Last week while skiing above Pole Creek, we had a perfect view across the valley and what was seen opened our eyes wide. Within hours of being home from that tour, I was checking images and topos to figure out a good tour that would involve skiing some of the couloirs we’d seen. Yesterday, my plan was set into motion with Patrick and Matt whose only clue into what was in store was a text message I had sent the day before, “Bring a good lunch tomorrow.”
As we started up, the cloud layer hovered above us at around 10,000 feet; the top of the ridge was obscured, but we still had definition on the snow surface when the first climb began. Though we were starting up a well worn skin track, one we’d been on year after year, our destination lay on the other side of the ridge and then the other side of the next ridge too. For some reason, none of us had yet skied the amazing terrain which was just one drop away from civilization; basically, the other side of the road.
The first ridge was gained, skis put on packs, and a bit of 3rd class climbing took us to the top of a series of steep chutes lined by rock features. We dropped in one at a time to one of the straight shots and found hard snow. I skied second to get below Matt and photograph him skiing by me. Matt linked his first few turns, then tripped up and couldn’t instantly recover. He slid past me gaining speed, but was out of reach. Luckily he was able to recover, but, that moment seeing him blow his turn and watching that mistake gain momentum was a staunch reminder: if you can’t arrest a fall in the first few seconds-good luck.
At the bottom, in the middle of the cirque with lines pointing down to us from three aspects, we shook off Matt’s little scare, ate some lunch, and moved further away from the road. The peak which was now just above us, held on its north face, a plumb line couloir which I happen to notice on an image I’d captured during the Pole Creek tour. I wasn’t sure if the mystery line went without cliffing out as the image only revealed the top few hundred feet, but the excitement of exploration was coursing through our veins which made the decision to keep going all the easier.
Patrick, who works as a guide for Sun Valley Trekking, was a considerate man as we left our lunch spot and found near bulletproof snow on the south facing aspect we needed to ascend-being the only (smart) guy to bring his ski crampons for a January ski tour and was able to cut an edge which Matt and I gratefully used; we’d have booted, but, the “near” bulletproof should read that with skis on it was difficult to get an edge, skis off and the crust was just strong enough to hold weight until mid step, then you were knee deep in a posthole.
We stopped at the top of the couloir and found that it needed more snow to be able to ski it from the tip-top. But, a snow ramp ran from the ridge to the couloir which would put us only 30 feet from the top. Matt wasn’t feeling like he was on his A game and wisely chose to descend down to one of the amazing, yet less techinical, lines lower on the peak. I led the traverse for Patrick and I which went without incident as we found soft snow in the gut of the peak.
Being in the middle of a mountain, on a narrow strip of snow, is one of my favorite places to be. The relief combined with the view and having the descent presented to you as an amazing ski run is unique among outdoor pursuits. The couloir choked down to a narrow funnel twice which added to the fun as Patrick and I leap frogged down.
The tour getting back to the car included both powder filled mid-elevation tree runs, bomber ski chattering crusts, and sun cupped sastrugi. It was an adventurous day exploring a little deeper in the backyard. I think it’s safe to say that the three of us are all really excited to drop off and away from the road more often.