Thursday, February 19, 2015

The ups and downs of going up and down.

Some days finish better than others.  Sometimes, you head out from the trail head in the morning expecting to get a few good turns, but really you are just looking for some exercise, and you end up finding a bunch of killer lines.  Other times, you have big plans and expectations, only to be turned back by incoming weather before every reaching your first objective.  You never really know what you will encounter until you get yourself out there.  Or what decisions you will make.  And how that will work out for you.  But that is always part of the adventure.  Part of the reason why we go out there in the first place.  It is part of the reason why I was headed out deep into the side country a good week after we had gotten our last, warm and wet snow fall.  I was not really going out to find powder.  Actually, I was feeling hopeful that the corn would be setting up nicely, and with a little bit of luck, we could find a stash or two of chalky wintery goodness.  I had no idea that legitimate boot deep powder turns would me on the days' menus.

Down low on the apron, Troy found the wintery goodness.

Dylan enjoying the lower slopes.

Out of the alpine, and into the mini golf trees.

Even the last few turns were plenty of fun.

We got a late morning start, after taking about 8 hot laps on chair 6 at Kirkwood.  The steep groomers were skiing pretty damn nice first thing in the morning.  The weather felt like April, other than the sun being much lower in the sky.  Made for some nice inbounds spring conditions with out a terribly firm overnight hard pack forming.  Just firm enough to set things up.  But I had not traveled four hours just to ski some well groomed terrain.  So, after hooking up with a few fellow travelers, we headed out beyond the ropes.  Our plan was not specific, but we all knew we wanted to get to a peak that we always see from the lift, and check out its backside.  After a boot pack, a traverse, and a 40 minute ski around a sub-peak, we found ourselves just under 9800', atop a horseshoe cirque with a variety of sun exposed and shaded chutes.  We chose a sunny aspect.  The top was a steep, creamed corned chute that slowly narrowed to a pinch.  In a normal snow year, a fall line descent to the bottom is possible.  But with our thin snow pack we followed a traverse skiers right into the central bowl, which held an apron of mostly soft, smooth, wintery snow.  I have to say, I kind of was pleased we chose this option as opposed to avoiding sharks in an increasingly thin and narrow, sun banked line.  Corn snow always seems to come around.  These days, powder is a rare treat.

With a few mini hits in the mix.

Bach atop the ridge above Emigrant Lake.  

Sally Alley was the call.  Tracked up, but the snow was cold.

And the line is aesthetic.  

We worked our way a bit further down, through some trees, and mini golfed a few benches, then it was time to make a traverse, and put back on the skins.  We aimed for a spot back up on the same ridge, a few hundred feet lower in elevation.  There was a line up there we planned on skiing back to near the resort.  On our way out, we saw that it had several tracks in it already, but still hoped for the best.  The top is a fairly wide chute, but it only had a narrow strip of good snow.  It was all on the shade, and basically a choice of smooth ice, or skied up powder.  We thought skied up powder sounded nice.  After the top third, we took a left turn, where almost everyone else had taken a right.  We followed that left track into the left chute and scored another pitch of wonderful wintery goodness.  The top few turns were full on boot deep powder, followed by several in a snow best describe as chowder, before finding a section that knew not weather it wanted to be powder or corn.  All fun turns.  On the way down, I even found a third pitch that held some wonderful wintery snow before I had to make the hard left traverse around the lake.  Usually we would ski right down and across the lake, but this winter had been warm, and we were reluctant to cross below our line.

The mid third of the run we were hitting some fresh cold snow.

Out in the sun the powder quickly changed through chowder to some sort of hybrid snow.

And it was well on its way to corn.

With plans to circumnavigate the lake, we left a good five hundred feet untouched.

The next day I was hungry for some more.  Did a few hot laps on 6, and soon was making plans to head out a bit further.  There is an zone we had thought about skiing the day before, but had to turn back due to time constraints.  This time we basically headed straight out there.  Well, actually, we headed in as straight of a manner as possible.  It did require a good amount of elevation loss, but that ended up being a fun ski any way.  It took us a bit of time to get to the top of our first run, but every time we saw the zone, it kept on looking better.  The soft powder had a certain texture to it, and it started to look like our entire face we planned to ski was covered in mostly this texture.  As it turned out, it was.  What a lovely surprise, to get this particular face in not only edgable snow, and not only wintery snow, but in actual powdery snow.  This was neither superbly deep, or super hero, but it was close enough to make both days' efforts well worth this reward.  I was riding on a nice high as we donned our skins and began skinning back up tot the exit ridge.  We had a pretty easy out, and decided to head for a point a but further down the ridge from the prior day.  We were looking for a nice sun exposed corn slope.  And, with a little poking around, we found it.

A look up at Sally Alley.  We did the boogie left slide all the way to the traverse.

Next day we were eyeing the Little AK Face.  

Clay gets started.

And found the hike well worth the effort.

So, here is where things took a turn for the worse.  After two days of fun skiing, and fun snow, I spotted my entrance and stoked to hit the baking corn below, I entered the choke hot.  After quick edging above a rock, and throwing my skis around that rock, I soon found myself acceleration on ice, going across the slope and headed for some rocks.  I am not really sure what happened next.  I thought I was going to be able to pull my tips up and come to a stop.  That did not happen.  Instead, one ski got a hold of some outcropping of rock, and then I was tossed into a rock wall.  Or so I think.  Next thing I know, I am sliding down the slope, through the corn, both skis popped off.  Frantically, I try to grab my skis, but as I do, I accelerate.  Finally I have one, and work hard to put on the breaks, as more rocks are quickly approaching from below.  I stop.  One ski is gone.  My partner said it went off the cliff to our right.  Far below, we see a single ski track going into the wood.  My ass hurt.  My pants were torn.  Slowly, I get a hold of myself and begin boot packing down the slope.  800 vertical feet lost.  There was plenty of good news.  We found my ski rather quickly.  My bindings were not busted.  While there was a nasty core shot on one, my skis were basically okay.  I could basically still ski and walk.  I did not land on my back.  Xrays have shown nothing is broken.  And I learned pretty damn big lesson.  Don't be so damn cavalier.  And will I've spent two days on the couch watching way too many crappy movies instead of making turns, or catching waves, I will be out there again soon enough.  Likely even before the next time it snows.