Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ray Wallace Cirque: February 2, 2013

One text to the Noodler is all it took: "Ski tomorrow?" This one text spurred about 12 reply texts describing all of the logistics necessary for the tomorrow's outing. Basically, I was to be at his house at 8:30 AM. 

Four of us piled into the Taco and headed north to Hatcher Pass and we were the first group to arrive at the upper parking lot around 10:30 AM. P9 had skied Hatcher the day before so we knew the snow was going to be good, but we were surprised when the sun came out defying the guesses of the weather guessers. 

The Noodler and Bill put in the skinner up the SW side of Marmot. Despite being 3rd/4th, it was exhausting chasing this motivated herd of mountain buffalo. The climb steepens with no relief until you gain the long broad ridge.  From the ridge there is a continuous buffet of options to choose from on either side.  P9 had a particular shot in mind, so we climbed higher.

Marmot's Long Broad Ridge

High on Marmot
Once you pass the weather station, the chutes into Ray Wallace Bowl begin to demand your attention. We passed 4 or 5 until we arrived above the one P9 had in mind.  A large cornice guarded the entrance to the steep north facing chute. The Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center warned of the possibility of popping out small wind slabs in the top 12" on steep slopes - exactly the terrain we were peering down. P9 started pole whacking at the cornice, but this was not done for G.N.A.R. points.  He was making two narrow channels in the cornice about 15' apart - set up work for the Backcountry Bomb.

I like to drop cornices.  It's fun and it serves a purpose. In the past I've used snow saws, my skis as levers, knotted p-cord, p-cord with nuts and washers, and the scary ski stomp. When the cornice does fall, it is always a let down. It is never big enough to satiate my primal desire for destruction, nor is the impact sufficient to provide a credible slope stability test.  

This is where the  Backcountry Bomb enters the picture: it makes cutting big cornices fun and easy.  The large cornice drops satisfies my inner intellectual snow science geek as well as my outer "make it go boom" redneck side.  50' of cable (with red handles on either side) saws through large cornices quickly and easily. A great data point with the thrill similar to dumping white gas on a campfire. 

After freeing a couple chest-freezer sized cornices, we felt safe dropping in. The surface conditions were mostly soft slough. The skiing was great, but you did have to avoid the occasional piece of cornice. The apron looked small from above, but with burning legs - it was endless untouched creamy pow!

From the Bottom
The Noodler and P9 wanted 3 laps, but my legs would be content with two. The Noodler and P9 took the directissimo route back to ridge while I skied back down to the original skinner and climbed slowly back up Marmot. I beat P9 and the Noodler back to the top of Marmot by 5 minutes, but they had scored an extra hot lap. 

For my 2nd run (their 3rd), we opted for one of the broad ridges of Presidents. It was a super long mellow schuss through endless acres of powder which eventually deposited us on Archangel Road. Bill, who finished his ski day early, had shuttled the Taco around to facilitate the pick-up. 

We wanted to linger in the sun enjoying the home brews, but the Noodler had a schedule to keep. He anxiously paced back and forth looking at his time bracelet while we each leisurely slammed a beer. We hurriedly crammed in and began the drive. The Noodler checked the time, sent text messages, and studied mile markers trying to determine his fate. Above freezing temperatures, dry roads, and a heavy foot all conspired to get the Noodler back with 3 minutes to spare.

From the Top
Hatcher Pass is the step-child of South Central skiing - it just doesn't get the love or attention of its more famous sibling. That doesn't mean it deserves a 2nd tier status - quite the opposite. There is an incredible variety of terrain, plenty of options to spread out and explore, less skier traffic, and a bar at the parking lot. And it gets the snow more than you might expect. This past weekend Hatcher delivered as it has quietly done for generations. 

 - U.K.


  1. 50K !!! incredible feat for an incredible digital recount of your minds persuasive way to make your legs continuously motivate vert love

  2. Time bracelet--that was a well constructed sentance, and it made me chuckle.