Sunday, February 2, 2014

Voices: Bountiful Ridge, Rectangle Bowl, Friday, January 31, 2014

Summit of Rectangle Peak, the clouds briefly parted just as I topped-out. View SW, toward City Creek Canyon and SLC. 

BC Skiing, Bountiful Ridge, Rectangle Bowl, Friday, January 31, 2014
I often hear voices in my head. They tell what direction to follow. Some days just don’t flow. Some days nothing goes as planned, and on those days that voice is often screaming. The more scattered the day, the louder the voice. Friday was one of those days.

The Wasatch Mountains are experiencing another bad snow year, the third in a row, but I’m determined to ski at least once a week come hell, work or no snow. So far I’ve done just that, but it has meant nighttime descents under headlamp; skiing thin, weedy, rocky slopes (news skis next year?); an irritated wife for my single-mindedness; and an irritated boss for my absence each Friday. He really can’t complain though. The job gets done, and very well I might add.

It’s almost February and the Wasatch Mountain have only 50% normal snow coverage. This winter we get a moderate storm (10-15 inches) about once every three weeks, whereas in a normal winter we see storms about once week.  Yesterday’s (Thursday’s)  storm was a much need refresher and my local hill (Bountiful Ridge) received six or seven inches. Not great but I’ll take it.

I went to work in the morning to complete a small project, hoping I could get away by ten, but I didn’t get away until afternoon. I should have know better. When I get home to grab my gear it’s almost 1PM. I feel exhausted from a week of little sleep (another story) and when I walk in the warm house and see the couch have the strongest urge to just lie down and sleep. But I fight the urge and start grabbing gear, but at one point I give in, I sit on the soft sofa and it feels so good to just sit, but as my eyes start to close that monster in my head starts screaming; “You pussy! Go ski! One day you’ll be in a wheel chair you bald-headed freak”! The voice is right, if I don’t go now it’ll be another lost opportunity. I may have squandered my career, but I can’t drop my passion to ski for a few hours of sleep. I head back to the garage, fire up the truck and head up to North Canyon before the temptation returns. The voice is now silent.

The sky is heavy and at the trail head the clouds close in and I’m in thick fog. Visibility is nil. After three weeks of no snow the double track was a nightmare, a product of sun complicated by high school kids in their Daddy’s Range Rovers, and a few stupid adults in rusty Fords, trying to drive the un-plowed double track up North Canyon. The result is an ice-rink consistency on the old road, like an ice-fall to the end of the double track which ends a mile from the pavement. Now, with six inches of new snow, the ice-road of North Canyon is only slightly less slick. The high-schoolers (or stupid adults) have only managed to navigate the first half mile on this new snow, so I’m breaking trail the rest of the way to the top of Rectangle Peak, about 4 miles and 3,000 vertical away.

I like breaking trail. It tells the story of the snow pack, plus I know I'll have first turns. Breaking trail allows one to feel the snow and know the structure. Other than digging a pit, there is no better way than breaking trail to understand the snow. Pushing skis through unblemished snow offers volumes of data. You hear collapsing and see shooting cracks if it’s unstable, a sensual experience that is lost if you are following an established skin track.

A mile up the road I leave the trail and enter the forest at the start of my short-cut. Fighting through brush up steep angles in new snow is tough work, and I’m sweating heavily. I reach up to wipe the sweat off my brow and the resulting tension on my eye ejects my right contact lens. SHIT! With my one good eye I search the snow below me, but find nothing. I scan my shirt and various straps (pack, camera, beacon), hoping it is stuck, but I see nothing. So there I am, a mile from my truck, exhausted, racing daylight and I have only one contact lens. Yeah, I can still see, but with only one good eye there is zero depth perception. Can I ski a steep, powdery slope with no ability to gauge depth? My answer is no and, thinking my day is done, turn and start for home, but then that monster voice starts rattling my head: “You pussy! Anyone can ski with one eye! You lazy sack of crap, you only have a few days to ski in this life, take them before you die”! I turn back up hill. The screaming in my head goes silent.

Up the approach gully, through nasty Gamble Oak, the old snow is totally unsupportable and I continually sink to the ground. The six-inches of new snow just complicates to process and I’m breaking trail through 24 inches of soft sugary snow. I question whether it’s smart to ski on such unconsolidated crap, and I consider turning back, but the voice starting murmuring. I continue up. I reason the stability is worse down low in the trees, in the thickets that never see sun. Once on the ridge where I plan to ski, the SW aspects should be sun-crusted under the new snow. It should be a recipe for perfect turning conditions. If it’s not stable then I’ll billy-goat the ridge back to the flats. I continue up and the voice remains silent.

