Headed up the Visti sipping a forty and listening to Def Leppard. Around Visti pole six I shot up, and by the top I was feeling loose. By the time I reached the Top of the World, I was cross-eyed and tingling. Continued down to Old Man’s where I stripped off all my clothes and straight lined the middle, still listening to Def Leppard and screaming “Ski to Die” with a Born to Lose tattoo on my bare chest, just like I did last week. Passed out in the trees at the bottom. Woke up an hour later, and started my traverse out.
It must have come to me in a dream, that everywhere in EV was filled with evidence of the large cycle that happened this Sunday. Crowns and debris were everywhere in areas over thirty degrees, N-NE facing in the trees. Found a good spot on a NE convex roll over around 9500 feet in a 150 foot wide clearing that had fractured during the cycle. A good spot to test in as the hangfire was minimal above, about fifteen feet to the line of trees and bed surface under my feet.
I wanted to check out the snowpack, and then do a couple tests and see if my results were in line with the obvious instability. Also I wanted to see if stability was any better a couple days after the event. I found the spot. It was N-NE facing, the roll over pitching to 36 degrees at the top of the crown. I choose to do a full pit profile, then compression tests and lastly an AK block, a test created in Alaska by Bill Glude.
You need a graduated probe, two dial snow thermometers(digital suck) a snow saw, inclonometer, a field book and a pencil. Keeping your pack and gloves on, lay your pole on the snow and use your shovel to make a nice clean wall down 160 cms the length of the pole in AK here to the ground. Why 160? Hard to trigger a weak layer over six feet, a full column would take too long in AK in the field. Put your probe in the side of the pit to use as a measuring stick.
Dig your pit and smooth the face of the area as wide as your pole. Enough room to not only look at the snow but then be able to cut columns for your test. Profile the snow on the graph in your book, noting hardness, depth of different layers, different crystal types and sizes. Also note temperature gradients every 10 cms(temperature gradients indicate poor adherence from one layer in the snow pack to the other. By using two thermometers at once you can expedite the process. You also note time, aspect, elevation, sky cover, snow and snow surface temp Looking for obvious weak layers, crusts and density changes. Use your hand brush whatever to feel the layers out and expose them. Mark three shovel indentations gently on top of the snow and cut each shovel mark with your saw and excava the sides of the block with your shovel to give yourself room to cut the back of the block with your saw to isolate the cloumns.
Cut the back of the block from both sides with your saw and eliminate the column in the middle. Now you have two isolated columns. Lay your shovel genlty on top of each column and do your CT(compression tests wrist, elbow and shoulder.) tests and check your results.
I dug to 110 cms and hit ground. I got CT-2(compression test with column failure on two wrist taps)on both columns with a Q1(very clean, easy) and Q2 sheer(moderately easy, not as clean) respectively at 60 cms on the old settled storm snow(.5 mm degraded stellars) interface on the 2mm loose facet layer. That means very not good. If you were guiding, you’d get the hell out of there.
Looking down the crown, I saw this was the layer weak layer on which the slab ran, probably triggered by a traversing skier or maybe naturally during Sundays’ cycle. So far so good. My transient test results confirmed the still awful stability in the trees.
Next was an AK block, a Reuchblock without the back cut, basically to make it more representative of a natural slope. Lay your skis out and dig the block face to your desired depth, 160 cms again is good or to an obvious weak layer you want to test. Isolate the sides of the block to a pole length with your shovel/saw.
The idea is to get your skis on, and get on the block. First flex your knees, then a deep flex then a series of jumps until you get the block to fail. Then you determine the stability by that number. Indicator of very bad stability.
Cut my block, took my skis than took one boot step uphill next to the block and the convex roll fractured 4 feet above the last crown 75 feet wide and moved about a foot. Exactly why you keep your Float pack on during a test. It did surprise me and I ended up hugging a chair sized block but again the slide had happened here couple days ago and I was standing on bed surface. I can only imagine what is was like on Sunday in these trees. The block itself triggered remotely with a Q1(easy clean) shear as well.
