A little update from the North on EVI’s inaugural trip to Alaska.
Letting the boys sleep in today after a bluebird windless stretch like I’ve never seen up here. We were up at 4500 feet yesterday and not a breath of wind. Unreal. Snowed 20 to 100 cms depending on the aspect and elevation last Friday and Saturday, since then its’s been game on!. Tailgate AK, a lovable junkshow, has wrapped up and the ABA parking lot is ours.
Spent our time getting to know both sides of the pass after getting through an avi cycle the day after the storm. Luke set of a SS-AS-R5-D3-I on the Berlin shoulder. Everybody’s OK, but a sobering reminder to watch your ass at all times up here. Since then the conditions are stable and good. Things heal up very quickly here in the maritime world. The north aspects are filled with Valdez cream cheese, wind buffed supportive powder that hardly sluffs at all on our 40 to 50 degree runs. We’ve been using sled bumps to get to our zones, after that we’ve been climbing and skinning. It’s different and very enjoyable to tour in a place that is a skier’s paradise and overwhelmingly beautiful, filled with a lifetime or two of accessible runs.
Berlin Wall, Berlin Shoulder, Giovanni’s, Aucopolco, Girl’s, Python Wall and today when the boys wake up a bump and hike to ski the mighty Python. Our cost? A little sweat equity and 180 bucks. Not a bad deal.
Will jump into the heli for a day or to and if it stays the same conditions try to get onto some big stuff. Meteorite, Tusk, Pontoon, Kiwi’s are all things availible.
Matt and Luke have been awesome and our group dynamic is better than I could hope for. Solving problems on snow, getting around hazards and learning the game, they both have excelled. We have a ton of pics and video. We will put them up when we aren’t skiing. Simply put it’s been incredible.
I stand on top of the Top of The world and stare in awe at what I see. A mid-May landscape of brown and white stares right back. Barren Vail pass and a rapidly melting east vail are an indicator of just how off this season has been in terms of snow. Nothing to do now but hike and train, ski EVs to get ready for the big game. Nice also to get away from the spring break madness that has taken over the mountain. Good Lord it’s dangerous out there and I’ll take my chances with the backcountry any day.
Thought about my options and realized that with the consistent temps and sun hit, the west wall’s demise was near completion. Probably would be my last chance to rescue my AK JJ that I sacrificed last week during a moment of huberis. A few more days of the above 40 temps and sun would render the isothermic snowpack completely unsupportive and the West Wall starts ripping to the ground, entombing my ski in wet slide debris until late spring. The run to the ground scenario is something reserved usually for late April or May in a typical EV season. This year, March 13? Why not?
Rescue mission time. The only access it was to ski the run I had last time. There was no option to cut over from skier’s right West wall and be high enough to get the ski. Plus, undercutting that entire area to get across wasn’t an option.
Skied to the entrance of the Corner Pocket and thought about my last run, eating it, getting hit and losing a ski in the process. Shut my eyes for a second, deep breath and I push off onto March corn. I ski the upper, sparsely spaced old growth trees without incident.
Coming to the choke, the place where I failed last time, I stopped behind a large tree and peered in. I saw that the double stage drop was now a muddy runnel with snowmelt, bushes and mud leading to the runout area. Below in the debris zone is where my ski was supposed to be. I could see two specks of black, and a tip of a ski in the melting carved runout.
Getting down to it was the issue. There was no hucking the drop this time. It would be a tragic irony to land and go through the rest of the snow pack and lose another ski in another tomahawk. The answer lies in the river of water and mud trickling to my right. The next sequence is an ad lib that has no basis in snow science or widley accepted backcountry protocol. I don’t give a shit. Sometimes you have to do what you have to get your ski.
First time for everything. Stood on a bushy bench looking down and considered my future.
Step One. Side Stashes off. (Taking your skis off is a no no, but there was no chance to downclimb mudrunnel on skis.)