Up through the scrub-oak, across to Rudy’s Flat, then up through the Douglas Fir to Rectangle Bowl, and my instincts prove correct, I find great conditions: a firm base of a sun-crust under six or so inches of nice powder. My gamble was right, the ski conditions are perfect, the sugar-snow of the lower approach is gone and I climb up the north side of Rectangle Bowl through soft powder on a firm base. Before the storm the old snow had melted off in spots, the rocks and weeds only covered by the new snow, but in the main gut of the bowl I find two to three feet of great coverage. I have found my run: steep, safe and decent coverage, not another ski track for miles.

I finish the ascent to the top of Rectangle Peak and, just as I top-out, the fog and clouds briefly part and I get a glimpse of blue sky. Then, out of nowhere, I feel a pressure on my eye and realize it’s my contact lens - not lost after all! - it reemerges from the depths of my eye. I rub and work my eye-lid to get it into place and, like a New Testament miracle, my sight is restored! I can see with both eyes! I rip skins; change into a dry shirt and then push off the ridge and ski perfect conditions on a steep, continuous line down the gut of Rectangle Bowl. The clouds still parted, the snow turning orange with alpenglo, I stop half way down and look back up at my tracks, my turns are like poetry in snow.  I wish I had time for another run, but the sun is sinking, the clouds again closing. The fog below me is turning black, so I head down through the forest for home.

Down and down, almost to the truck, the sun is setting behind the fog and thick clouds, my headlamp in my pocket if needed, and I again hear a voice in my head, but now it is singing, no longer a screaming monster, more like an angel in heaven.

Sorry, the battery in my "still" camera died so I had to revert to the GoPro on the POV mount. This was taken on Rectangle Ridge, nearing the summit. Rectangle Bowl, site of today's ski run, is to my right.

Rectangle Ridge with Rectangle Peak straight ahead. Crescent Bowl is to my left, Rectangle Bowl to my right.

Planning my run down Rectangle Bowl.
On Rectangle Peak, looking SW toward City Creek Canyon.

From Rectangle Peak, view NE toward 'Black's Peak' and the Burro Mine. Sessions Mountain is to my left hidden in the clouds.

Session's Mountain straight ahead, behind the clouds.

OOOPS!  The camera went off and caught me in a compromised position. Just changing into a dry shirt. It may look cold, and it was for a minute, but much warmer once in a dry layer. I sweat way too much. 

Fully dressed and again proper. Ready to ski. View NE toward 'Black's Peak' and Burro Mine. Session's is now visible across Millcreek (aka Mueller) Canyon.

View east, over a branch of City Creek Canyon.

Looking at turns about half way down Rectangle Bowl.

18 inches total snow at Rudy's Flat. I'm admiring my handy work; a message to the local heli-dude to keep away, who keeps landing here. Yeah, I know, he has the right, but it's damn annoying to get buzzed and  hear him do touch-and-goes for hours and hours in upper North Canyon and Rudy's Flat while I'm skiing. Is nothing sacred?  I wouldn't dump my garbage on the front lawn of the Bountiful LDS Temple, he shouldn't practice his mind-rattling flying lessons on my mountain. 

Barriers of access. Most folks don't like the long, Gamble Oak approach to Bountiful Ridge. I can't blame them, it is nasty. Inexplicably I keep going back. 


  1. For the record, your wife does NOT get irritated when you ski. You are a much happier person when you come home so it makes me happy for you. Also, we REALLY need to work on your self-talk. What the heck?! You have never had a weak day in your life! Finally, there's a reason I call the mountains your mistress, "slumps and shooting cracks" sensual? Hahahaha, you make me laugh!! The pictures are beautiful and I'm sure John appreciated not having to break trail. I love your hat, by the way.

    1. Sensual for sure: sight, sound and touch. I'm sure real avalanche nerds also use smell and taste.
      And that hat, your beanie, is the best item in my kit, by far. It gives me the strength of ten men.

  2. You two should get a room!

    Owen, you need to get a ProBar sticker for the top of your pack. Got to get those sponsor dollars flooding in.

    1. Profuse sweating on a snowy, cold mountainside is uber sensual, but maybe not in the terms of the popular definition. As for my negative inner voice, he's the only reason I got through college, haven't been fired, and don't live in a cardboard box under I15.