If you were doing any of these tests on a uncontrolled slope, you would have a spotters and/or anchors. Make you own decisions and do your own tests on your own ability level, using your own judgement. This goes for your skiing as well. I skied down linking snow-covered debris piles to stay out of trouble.
Bottom line: still crappy stability, but most main areas have run, although lurking pockets of instability im sure are there especially in the trees. Able to ski covered bed surface in all steep areas to avoid possible triggers. Although not like a few days ago, still very suspect in unskied debris free N-NE areas all elevations but especially down lower. East facing had crusted up due to the sunhit.
Snowpack: No significant temperature gradients in the pack
Here’s what I saw in my pit.
Ground to Twenty cms: Four finger 3mm moist loose facets.
Twenty to Sixty cms: Fist 2mm loose facets
Sixty to One hundred cms: Four finger settled old storm snow .5 mm degraded stellars
One hundred cms to one ten cms: Fist light new snow 2-3 mm stellars
At Sixty cms: The interface between the denser old storm snow and the loose facets was the spot where things have been triggering down lower in the trees.
The trip to EV on Friday was an interesting one. Without a doubt best pow turns of my season, however it was also the most high stake avi danger day as well. Had multiple signs of weak snow pack, wind, numerous whoomfs, cracks, and even triggered a few small slides on both open faces and trees north-through-east. The aspect skiers right of our line had slid rather large and rather disturbingly as it is a line I have skied weekly in past seasons. Martineast recapped the day well here and I only regret not having a camera to take some shots.
In an effort to feed the need Saturday, I went out all geared up for another EV lap, keeping in mind I would most likely be turning back and skiing in-bounds with a fully loaded pack. After some quality lift chair time I reached the top of Sourdough and decided I’d keep my self busy with some beacon training and to check the snow to see if the drop in temperature had improved the snow pack.
After beacon basin, I searched to find areas which represented the terrain I had been skiing yesterday and just as I had expected, the snow was still rotten — super rotten. Below are pics from a “hasty pit” I dug in a north-east facing tree’d area similar to the terrain and aspect where I had encountered the most activity two days prior.
Looking at the photos, you do not need to be a snow scientist to understand what is causing the high risk conditions in our surrounding area. Keep in mind, this photo was taken on a treed northeastern slope, the same aspect as many tree lines in EV.
The photo above with the shovel clearly illustrates the newly fallen snow on a super consolidated layer created by warm temps and wind supported by an extremely faceted snow layer. After digging and looking at the snow I was convinced to turn around.
With the newly fallen snow Saturday night / Sunday morning, it will be hard to resist heading out for some fresh turns. The already crazy high avalanche danger persists. This pit shows that even in the trees and in areas we may think are safe, we aren’t. Stay inside the ropes for now…
Crazy swings in temperature last few days. 13 below to 40 above in a couple of days with a rain snow mix yesterday in town. Switched to snow to the valley floor sometime Thursday night and woke to two inches on my deck with warm temperatures again.
Went with my buddy Paulie out to Tele Line where we had skied the last storms’ snow on supportable crust, bypassing anything steep(30+ degrees)and north facing again. The constant weather factor for the last few days has been the jet stream wind, up again and howling on the ridges out of the northwest. Same deal today as the next front intensified around 12:30 and started dumping a heavy wet, Pac-Northwest style snow. Nice storm skin as the only two other travelers were ahead of us and disappeared into the white out above the poma.
Hitting the point, the winds were calm again as on Wednesday, and the east-facing run was slathered in twenty cms of dense new snow up top. Did a quick hasty pit, similar shallow pack as Wednesday with the new snow supported by the crust underneath. I went first, skiied through the initial rock pillows and ditched it the trees early and waited for Paulie. No activity. Paulie dropped and met me in a cluster of dense old growth. The upper section skied well and the dense snow was nice supportive powder turns of the year. Bliss.
