Before we skied down Hypodermic Needle a few days ago, the clouds broke just enough to allow a beautiful view of Pfeiff’s NW couloir. The route follows a rock slab ramp for a few hundred feet before making a neat turn into a rocky funnel above a long apron that fans out 1300′ below the rocky peak. The upper ramp is visible only in profile, if at all, from low in Little Cottonwood and Thunder Ridge is really the only place from which one can observe the entire line.
Noah Howell and I snacked on the summit and had a quick pow-wow to discuss how to best manage the pocket of newly drifted snow just a few feet below the entrance to the line. It seemed unlikely that the drift would be react to our weight – we’d both been out skiing the past couple days and hadn’t found sensitive wind drifts – but at the same time if the drift did avalanche there’s a chance that one could be carried over the cliffs below. In deference to Murphy’s Law, I built a quick anchor and belayed Noah as he stomped the pillow then jump turned down snow that was alternately crusted and chalky.
After ten years of exclusively telemark skiing Noah now owns an AT setup and that change chas elicited an outpouring of OMG’s! posted to his Facebook profile. With a level of “I’ll figure it out as I go” nonchalance that makes me jealously shake my head, it seems that his first few heel-locked outings have all involved some sort of ropework above an objective hazard. Dude’s got skills.
A previous party had left a mystery anchor – webbing coming from somewhere under snow – so that one could be roped the final bit before reaching the bolts. I gave the webbing a few good yanks and decided to rappel but avoid weighting the unknown system. The snow around the bolts had sluffed revealing water ice beneath and so it was a welcome mental crutch to have a rope running though my hand while I downclimbed. Here, Noah “No Place Like Home” Howell hops down to the buried mystery anchor.
As Noah downclimbed I noticed that the bolts had been engraved and I really got a kick out of the subtlely placed wit, all the more meaningful because I was perched above a rocky drop with not more than two inches of my boot toes edged into the ice I’d been doggedly kicking at.
Ski to Die / Happy Rappy
The rappel down was straightforward and, with ropes coiled, we hop-sideslip-hopped down crusty snow down the lower half of the route until the aspect shifted just enough that the snow turned from shiny, irregularly breakable crust to dense but soft powder. The snow down the valley was getting damp on this warm day but the exit was quick and painless, which is about all I’ve learned to ask for from skiing out Hogum.
Here’s more photos from the tour: