The North Face of Mt Timpanogos is a steep, seldom-traveled place. Andrew McLean and Brad Barlage skied a direct line decade ago before descending a poorly protected series of rappels down the 600 foot cliffs that stripe the lower face. Since then, the line has seen little action. Derek and I had eyed an elegant sneak down a tucked-away couloir in the cliffs on prior ski tours, but the face above was just too intimidating to try it on a whim. The windloaded, hanging snowfield below the summit avalanches frequently, often sliding to the ground. Unlike some areas on Timp, the North Face snowpack trends towards shallow and sugary.
This spring, after making and then aborting plans to ski the line a few times, Derek, Tom and I headed back. Cloud cover kept the spring snow from softening but the firm snow made me confident that we need not worry about avalanches. The Ali Babba sneak couloir was filled in, which I’m not sure happens every year. There was no need for ropework where the beta photo is marked “Rap.” The line we skied was something I’d envisioned for a few years and so naturally it felt great to ski it in safe conditions.
Here’s Derek’s trip report.
Mark often imagined lines down the west face of Cascade Mountain. Wide alpine bowls tighten to rock lined chutes before ending abruptly in a massive limestone cliff band that wraps for miles around the peak. The chutes are in plain sight of Orem and Provo, Utah but the wide band of chossy rock is unappealing to rock climbers and skiers alike.
After scrutinizing the cliffs with binoculars, Mark hypothesized that rappelling the cliffs might not be as bad as they look. Some bands of limestone appeared to be more solid rock, maybe rappelling them wouldn’t be so bad.
Armed with Mark’s brother’s bolt gun, a handful of rap anchors, and a comical quantity of rope, we climbed Cascade and ate a mid-morning sandwich while we waited for the snow to soften. The snow was icy on top, covered in roller balls through the middle and didn’t get good until about the last 1000 feet of silky corn skiing. While the route isnt steep, it’s hard to forget about the huge exposure below.
When we reached the end of the snow, where ramps of steep loose talus alternated with crumbling shale and limestone cliffs I began to rethink our plan. From below the steep benches weren’t apparent. On top of that, the best rock seemed to be just below the edge of the terraces which would make both bolting and clipping the anchors an intense chore. Mark had hoped, if we put in some well-placed bolts, that the route might gain some popularity. It certainly looks aesthetic from the valley. But if we were forced to drill over the edge the bolts would be near impossible for others to find.
A little disappointed, we reassessed then began moving towards plan b. We climbed over a nearby ridge and then began the long scramble down a ravine that cuts through the cliffs. The route was less direct than what we hoped for, but required only a few short rappels before we were booting down the pine-needle-and-tree-trunk-covered avalanche debris pile below the cliffs. Fat, old trunks violently deprived of all their branches and most of their bark were an unambiguous reminder of the huge slidepaths overhead. With skis on our packs, we thrashed through the spring greenery back to the car.
After getting rained out in Fruita, we headed back to Utah where the NWS was forecasting a foot or two of snow. Early Monday morning we put on boots and skins by headlamp and discovered that between the three of us we knew quite a few of the other folks doing the same thing in the parking lot around us. It had snowed two feet overnight but cleared and now the stars were fading into the dawn. Grant, Dustin and I skied a deep, bluebird lap down Monte Cristo and were headed back down LCC by 8am.
Back home from skiing, Grant and I loaded his truck with the bikes and car camping gear we’d just unloaded the night before and headed a 140 miles East to Vernal, Utah. By lunchtime we were back in tee shirts and shorts, riding bikes in the red desert.
Allison and I spent three consecutive days skiing together. Given our often conflicting schedules, that was kind of a big deal. On top of that, it snowed. A lot. Like 3+ feet. We spent two days skiing sheltered terrain along the Park City ridgeline as the storm pounded then lapped the Cottonwoods powder circuit as the clouds parted.
The SLC Shootout is a photo competition that pits photographer/athlete teams against one another set against the backdrop of the Little and Big Cottonwood ski resorts. My friend Steve was one of the photogs invited to compete in this year’s event. When he called to ask if I’d help him schlep gear around for a few days I jumped at the chance. We spent four long days working for the shots and Steve came away with a bunch of bangers.
Here’s a couple photos from the sidelines:
Mark and I skied Crow’s Foot Chutes after I almost blew it by forgetting my boots at home. Luckily, I had a pair ordered and ready to be picked up at Black Diamond and I’d have to break em in sometime, right? Our mid-morning start had become a noon start so we decided to shorten the route by traveling straight up the South Fork of Dry Creek. 4400′ of trail-breaking later and we were on top of the avalanche paths, looking down on the suburban sprawl below. It’s always such a contrast to ski along the western edge of the Wasatch. Look uphill and there’s eagles and weathered old trees and zero human footprints, turn around and, woah, there’s two million people right freakin there.
The National Weather Service couldn’t decide what the storm was going to do. Two days out they were calling for 5-9″. By T-minus-24 they’d upped that to 7-14″ but then just as quickly backed those numbers way down when the front split around the Wasatch. So I was surprised to wake up and see Alta reporting 15″.
Sure the temps were well below zero with ridgeline windchill some scary number around -30F, but it hadn’t snowed much for a week and finding a couple powder-fixated partners wasn’t hard. Bundled warmly, we went for a tour.
The wind was kicking and it was carrying away plumes of the light density snow in a way that made it look like the mountains were burning. That wind was also drifting the new snow into slabs that we kicked off as we walked above them on the ridgeline. The final tally included occasional face shots and zero frostbitten appendages. Not bad.