As we entered the middle section, things changed dramatically. We leapfrogged down to the traverse out, staying next to the ridgeline. Paulie let me know he was triggering whoomphing and propagating cracks in areas that I had skied. The thirty pound differential between us was enough to make the difference and allow him to punch through the saturated crust and trigger failure. We regrouped and went farther into the old stands. Entering lower elevations and into the rain/snow mix layer from the night before, the dense new snow wasn’t adhering to the increasingly saturated melt freeze crust. Bottom line the lower we got, the higher the avalanche danger became. We were able to traverse out in cracking boot top on ground dense snow to the aspens. If we get the snow predicted on Saturday and the pack on the Benchie traverse out becomes deep enough to slide, the traverse out could be treatcherous.The aspens down low were extremely sensitive, and shooting cracks and small slab collapses were all over, even worse than the cracking on Wednesday. Again Paulie, being a beast, was triggering areas I didn’t all the way to the bus.
Snow Pack Discussion.
After Paulie triggered the whoomphing and cracking in the middle elevations of Tele Line, we staged at some trees and I crept out and dug a hasty pit. (Yep it’s a bona fide real pit with NO SAW, it actually has a place in the world of snow science.) On the go assessment. A lot going on in the 60cm snowpack. Bottom 20 cms, 3 mm loose facets. Next, a five mm melt-freeze crust, pencil hard. Following this, fifteen cms of smaller loose facets, 2 mm. On top of this, another four to five mm melt-freeze crust again, finger hard, increasingly saturated as elevations lowered. Topping the cake was the 20-25 dense wet snow in the spot I was at, a sheltered spot, east facing around the middle of the line. (the depth of new snow varied drastically in different aspects and elevations. We were on a eastern aspect, with a good view of north east.) All propagating fractures were easily Q1 shears, but didn’t run any distance.
Paulie was collapsing the crust from mid elevations down and the storm snow was running on the collapsed crust on loose facets below. Danger was even higher today, than it has been in the last few days, especially in lower elevations N-E aspects. Didn’t get to test any W aspects at any elevation recently, but I assume similar types of results. We saw evidence of slab releases in NE aspects at 9500 ft and below. Temps have cooled off since the storm moved through and have skies cleared. Hopefully this will lock up some of the moisture and settle things, but this is just spray(a new phrase I learned today).
Concerned about Saturday, weekend crowds and the lure of pow will have intrepid souls venturing back there in very high danger. Hope all goes well, please let us know if you are out and see anything. Be safe. EVI
Tuesday I made the most of the sunny afternoon to shoot up to the top of Benchmark, poke around and see what’s going on back in EV. Skinning out from Two Elk’s, it’s pretty obvious we are no where near the much needed snow pack to get things rolling in the back bowls. I love the sunshine, but seeing a brown-out on all the south facers that were caked deep only twelve months prior is a bit of a downer. Guess the snow is only hanging in the shade and baking in the sun. The slopes are littered with surface hoar, caused by the clear night’s frost and the sunshine baking bonds into weak facets.
Storms like this past Saturday’s is a little more what we could use three times a week for the rest of the month, but let’s face it, what’s here is now… and now we have a pretty weak snow pack. Studying the avy roses of the CAIC, the weakest areas should lie on the east facing slopes in the Vail-Summit Zone. I decided that’s exactly where I would belay to a shaded 38 degree slope on the NE side of the tall pines that separate East Abe’s and the open east facing slopes of Benchmark. Reason being, this is most likely where persistant weaknesses will remain throughout this season’s snow pack.
I harnessed up and tied in with the glacier line around a stout tree. Please be clear, it is not my intention to rope off and start popping off slides on purpose. A safety line is in every guide’s pack and is an extremely important tool for any back country traveler. Not to mention, it is the 8th Commandment in Bruce Tremper’s “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain”: “Thou shalt use a Belay rope! Most serious avalanche professionals carry and use a belay rope.”