Step Two. Throw side stashes like a spear into the debris pile below.
Step Three. Grab slippery root in the mudrunnel and try to down climb over a ledge covered in flowing water and mud.
Step Four. Realize gravity always wins, commit to the muddy ass slide over the ledge and air it.
Step Five. Land onto the debris pile below in a spider monkey position.
Step Six. Wallow/ swim in the snow to find and retrive AK JJ. Use as a support to get to the Sidestashes. Get on em and get out of there.
Skied out decent corn on the old debris piles next to recent wet slide debris in the mddle of the far left west wall area. The slide went over the first roll and down near the traverse out from Tele Line. The crown was just under the cliffs to the skier’s right of my gully. It was about a foot and a half deep, the debris looked a day or two old.
Spider monkey pentrometer confirmed that the snow pack on the west wall was being bridged by a rapidly weakening mid pack crust layer being saturated with melt water. Underneath is loose and unconsolidated to the ground. The end is near.
Rescue mission a success. I skied out with three, being careful not to clothes line myself on the traverese out. Another first in my fifteen seasons here. Prouldy displayed my hard earned, slightly muddy trophy on the bus.
Sam, a EVI follower who I didn’t know, aked me if that was the indeed the rogue JJ from EVI. I laughed and confirmed. Talked about the state of EV and the crazy year on the way in.
EV season started two months late and ends a month early. Not much left in between.
Bluebird weekend with the Snowball festival. EV saw big numbers. 140 by two o’clock yesterday, 90 by noon today. Top of the World today reveals tracks everywhere. Temperatures rising again over 30 degrees.
Saw JD the Poma. He mentioned that he has seen plenty of large groups yesterday teeing it up everywhere. Tracks in the middle of west wall with no slide activity. Tweeners was stomped and Abe’s as well, confirming JD’s story. Met up with Law at the top by chance, grouped up with MFD and Atomic Mid Fat. Followed them down to Old Man’s. Cornice had risen dramatically with the wind arriving with the clearing storm.
Waited and watched the first two try to attack the cornice with a rope. Without the proper weight in the middle of the rope the rope cut nothing but plate sized chunks of snow while exposing them both to the edge of the overhang. They inched their way off the Old Man’s entrance with every rope toss and ended up over King Tut’s still trying to lasso a part of the cornice. I waited with Law above and watched. Good to leave a person in a safe area if you decide to tackle a cornice. I learned that lesson after my turn at cornice stomping left me with a ski in midair. A pole from Law behind me helped me back up to solid ground.
Skied lower down above the entrance proper as the calf roping continued. I asked them to back off a second. I probed the edge of the new cornice section at the entrance with my pole and gave a few good stomps. A sizable chunk of the newly formed section of cornice dropped and impacted the crown area of last weeks slide, the old bed surface in the middle of Old Mans almost completely filled in with the recent new snow. The chunks exploded on the scarp and ran through the frying pan. No step down, the new snow in the middle of the bowl held tough. Even with three hundred tracks in EV the last couple days, the rest of Old Mans was a blank canvas.
Dropped the entrance, skirted the debris and skied a surprisingly good Olds tree chute far right. Exited through lower trees where the snow was rapidly warming.
Wednesday and Thursday were two very different days. Wednesday the six or so inches came in wind affected and dense. The mountain was overrun, the front range emptying out for the busiest mid-week day this year.
Eighty people out in EV. Based on what I saw, the black flag warning was warranted. Recently formed windslabs with the warming temperatures were active in Benchie with the first crew. Tele line tracks were set in with no activity. My own experience in the West Wall didn’t go as planned, stuffed the landing and got hit by a small slab from behind. Thanks to Dan and crew for the spot, and the secondary spot when I went back to look for my AK JJ. The small slab was about a foot of new snow on the sun crust underneath. Thankfully, not a large release. a warning slap from EV was noted and I skied out with my tail between my legs. It happens, everything’s good till it isn’t. Get yourself in, get yourself out. Not my first time skiing out on one, still sucks on a powder day. Didn’t see any step down past the deceptively sturdy mid layers, just the warming, wind affected new snow.
