Saturday, April 18, 2015

Farmington Canyon, April 16, 2015

The Farmington Canyon gate was unlocked for the summer season last week and, sure enough, we get hit with a major winter storm, one of few during the infamously bad winter of 2014-15. The problem is a foot of snow is tough to drive with all-season radials. Someone had driven almost to the Sheriffs Cabin and set a nice wheel track for us, and we drove as far as they did. It appeared they had chains and big, knobby tires, because once their tire track gave out my truck quickly got stuck. We dug out (20 minutes) and backed-down a hundred feet and parked at the pull-out by the bridge half-mile down-canyon (west) of the Sheriff's Cabin. Incidentally, that cabin kind of freaks me out every time I skin past the thing: very old, few windows (all boarded up) and it smells (seriously, it really smells), like an old, dilapidated boy scout camp lodge. And, I swear, three weeks ago I heard footstep inside that thing and my tracks were the only ones in the snow for miles and miles.  Hmmmmm?

Parking spot. We tried driving higher but got stuck just around the bend, beyond the bridge. 
 Sorry, I digress. It was April 16, 2015, tax-day-plus-one, and there was 12-inches of fresh Utah powder waiting to be skied after a long winter of scant storms, warm temps and thin snow pack. I've always been attracted to ratty skiing, seeking weird locations to avoid crowds, which often means hiking/skinning long, low-elevation approaches, through sagebrush and gamble oak and Gore-tex ripping shit. It's a choice I gladly make to avoid the lemming-track of the popular trail heads all too common in Wasangeles or Jackxeco City.

So Brett and I head up Farmington Canyon, a dirt road covered by 12 inches of slippery Wasatch powder, on bad tires, no chains, no tow strap, and just two, pathetically small and weak avalanche shovels, in the event we got stuck. And we ended up needing them, we gave them a work-out to free my truck after getting stuck when I tried forging the tire track through uncut snow after the first guy(girl) gave up. I made it only 100 feet beyond their turn-around and I floundered into the barrow pit on the side of the road. All I can say, avalanche shovels totally SUCK on dirt and rock, and they are pathetically bad at moving even small volumes of anything. I pity anyone who's life is dependent upon on these things. They don't move snow very well so if you're buried very deep, don't expect to live. Avoidance is the best medicine when it comes to an avalanche. Plus, cheap aluminium shovels get totally chewed by rocks and road base, and, after freeing my truck, I found the blade of my shovel had a serrated edge due to the abrasiveness of the rocky road base. In a best case scenario, freeing someone from a full burial with one of these Barbie-doll sized shovels would be spotty at best.    

Avalanche shovel on road base, freed the truck (on left, partially hidden by tree), but bad on avy shovel. Those things are way too soft for dirt and rock.

Early in the morning the snow was classic Utah powder: cold, low-density blower. But the wind was having its way and up high we could see that the new snow being ripped along the peak and ridges, revealing the SNURT (snow-dirt) layer laid down during Tuesday's (4-14-15) dust storm. But first things first, a bad snow year means a tough stream crossing then a terrible bush-whack to access the open bowls of Rice and Mud Creek. In a normal snow year we ski across that stream with hardly thought, and then skin straight up open slope and forests without a hint of brush. Today it was brush hell and too often I'd get one ski above a snag and one below, creating a straight-jacket affect on my feet. Worse, several times a branch would unlock my toe and I'd step out of my bindings. ARRRCGH!

We skinned as high as the new snow was still soft which meant we never topped out on the Ride Bowl ridge because the new snow was stripped clean the upper 50-100 feet, leaving a hard re-frozen crust, covered in the brown dust blown in from the Rio Tinto waste dump duing Tuesday's dust storm. We skied four runs in in the upper half of Rice Bowl, in the glades of Douglas Fir and Aspens that are perfectly spaced for skiing. The first two runs we skied perfect Utah powder, but then as the clouds started to part and the air temperature started to rise, with an almost audible change, the snow turned to Wasatch Cement. Our next two runs were in dense cement that made the turns work. Still fun, just not floating on air  and I felt a loss as we weren't free-falling like we were just moments before.  What can I say? The winter of 2014-15 has turned me into a total whiner.  

Farmington Creek, normally a walk-over in April but today a bit too wide to step across.

Brett made it across with only one wet foot. I opted to jump and a narrow spot and lucked out with no wet feet. 

Blue sky early but quickly gave way to wind and overcast skies.

SNURT revealing itself along the peaks and ridges, high winds blowing away yesterdays 12-inches of Utah Powder. This photo taken on the Rice Mud divide with the head of Mud Bowl above, now a nasty brown.

Rice Bowl hidden in fog, wind and Rio Tinto copper mine dust. I wonder what the percentage of copper is to tonnage in the SNURT now blanketing the snow pack of the Wasatch Mountains? 

Mud Bowl, snurt high, brush low.

Better view of the snurt line. Mud Peak (literally, when the snow start to melt). 

Mud Bowl, brush normally eight feet deep in April. We found great skiing to the right, in the glades of Rice Bowl

The trees were glazed with icy dust and the wind dropped these chocolate shavings everywhere.

Upper Rice/Mud Divide. Clouds parting once in awhile would spike the air temperature and the snow would instantly lose its loft, gaining more and more density. By 11:00AM is was cement.

Wind destroying what's left of the powder.

Not many shadows today, but I love it when the sun creates contrast in the snow, aspens and firs.

Lower Rice Bowl, the snow is wet and heavy, the brush ready to grab skis, pants, jackets. 

Twenty minutes of scraping snow away from my tires and my avy-shovel is toast.

(The yellowed Matterhorn Poster used as a backdrop? A gift from my Dad more than thirty years ago. He bought that thing in Gornergrat Switzerland  in 1975. Appropriate here because the yellow matches the color of the snurt now covering the Wasatch Mountains.) 


  1. True, this was the worst season ever, but if just get out there can be some gems, today was one of them. The drive, the approach, the wind & clouds, it was all good and all combined to produce the best day of the year. Word has it that there was bumper to bumper traffic in LCC, no place to park and nothing left to ski after the first few minutes. Great day, thank you for calling.