I am not an avalanche professional (yet), but I do posses the knowledge and self-preservation skills to have a 30m glacier line as a part of my BC toolkit. Hopefully it’s a last resort preventative from crack, pop, pin-ball ride through trees and a push off a cliff.
I dug a pit in what could be the sweet spot of a likely starting zone. During the careful descent amongst sloughing loose snow and little failures of the top layer my observations showed that there weren’t any cracks propagating off into the distance, but the small failures under my skis were enough to be wary of.
Got settled in, dug the “pit” and started to gather some data. There are presently as of 1/10/2012, 3:00pm above 11,400 ft. East Vail Proper, three layers to this shallow 70cm “snow pack”. The bottom 30cm is basically larger facets slightly bonded resting on depth hoar. The next 30-55/60cm are comprised of faceted loose grains and the very top layer 55-70cm is the last storm accumulation. The exposed snow is already riddled with surface hoar. Doesn’t look too great for the future, but some avi cycles are likely to occur with a big snow and flush this particular zone of some of those pesky white dragons for the time being. The snow pack is constantly changing and this does not mean that those dragons will not creep back into the mix in the future. So, beware.
An isolated column test resulted in the top 58-70cm layer failing after four shots from the wrist. Not too surprising, while the break was not completely a shear one (Q3). Four shots from the elbow failed at the 30-58cm range, again not a clean break (Q3). Under the right conditions, I’m sensing a collapse in these weaker layers after a good snowfall, or a human loads them.
For the real snow nerds out there (myself included), I measured the temps of the pack to see if there were any major gradients. Chose to use 20cm increments to measure within the noticeable layers and came up with 0 deg. Celsius at 10cm, -1.7 at 30cm, -3.4 at 50cm and -6 at 70cm. Towards the bottom 10-30cm that’s 8.5 deg/m, 17 deg/m in the middle
and 13 deg/m at the top. The numbers below 30cm represent a weak temp gradient (<10 deg. C/m). The rest of the snow pack has a strong temp gradient (>10 deg. C/m), and results in a loss of strength with facet formation. Math aside, we have plenty of weak snow to make conditions unfavorable in the future.
Cautiously negotiating my away from terrain traps and cliff bands, I skied my way to the lower angled aspect of East Abe’s and made some really fun turns. Crossing the creek and sticking skier’s right, I rode through the deeper shaded snow amongst the short pines until the waterfall. The ride was sugary and mellow. After the falls, the traverse left into the woods and the scarcely packed ski trail was extremely variable. We definitely need some serious snow in those woods to make the ride back to the bus a little less rough. The last bit of the trail is packed down by some snowmobiles and make the last portion along the water tower a welcoming slide home.
Not bad for my first “benchmark to water tower” trip of the year. Grand from afar, far from grand. It will be interesting to see how the snow pack in the zone evolves and how conditions will change as our season trudges on. Glad I was able to take the afternoon for some recon and gauge conditions until the next storm. Until then, keep it safe and pray for more snow!
With the holiday crowds closing in, I skinned my way up to Mushie two days in a row to check out the snow on both the West and North aspects in the gladed 20-30 degree terrain for something to do. The ridge top had variable areas of 10 cm wind board on facets to soft wind blown crust over, you geussed it, more facets, to dirt patches. The first five upper low angle turns off the ridgeline were decent, fresh turns on stale cake. As the pitches steepened and rolled toward the cliff band that runs in the middle of Mushroom Bowl, the skiing turned to a barely covered nightmare of no more than 60 cms of 2mm facets on rocks and fallen trees. The best way to describe a weighted ski turn two thirds of the way down is hitting a sandcastle with a baseball bat. The snow looses cohesion, disintegrates under the weight and the facets run to the dirt in a glittering hiss below the turn. A frightening prospect for a basal layer for our snow pack when (think positive) our weather cycle does turn back to snow.