The biggest evidence of activity was on the last pitch to the traverse from the Benchie drainage. Below the north facing cliffs above the traverse track the entire new load ripped out 100 ft wide and a couple feet deep, running through the disaster species.
This is the same spot that Colby De put a photo of on facebook earlier in the year of a similar slide. Below tree line problems again,a constant all year.
The day that shouldn’t be was filled with a strange manic energy. The Poma catwalk turned into 1-25 on Monday morning, filled with road rage and angst. Glad to see it end with nothing serious going down in EV.
Thursday was the opposite on the mountain and in EV. Storm day with nobody around. The front range frenzy was gone and the snow was much less wind affected, piling up all day. At 9 there was about four inches. By the afternoon the mountain was skiing well, filled in, and EV was reset with about a foot of new. Skied with J, DPS and Jonny R who hates EVI, but who I have a lot of respect for as a skier and experienced backcountry traveler.
Our run through Tweeners and the trees was silent, deep and uneventful, the new fluff not nearly as reactive as the previous days snow. Triangle face held and skied well. Much colder temps locked up the mid layer, at least for the time being.
Watched a group get into Old Mans, ski the right side trees and exit in the lower middle. No activity from their run, but the cornice up top appeared almost overnight, around four to five feet now.
Much better day all around condition wise and personally, kept them both on my feet. Back on the 207’s my favorite pow stick of all time. I found out the hard way that the enter mounted JJ’s are little short for landing gear. That’s right, blame the skis.
Today is one month out to AK. Tailgate AK and time on Thompson Pass on the mother of all snow years. Steep stable snow? Can I get an amen. A foreign concept for us Colorado’s backcountry skiers this year. Needless to say we at EVI, are pumped. For me it’s back to Valdez after a four year hiatus.
If any friends of EVI are going up there, let us know. We have a roving 30 base camp. Heard they are skiing tree lines for the first time in twenty years on down days. With 70 feet of snow and a relatively stable pack at the moment, AK is the call for avalanche weary lower 48 skiers. Yeya.
By writing this blog, I’ve given up the idea that EV is my personal space. People other than those I know, know about this area and will be out there at the same time I am. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a local’s only rant. The caveat is in my experience that almost every time, no matter how many people are milling about the Top of the World, I can easily find solitude and my own space if I put a little effort into it.
Today was a bit of a reversal. With J and I heading out into the tardy but increasingly powerful storm this late morning we seemed to be on track to have EV to ourselves. I did notice on the way out on the Ghengis catwalk another backcountry traveler, masked in a full face helmet, speeding down through a lightly covered, tracked Sugar Mountain. I watched him beeline toward the catwalk. not seeing the two small compressions that lead out of the small face. He skipped off the first, cased the second and starfished onto the catwalk. Ouch.
I’ve done that exact same thing once or twice in my years and it hurts more than you want to let on. You pick yourself and ski limp to the lift. Dust off the snow on your pack, dig the snow out of your face and tell yourself the concussion you just gave yourself is a mild one. Then, continue on like nothing happened. Big Mountain Starfish, I feel your pain. We ended up behind him on the lift.
Big Mountain Starfish post holed while skinned, a tough day on the lower hike as the wind slab was variable in density and thickness. Boot punching through wind slab world looked miserable. BMS tried to find the boot track, but couldn’t. He gave up and fell behind in our skin track. We left him behind as we skinned into low visibility, high winds and heavy horizontal snow.
