twins, Thunder, Lone Peak.

Rectangle Bowl, Dead Tree Ridge (descending to right), SLC and the Oquirh Mountains to the SW. 

Great turning in upper Crescent Bowl (N aspect, 35-38 degr. slope).  

Lower Rectangle Run: 30 degr. at the upper ridge, 38 degr. at the base where the forest pinches off the run (photo location). Still great turning in spite of the NW aspect and sun. With all the roller-balls I'm sure I caught the last good day on this slope until the next storm; it'll be sun-crusted in the morning.

My proverbial shot at the end: ski-tracks (l) and skin-track (r). Only one run today and no nighttime descent, but better than nothing. I got away from work way too late and then had to get home for a family party. Quick and furious skiing, laying down big GS turns to get home in time (and also in honor of Ligety's GS Gold today).  

Winter Camp 02-8/9-2013

Leaving no trace but footprints and snow caves. National Forest Service Land in the Wasatch Mountains near the Davis County, Salt Lake County line. SLC international airport and Oquirh Mountains to the west. 

5:30 PM and digging snow caves. Only 1 foot of total snow but we (me and one of the Dads) went up the night before to pile the snow.

At 4 PM it was snowing hard and I got a call from one of the Moms: "Is the blizzard going to have an impact on the camp?" "Yes", I said, "It'll be cold and wet". She obviously wanted me to pull to plug, and she was not amused by my answer, but as you can see, the weather was ideal.

Some blue sky after the storm. Nighttime temperatures dropped to the upper teens but inside my cave, sleeping in a small cave alone, the temperatures were mid-thirties.

Hard to tell but we're less than three miles from the Utah State Capital, and about a million people.

The morning after and the scouts break their shelter. It took four boys on top, jumping up and down, before it broke. As you can see they could've had much more head room.

The Boy Scouts of America might have issues, but if they do anything right it is getting soft, lazy, 'gamer' teenage boys off the couch and outside, camping, hiking and experiencing nature. I am not big on scouting, but I’ll serve as a Scout Master if only to have a minor impact on boys that think winter camping is sleeping in a million dollar cabin and riding snow-machines. It is sad that some boys grow up thinking that is normal behavior. In my world winter camp is all about sleeping in the snow.  
One of my all time favorite books is 'Minus 148' by Art Davidson. It's the story of the first successful winter ascent of Denali. While descending from the summit three of the climbers are caught high on the mountain in a week-long blizzard with wind-chill temperatures estimated at -148 degrees. The only reason they lived is credited to digging a snow-cave for protection. Alternatively, the book 'White Winds' by Joe Wilcox, tells a similar story but one which ends with the death of seven climbers. The died because their tents were literally blown away leaving them with no protection. Most of us will never be in such extreme environments but both stories are a good lesson.
If I have to be a Scout Master, my Scouts better plan on sleeping in the snow at least once in their lives. Someday they will thank me. I feel bad for anyone who has never slept in the snow. 


Monday, February 4, 2013

Mt. Van Cott Lunch Run 02-04-2013

What a difference 5 days can make, and no wonder my skis were thrashed. Today during the lunch hour I went back to the site of last Wednesday's skiing to see what was left of our tracks. As you'll see, not much. The mistake in my logic was the January inversion. The upper foothills have been melting while the lower foothills have been protected by the smog and hold deeper snow. Go high or go low.

Last weeks exit run out of the drainage between the N and S butts of Van Cott's SW Ridge.

Hobo Hill, the diagonal slope running R-L. It doesn't look it but it really does follow the fall line. As you can see it was thin. Last Wednesday it was totally covered, but not enough, it took out a lot of p-tex.
Last Wednesday's skin track has almost vanished in the sun (straight above and direct center, through the rocks). Approaching the Van Cott SW head wall.
Central Wasatch and SLC smog from Van Cott's summit.

View SW of Oquirh Mountains from Van Cott's summit.

The power of one and the mess of all. My "drill-baby-drill" friends don't think we have a problem. To them it is all or nothing, and if they admit anything might be wrong they think they've lost the war. But they don't get it. Small actions by all can make a big difference. I'm not asking anyone to give up their cars, heat or lights, just conserve, even a little, and it'll make difference. 

View SW looking down Hobo Hill, last Wednesday's ski run. Half my ski bases are on those rocks.

Skin track 5 days out.

The magpies have cleaned her out.

Ski tracks +5 days. The best skiing on the mountain was on this low angle pitch just east of the U of U student housing. The snow is deeper here due to the prolonged January inversion which hid lower elevations in smog and cold.

Bonneville Shoreline Trail just north of Red Butte Canyon. A couple hundred vertical feet higher and the air is clean.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mt. Van Cott Lunch Ski-run 01-30-2013

Whiteout at the base of the SW "head wall" of Mt. Van Cott.
I whine about work - a lot - but if there is one saving grace of my job, now going on 25 years with the same company, it is the location of our office. We are located as close to the Wasatch Foothills as possible without disgracing the mountains with an office building. Plus my employer is self-insured (medical wise) so they really push for the good health and physical fitness of their employees, providing lockers, showers, a exercise/weight room and classes. I am a child at heart and never got past recess, so getting away from my desk for an hour or two each day makes a wondrous difference in attitude when it comes to my career.  Many of my co-workers attend the company sponsored weight-training, yoga or core classes, but I need fresh air and open space so at noon each day I head outside and run trails. I try really hard to not make excuses for ANY weather; I try to not let anything, but perhaps the boss or my wife, get in the way of my lunch-runs. If anything, I've found that bad weather can actually stir the soul and provide a new joy in an old routine.