If we continue to get small amounts of snow with long periods of calm weather in between, then avalanche wise it’s really no problem, it will just be a low tide year for the central mountains like most of AK’s mountains had last year. However, if we do see an averaging out of the snowfall amounts in the last two thirds of the season, then I have to imagine we will have a signifigant avalanche cycle with the first large dump. With the depth of snow in EV ranging from dirt to sixty cm of loose facets that on both West and North aspects, a two foot dump would rip to the ground with little effort with any kind of rapid loading of typical cold low density mid-winter snow on such a weakly bonded base layer. Our best hope is precip to come in warm and wet and alot of it. Or a storm comes in with such rapid loading that EV flushes itself out naturally overnight and cleans out what has become a forgettable early season mess on all aspects.
Something else to check out. Noaa has an interesting report on their website on the effect La Nina will have on Colorado weather for the rest of the winter. Much of it is super technical, but it is interesting to read the atmospheric science based precipitation predictions for the next six months. I won’t ruin it for you, check it out and draw your own conclusions.
It was a relief to get out into Mushie and skin far far away from the madnesss happening with the holidays in Vail. Just passing Two Elk helped my personal holiday decompression. The lack of sno, however trying, fails to make the skin up to the top of Benchie any less beautiful. The black, grey and white spattered Gore range, gaunt and bare, stretched into a sky littered with purple and grey clouds streaming in from the Northwest. A few tendrils of snow stretched down to touch the very tops of the Gore Range, but the wisps were wishful thinking for a range that is now feet away from average. I enjoyed standing on the top of Benchie again, wind howling and no one around. Pretty much ski hiked the last two thirds of the run both days to the road, but I enjoyed the taste of the EV experience that I have, admittedly, taken for granted over the last fourteen years.
I gathered with my group at the Yeoman Park trailhead around 8:30 on Monday, March 7th for our hut trip to Carl’s Cabin. It is a beautiful wood hut six miles up in a great area below New York Mountain, near the Polar Star Inn. It may not offer the sweeping big mountain views of some of the other 10th Mtn Huts but it has this warm , tucked in Whitman and Thoreau transcedental glow to the snow loaded heathy pine and spruce forest that just whispers wilderness wonder.
The group casually gathered packs, food, and beer under a bright blue Colorado sky with chuckles and high fives of anticipation. We threw all the big packs, food, beer, and whiskey in the sleds and enjoyed a nice sunny skin up. It was just a short couple miles before the sleds returned from dropping the bounty and half the group right at the hut. With a quick tow we were all styling on that first sip of beer well before noon. I often have mixed feelings on snowmobiles (mainly cause I don’t have one) but it is a great feeling to ski some fresh up hill at over 30mph and Apres is so much better supplied by the 2 stroke.
The weather clouded over as we headed out for the afternoon tour. (Another advantage of the sleds – a fresh feeling afternoon tour.) We climbed through some big old growth up to the ridge above treeline. We could see the storms building to the west as we searched around the cornices to recon for any big routes for Tuesday.
Nothing looked too clear or appetizing enough even after traversing up and around more southwest, especially as new snow clouded visibility. Saw more big rock and overhanging cornice, but it did offer some cool views above the town of Fulford. A whole winter locked up in a cabin there I could become a mad backcountry skier or maybe just a crazy mad man. As evening approached we picked our way through the scree collecting the occasional scratch and core shot through the fresh few inches from Sunday night. As we hit treeline we began to sample some good north facing softness and tree shots as we skied back to the cabin. The snow picked up and dumped super hard for the last hour of the day, before parting for a nice show by Orion and the bottom crescent moon.