We went south looking for cold, fluffy powder. Instead we found a thick melt-freeze crust under a dusting of new snow. The climbing was that challenging type of skinning where skis have to be edged just perfectly to get traction. Lean one way and you’re sliding sideways downhill. Lean the other way and, well, same result. It’s the skiing equivalent of climbing offwidth: usually unpleasant and insecure but punctuated by moments of enjoying the challenge.
The ski down wasn’t really that much better. Dodging frozen debris chunks and jump turning runnels has some appeal, though you need to have a pretty obsessive appreciation for skiing to see it that way. It was probably good training for spring mountaineering, or something.
With a few inches of new-snow cushion on top of the rain crust, Allison, Alex, Grant and I went out to see if we could find some decent turns. We succeeded.
Allison pointed out to me tonight that Timpanogos is a Ute word meaning rock (tumpi-), and water mouth (-panogos). That got me googling and it wasnt long before I came up with this page from Southern Paiutes: Legends, Lore, Language and Lineage. If you haven’t read about the possible origin of the word “Wasatch” it’s worth clicking that last link.
Anyway, today we walked up the East Peak of Timpanogos, or Peak 10791, or Elk Point, depending upon who you ask. Climbers on summitpost claim guidebook author Kelsey labeled the point East Peak of Timpanogos in his books despite the pre-existing name Elk Point. But then Derek and Bruce Tremper agree Elk Point is the outcrop a bit further south, just above Sundance. So who knows. Anyway.
We skied the prominent, fearsome-looking avalanche path on the NE corner of watchamacallit after looking for something even more billy-goat to ski. The snow was variable and, notably, punchy in places. Down lower the powder was still cold and soft but the near surface facet layer is 6-8″ deep, loud, and loose. The snow in this area is loosing strength, as both the top and bottom of the snowpack metamorphose. All it will take is a windy night or a couple inches of snow to turn this slope into the loaded gun it often is.
We skied the big gut-shot off the summit in the photo below. That’s mostly ’11/’12 gear you see the boys sporting there. Sorry, but you’ll have to wait to see it up close.
I’d classify the route as “adventure skiing” which in my lexicon implies a dose of exploration, routefinding, and perhaps less-than-ideal snow. While there aren’t many days in a year I feel bold enough to venture into the funnel we skied, terrain knowledge from today will be helpful the next time I do.
We made a couple frosty laps on Santaquin Peak yesterday. The route up the west gully begins in a neighborhood. Despite the low elevation start we were spared bushwacking. Apparently the drainage avalanches cataclysmically often enough to keep the gully clear right down to the resident’s back patios. The skiing was Argenta-esque with a pleasant upper-30 degree headwall for about a thousand feet followed by another 3500′ of low-30 degree meadow skipping through avalanche-abused shrubbery. Certainly the highlight of the skiing was high-marking and shrub-jumping down the 1.5 mile long half-pipe gully. Good times, boys!
Two years ago, Derek pointed out a pyramid-shaped face on Timpanogos as we skied along the ridgeline. We peeked over the edge but, because the line gets steeper and steeper the lower you go, we thought it might cliff out at the bottom and skied elsewhere that day. We didn’t make it back to the pyramid face that year, or last year, but after a recent storm plastered 13″ of water, all of it in the form of snow, we figured it’d be worth investigating the line again. After a not-nearly-long-enough 3.5 hour sleep, I motored an hour down the valley to meet Derek, Tom, Noah, Andy and Alex. As Derek pointed out, it’s a good sign when everyone shows up early for a 5:15am rendezvous.
We began skinning in the dark and wound upwards through the Grand Staircase as dawn broke. As we climbed above treeline we got our first views of the east face of Timp’s north summit – the line we hoped to ski. Following a mile of rideline walking we crested the summit a bit after 11am. The sky was that deep-sea blue that happens on crisp January days when the sun’s orbit is still low in the south – the same sky you see through the little round window when cruising at 35,000 ft.
The route down was similar to the east face of Twin Peaks here in the central Wasatch – similar steepness with lots of rocky outcrops and gully options across the wide face and about the same vert too. Unlike the east face of Twins, the bottom of this route cliffs out in a big way. We traversed off the face above the 200+ ft cliffs glad we’d saved the mission for a day with really, really, really high snow stability.
We caught glimpses of the full moon tonight between gusts of hissing snowfall. A bit more than a foot had fallen during the day and it seemed to be composed entirely of high-density graupel. Still, the graupel was loose and flowed like large grain sugar between gloved fingers. Its higher density bouys skis to the surface and we bobbed down the runs, kicking up rooster tail wakes that sounded like rainsticks. We finally called it quits around ten then adjourned to Main St to add some GoreTex chic to the Ed Hardy-swaddled crowds.
Allison, Bennett, Porter and I skied a chute in Little Cottonwood yesterday. With only a foot or three of snow on the ground, slopes that harbor good skiing are limited. The easiest accessed slopes have been skied practically into moguls even without the help of chairlifts.
We opted for a couple mile approach and found the upper drainage empty and without even a single ski track. Cherrypicking one of the deepest drifted lines, we broke trail upwards. After some extensive switchbacking, we topped out in the sun, peeled skins, pointed skis off the edge and obliterated our zipper up track.
The weather-guessers guessed increasingly cloudy, but the sun beamed intensely through the morning and into the afternoon. We headed to high and shady slopes to find cold powder amid the mild afternoon temperatures. There we found good skiing and even a little solitude, which was kinda surprising: judging by the cooked spaghetti wiggles from thousands of riders, we weren’t the only ones who’ve been antsy for winter this week.