Monday, May 9, 2011

3 Ranges, 3 Days: May 6-8, 2011

I busted out of my cube at 3:30 and headed straight for Turnagain. Typically the West side of the pass is snow-machine central, but the last day for motorized access was April 30th. Objectives on "Sunny Side" had become much more appealing since silence returned to dominate the soundscape.

Sunny Side Parking Area

Big Chief has haunted me for years and I thought today could finally be the day. I started up a SE aspect at 5:00 PM. There had been some wet slide activity earlier in the day, but the sun was off the route and a stiff wind would provide some evaporative cooling. My route crossed a couple of creeks and ascended a steep gully with consolidated slide debris.

Despite my bullet-proof theories regarding snow safety, slow moving wet slides were laboring down the gully on the regular. Spooky. I traversed out of the gully onto a dry ridge and continued up. The dry ridge eventually ended. A short 50' traverse would get me to another dry sub-ridge but it would be through waste deep slush across a 40° slope. The right decision was obvious but it held no appeal. Shit!

From the tundra, I leaned over and with one hand pushed the top foot of snow down the hill to see what would happen. It started slow, but it got a good head a steam on a roll-over. It was fanning out creating a larger and larger slice of pie. And then it stepped to the ground. Other large pieces pulled out joining the party. The river of snow was now a couple 100 yards wide and wiping out small trees. It ran the full length of the slide path and the sound of moving slush continued for about 10 minutes. I decided beer was now more important than glory. Conservative skiing and driving segued nicely into aggressive drinking.

Touring with a large fun group seemed like a better idea for Saturday. I theorized that high, north-facing aspects would provide the best snow, but having completely botched my snow prediction the day before, I kept my mouth shut. As fate would have it, the group decided to ski April Bowl: high and North facing.

The sun was in and out all morning and clouds began to thicken. From the summit, sucker holes gave us hope for a well lit descent. A cold wind was trying our patience and Dean dropped in under flat light. Kelley, then Heather, then Selene, and then the sun made an brief appearance. Bill and I lucked into some great visibility. The snow was fantastic: 6" of wintery, creamy sender! A second lap was a no brainer, and another sucker hole illuminated the descent. Tonight's aggressive drinking would be the inspired by great snow and great people.

The Team

April Bowl

Sunday dawned sunny, but the urge to hibernate in a deep dark cave surrounded by gatorade, soft music, and pizza was powerful. But, I knew Hiland would be great so I worked myself into a frenzy with a series of air punches and self-affirming thoughts. The South Fork Trail is about 50% melted out and didn't really lend itself to either hiking or skiing. After 1.5 miles, I angled West towards the "2nd Notch." From the summit just South of the notch, I "sent the shit" out of a mellow face towards Ship Creek. Excellent corn made for effortless skiing. Run 2 began from the same summit, but this time the NW face called. Again, smooth corn in the sun is tough to beat. I wanted a third, but dehydration was dominating my skull. The only wise option at this point was to locate the mythical electrolyte cave.

- James Dalton

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