After a great dinner and all night apres we woke casually late to more snow and multiple imititations of my sleep apnea. (Which did upgrade me to an upstairs private suite for night 2). After coffee, pancakes, and fine bacon our group was off and breaking fresh trail up through the woods and above treeline. The snow was falling straight down with little wind in that serenity now pattern. The skiing was fabulous as we saw no ther groups that day as we skied lap after lap of big open north facing trees with a foot of deep fluffy face shot snow that you can taste the sweetnes of when you lick your lips. Took a late 4:20 lunch of Newcastles, salami, and Buffalo Pastrami sandwiches before setting out for a twilight rally of goodness. The last lap was in the early edge of darkness where your throwing white powder at the dark shadows, hitting the hole and just touching the deep soul of what moves you in these mountains. I can’t say enough how nice it is to get away from work and the resort grind to be in a great place with good friiends, good snow and good vibes.
We ended the day with our fourth pork product and the last of all the bourbon and scotch. The morning was filled with hasty cleaning and a final fast lap for one more fix of that fluff. Another great run down through more of an open zone, ending at a couple empty yurts. We gathered the last of our stuff, shouldered our heavy packs (as the haul sled had already left) and had a nice sunny 6+ mile ski down. What a great trip. There is something about a hut with snow rising up the windows, wood stove cranking, and all your buddies laughing in delight. Go out and get some!
Just want to report on our excursion to bighorn on Tuesday. Big J and I went up up the bighorn ridge to tree line on a perfect blue sky early spring day.
We passed all the skin tracks and went to the top of the ridge and were rewarded with an awesome view of the gore and found ourselves on top of a large avie path.
After taking in the view, we decided to dig a representative pit on a due W aspect at 35degrees. We had time so I decided to dig a 180 cm pit. We found a 245 cm deep snow pack at 11,900.
Examining the pack we found no obvious lenses or crusts, with the density going from fist density to four finger all the way down, changing from 2mm stellars to 2mm rounds at 155 cm. On our compression test we found ctm 22 with a Q1 shear at 155 cm. The new fluff was reactive on the old storm snow, making sluff a concern.
Continuing our pit we found a CT25 with a Q2 shear at 100cm. Uneven shearing and little pop made us wonder if our column was at fault, so we tested it again and found similar results. Moderate stability and a right side up snow pack gave us confidence to keep exploring.
For the final test, we did an AK block, a reuchblock with out the back cut. This is a test created an promoted by Bill Glude an renowned avalanche forecaster, heliguide and avalanche guru from Juneau AK. After testing the block, and getting a RB 7, basically a no failure result, we decided to drop in.
The skiing was phenomenal up top. John and I leapfrogged each other staying closed to the treed edge, skiing to the choke. A traverse around the choke led us to some route finding and we ended skiing out farther skiers right, up the valley.
The terrain we were able to see and scout was alpine, rocky and steep, with the possibilities endless for exploration. Check out the photos. The Gore is the real deal, steep exposed and isolated. It deserves respect and caution. A great day all around.
Took a few days off from ev waiting for the reset button to be hit. Big J and I took the opportunity to head up bighorn trail to the cabin. The day was bluebird, calm and April warm, perfect for skinning up.
The terrain in the drainage was spectacular, west facing alpine and filled in nicely. We saw some folks teeing it up early on the hike. No observed naturals anywhere and no activity from the bold skittles sending it. John and I were both enlightened to say the least at the possibilities for skiing big lines up to and around the cabin. The Gore with good snow is simply amazing.
After getting to the cabin we decided to head up above the cabin to check out terrain and snow. We stopped at about 11800 and dug a pit before we crossed a 34 degree W facing slope. Total depth was 230 cm. Got a CT25 with a q2 shear at 60cm. CTN for the rest of the column. Top 10 cm windblown soft onto of fist destiny snow, gradually turning to four finger of settled snow around 110 cm. Didn’t see any significant crust, ice or hoar layers and nicely homogeneous snow pack for Colorado. Pulling on the column with a shovel blade produced a second shear at 200cm, q2 little pop and failing on faceting old storm snow.
Suprised at the pit, actually with no layers of doom present and the snowpack layering right side up so far, soft to firm with no significant temperature gradient. Game on. We crossed the slope and headed back towards home. Planning on returning with some time to stay at the cabin and tee it up this spring. Awesome day and pleasantly suprised with moderate stability.