Today (Wednesday, January 30, 2013) is the third day in a row with stifling valley snow which has stopped the commuter traffic of  Salt Lake City in its tracks. For the  last three days my commute has averaged nearly two hours (one way), and I live only 12 miles from work, a commute that usually takes 35 minutes even in heavy traffic. At home I've been shoveling snow non-stop and my yard has about 24 inches of coverage, and that's at the lowly elevation of 4,700 feet. With that uncharacteristically deep valley snow, I reasoned that Mt. Van Cott's higher elevation (6,730 foot summit) would offer even better coverage. On Monday I ran/hiked to the summit of Mt. Van Cott via the South Face, via Red Butte Canyon, and found descent coverage, but that was a different aspect. Late Tuesday afternoon Christian and I set the plan to ski the open west face of Mt. Van Cott (aka Hobo Hill) during Wednesday's lunch run. I reasoned the coverage would be better than at home and didn't hesitate to bring my A-rig.

It was snowing and white conditions but great to be away from the desk and email, if only for an hour or so. Mt. Van Cott is the perfect lunch run when time is short. In dry conditions I can get up and down it in under 40 minutes, perfect when the work-load is tight. It is short and moderately angled to allow and old man like me to run to whole thing. My effort is slow and lacks grace but I can run (slowly) uphill forever. I've never been a gazelle, more like a Mack Truck in first gear, but for whatever reason I can run uphill and my endurance will often see me through when the fast guys die half way up. From the loading dock to the summit it's a 3-4 mile run (round trip, depending on route) with an elevation gain of 1,350 feet. Mt. Wire is preferred for longer distance and vertical, but Van Cott, while short and  moderately steep is perfect for a run between a noon and 1pm meeting. After my lunch runs in the heat of summer I've been know to profusely sweat throughout afternoon meetings, disgusting my co-workers as I cool down.

With the snow and white-out today, there would be no sweat fest. We skinned up the water tank trail and upon topping out on the rounded ridge at two-thirds height, through the mist we could see 20 or so eerily body-shaped shadows where there is normally just a grassy ridge. We wondered if we were hallucinating from the hypoxic pace, or maybe we were not where we thought, could we be on the neighboring, rocky ridge? A weird sensation to see things where there is normally nothing, but as we continued people emerged through the clouds as we ascended the ridge and we could hear one dominate voice and we realized it was a class of some sort from the nearby University. We skinned within feet of the 'stone-henge' circle of college kids, they looking at us with the same stunned look that we had, for it was truly a weird site,  and it sounded to me like the professor was lecturing them in psychology. I could only think, if my general-ed classes were taught on a snowy mountainside, maybe I would have managed a little better than a B average?

Christian and I skinned up the last steep hill to just below the rocky summit of Van Cott and transitioned to ski Hobo Hill, the direct west face of Van Cott, named for the homeless man who camps year round in the drainage directly below us. I talk to him once in a while but he mostly prefers solitude, although, once started he talks and talks and talks. His mind is blown from years of hard living, so maybe he doesn't feel the cold like the rest of us, but he still has all my respect to live year round in the Wasatch foothills.

We make turns down Hobo Hill and with almost every turn I'm hitting ground. There is nothing like the sound of skis on rock to make one ski with zero aggression. I am not a rich man so I make my gear last. Yeah, I do own five rigs of ski gear, each for a specific set of conditions, but real skiers buy a new quiver each year. I am not a wealthy man so I baby it, fix it and repair it, like a total nerd. If it's cycling I'm on a ten-year plan, with skis it is five, so, when I hear those edges scraping rock, I ski  with as much tenderness as possible.

We ski down, kind of disappointed with the thin coverage and kind of sick to think of the damage we inflicted, but grinning and happy to be outside skiing in a blizzard on our lunch-hour when the rest of Salt Lake City is toiling at the grind-stone. On the lowest hill, just above the University - and work - I'm still a little shocked at the difference in coverage between my home and the west face of Van Cott.  But surprisingly that lowest hill holds the best coverage on Van Cott, albeit more forgiving because it's less rocky and with more grass. The last ten turns I let it rip and make turns with some real attitude. Twenty minutes late I'm back at my desk checking email. Having skied during lunch my attitude back to the positive side of the scale. Who else can ski during lunch in Salt Lake City?            

Christian, transitioning to ski.

This picture is in the lower drainage between the direct SW ridge and N-butt of the SW ridge of Mt. Van Cott, where the coverage was good (18 inches and no rocks), at least on the northern aspects.  Hobo Hill (direct west face of upper Mt. Van Cott) was very thin, much thinner than expected (12 inches), and my A-rig was trashed. I should've gone with my old BD Arc Angels.  

What happens to young, B.C. skiers who make bad life choices. I skied around a bend in the drainage and scared off five or six magpies enjoying a cold lunch.  

Look real hard and you might see our turns descending from the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (starting at the power line pole), ending at the U. of U. Hospital Parking Lot. Surprisingly, this was the best skiing on Mt. Van Cott (elevation 5,000 feet). 

Christian getting a stone grind.

Part of the quiver out to dry. The following Saturday (2-2-2013) Kara and I skied the Canyons Resort (long story). When skiing lift assisted groomers at a resort, I prefer to go Tele. Those old K2 Super Stinks are one of my all-time favorite skis. For whatever reason I just always have fun on those things. Although, at the Canyons on Saturday, I got a lot of queer looks, Tele is truly dead, plus they were by far the skinniest skis this side of 1995, or the Ski Mo races held each Tuesday night at Brighton.

My BD Justices after the spa treatment and 2 p-tex candles (due to the damage inflicted on Mt. Van Cott). I'm a hack ski-tuner, but, I must say, they almost look like new.