This past weekend Matt, Baldwin and I caught the tail end of a week long storm cycle which left multiple feet of fairly stable snow in the high country. While I knew first hand it was dumping up in the high country, have read Cadillac Desert and know any precip in the West is a heralded event, watching rain fall from the low ceiling of clouds at my house at 5200 feet above sea level kept rising global temps on my mind. I’ve lived in the Wood River Valley of South-Central Idaho for a dozen or so years and have not seen as acute a snowline as the one we have currently. As my last post read, Insta-Winter happens in a matter of a few hundred vertical feet as you drive up the mountain roads.
Baldwin arrived at 1am Saturday morning after a four hour drive from Dillon, MT. I had expected him to be upstairs in the spare room, but, found him in his VW bus out front. I called to wake him up to get ready and his greeting was classic, “Did you hear me peeing in the trees?” Good thing it was a Saturday as the Elementary school across the street to his back was vacant of the teachers that would be starting to arrive. I cooked us both a few eggs and toasted baguette and then we drove up to the East Fork light to meet Matt. The three of us were headed to Sun Valley Trekking’s Pioneer Yurt for the night.
Under cloudy skies we unloaded Baldwin’s $500 snow machine, tied on the tow ropes, and began breaking a track up Hyndman Creek to the snow station; the demarcation beyond which snowmobile use is prohibited until late Spring. Instead of hours with heavy packs on our backs, Baldwin and his machine had cut perhaps 6 miles of toil leaving only a bit more than a mile and under 1000′ of skinning to the yurt. It felt like no time before we were firing up the stove, gather snow to melt for water, and whittling the contents of our packs down to only the gear necessary for backcountry skiing.
The Pioneer range is a gem of a place to ski and the yurt is properly placed with views of Cobb and Hyndman peaks; the shitter has a beautifully tree framed view of the latter peak. These two summits, along with Old Hyndman and Duncan Ridge, pull at you with all their weight. But, even knowing that the snowpack was the closest to maritime we’ve seen in decades, the recent storms had been accompanied by wind and it really is still an early season snowpack, we kept close to the yurt skiing the treeless east facing lines called, “Peanut,” “Elk Lips,” and finished with a lap set among old growth white bark pines growing out of a decent pitch a third of the way up Duncan Ridge.
Light had all but faded as we stepped from the snowpack to the Pio yurt’s front porch, unclicked from our skis, and walked into an already warm abode. Beers in hand, a full smile “Cheers!” and life felt as good as it gets.
Matt brought up marinated chicken and Halibut from his father in-law’s recent fishing trip to AK which he prepared into a fantastic Mexican dinner. Fresh black coffee, a cheesy egg scramble with red peps, onion, bacon, and tortilla shells got us fueled for our Sunday turns. The prayer flags snapping against the window warned of a cold start, but, after ten minutes of skinning the weather calmed and we began sweating under blue bird skies. We nodded toward the mellow Peanut and Elk runs, then turned tips toward a 1000′ spike along the ridge with a steeper pitch we’d skied around the previous day; the snowpack was proving it could hold our weight! Everything was coming together and we enjoyed a few laps of amazing powder skiing; Matt getting consistent chest and face shots with his low tele turn.
We returned to the yurt for a little wood cutting work, packed up, and enjoyed the final few pitches before a quick snomo tow put us back at the VW. It wouldn’t be an outing if Baldwin’s VW didn’t have some issue. Last year, while skiing outside of Jackson, MT, one of his wheels came loose on the drive in. Luckily, the thing didn’t fly off with us coming to a sparky stop! This year, as he pulled out after dropping Matt off in Hailey, his bumper fell off leaving the snow machine and trailer it its tracks! But, an hour and four grimy hands later, we had him heading home with a bumper held by two bolts instead of four and all of us with satisfied bodies and souls.