Thursday, September 1, 2011

SE Wall of Tanner's Gulch: February 17, 2004

February 17 was ordained to be a throw-away day. We were in the tail end of a massive inversion. Baldy had been open for 5 days, Alta was bump city, and the obvious back country lines had long since been tracked out. The inversion was showing signs of weakness; snow was on the way, but the 17th was to be the transition. Flat light, wind, trace - 1": a day most chose to sit out and patiently wait for the next storm.

Well, I've never been one to waste a day when the stability is good and I knew a few like thinking individuals. Gremmie, Pow, the PA Prince, and I met at the cat shop before dawn with Coalpit dreams, but clouds had obscured the top of North Thunder. So it was on to Plan B: check out the Pearls, but there was not enough snow at that low elevation. I had one more idea: Plan C would be Maybird Couloir. The big walls would help with the flat light and my personal buffalo herd would set the booter.

The team set off in high spirits which quickly descended into skepticism. The west facing aspect above the chute had dump tons of manky snow into the gut of Maybird over the prior week. Of course this had consolidated into roughly 1,000' of frozen basketballs. Despite this omen, we continued upward. Eventually Maybird Chute transitions into a ridge the continues onto Sunrise Peak. About 400' below the summit, it was time to assess the situation. We had three options; none were super appealing.
  1. Ski back into the Maybird frozen wet slide mess
  2. Drop blindly off towards Lisa Falls
  3. Drop blindly off towards Tanner's
Based solely on the location of the vehicle, Plan D would be the Tanner's side. This line is highly visible from upper LCC and it is true a classic. You get a great view coming across the EBT, from Eddie's, and at the top of the Tram. Right there in plain sight, but it is often overlooked. Hell, I had never even registered it as a ski decent in my 5 seasons as an Alta employee and thus never paid it no mind.

SW Wall Tanner's
(taken at a much later date)

Gremmie dropped in blind at a weakness in the humungo cornice (where the ridge doglegs slightly and becomes illuminated). Success was not guaranteed. We'd stop often and deliberate and hem and haw. We snaked back and forth over small spines and linked small batches of turns where possible. The skiing was not overly difficult but the unknown factor coupled with obvious deadly exposure made for slow deliberate schussing. The snow started fantastic but transformed into an ever thickening crust. There was no idle chatter; it was tense.

The expanse up high had shrunk into a tight winding funnel. There were 2 distinct cruxes, the 2nd (easier) crux was documented. In the funnel, my preffered style was the controlled jump turn. Sloughs from each turn fell away down the fall line cascading over cliffs. The funnel pinched. Gremmie dropped the knee and made it look like Mambo. I down climbed through scrub trees and hollow chalk snow with skis on as the pitch approached 55°. I was having a not-so-flattering conversation with myself regarding my decision making skills. Against odds I had made it. Now the real heart burn began as I watched Pow and the Prince enter into the funnel, but they made it look easy. I soothed my ego by philosophizing that they were able to steal my sweet moves via careful observation.

The team regrouped. What lay before us was a wide 40° gully rolling gracefully into the bottom half the standard Tanner's route. Success!! Despite our complete lack of preparation we were into familiar terrain, and 1 hour after Gremmie made his first tentative ski cuts, we hit pavement.

Once back in the safe confines of Alta, I was able to study this shot. So big and obvious. Most lines in Upper LCC look incredibly difficult, but this is usually an optical illusion. Suicide, the summit pyramid of the Pfiefferhorn, Superior, and even parts of Eagle's Nest come to mind. But this is not the case with the SE Wall of Tanner's. What you see it what you get. Tense, puckering, unrelenting with so many close-outs. So many ways that don't go. But with the help of an unseen hand, we somehow had made it through.

- U.K.