J and I took our time up top, enjoying the hostile weather and the rawness of it all. It gave BMS a chance to catch up, making up ground on the scoured, groomed tail to the top. He hiked directly over to me. Around two feet away, he stopped and launched into an intense first run report on Tweeners. It took me by surprise. I listened and got a few syllables in every now and then. He was amped on the small wind slab that broke around him at the top of Tweeners first run and he was going back for more. The wind slab was just a couple of inches around 11 am as the storm was just getting going. I got in that Tweeners was also our destination when he stopped to breathe.
Suddenly, he ended the report, clicked into his skis and was off. He, a blur. I, a little shell-shocked. It was truly amazing, one person made EV feel crowded on the unlikeliest of days. EVI note to Big Mountain Starfish. If a group breaks trail, gets to the top first, and is geared up and headed to the same run as you are, unwritten etiquette says offer it the crew that did the work. J sat silent through the whole ordeal staring in disbelief at the full-face whirlwind.
I shook off the enigma of BMS, wondered if it was just a snow mirage. EV was just starting to fill in at 11 am. We skied four or five nice new inches in Tweeners below the ridge out of the winds, the snow fresh and light. We skied fast smooth north trees in boot deep, watching the snow come down bit by bit erasing the wind events scour. We at least had the bus stop to ourselves.
EV Black Flag Warning:
High winds and heavy snow still at 9 pm. Got a report from DPS that Tweeners was filled in again and reactive around three pm. Spiderweb cracking and wind slab release in the upper scarp of Tweeners, not at critical depth at the time. Tomorrow it will be. All sorts of different layers are lurking underneath this new storm snow. Old bed surface, east facing suncrust and upper north facing rock hard wind slab just to name a few. The variables are many and with a couple of feet of wind load on top, it could be a significant avalanche cycle.
Interested, as always, what will go down tomorrow in EV.
Headed out into the moonscape of the scoured world. Wind event 2012 is in full swing and EV is not immune. One look at the Gore Range says it all. Mountains bathed in white a few days ago are stripped bare, the precious contents transferred to Nebraska. Flagging on the peaks yesterday was huge, clouds of snow pluming off anything above 10000 feet. Really a sense of deja vu, the Poma hike scoured, the anti-tracks of travelers past sticking out in relief, exposed by the winds. It reminded me of early December conditions. DPS and I headed out just to see what the results of the wind, not expecting any phenomenal skiing. There has really been no periods of consistency with weather or snow this year and everyday seems to bring something new.
Not much traffic, no surprise there. Top of the World really wasn’t that bad wind wise, the worst of the event is hopefully over. Snow conditions were variable, meaning I skied seven different kinds of snow during our Tweeners run. Rock hard scarp gave way to thin window pane like wind slab. Old pow in the trees, old pow with a cracker crust in any sun hit lowers out of the wind. East facing sun crust of different variations. It was a snow condition buffet, and I had my plate full. I survival skied the run, but enjoyed it nonetheless. Hanging out with DPS on the ridge, looking around and shooting the shit is always a good time.
The run out to the water tank was the capper. The wind had brought down smaller limbs and pine cones and scattered them like confetti on the run-out. Flying through the luge on a mostly brown carpet with the crunching of the pine cones under the skis capped a strange, otherworldly run in a otherworldly year.
On the ridge we watched Benchie and Old Mans reloading, the plumes of snow cartwheeling into the scarps. The crown in Olds is still visible. The fracture profile looks pretty similar to the slide I set off with the ski cut heard round the world early in the year. Strip on the right side of Old Mans is holding tough.
I’ve chosen a couple of strip runs next to old slide paths this year. These strips of snow have provided good skiing, while mitigating the danger with the old slide path interrupting the open faces. Pow strips have provided this year when we couldn’t step out into the open faces we wanted to ski. Can’t ever remember choosing runs in EV this way during any other year.
East faces are crusted from sun and warm temps. Upper north aspects are cross-loaded or slid out. Lower protected trees are the best skiing at the moment, out of the sun and wind.
Bottom line in EV, we need the reset button pushed in a bad way.
Fire was falling from the sky, locusts clouding the air, frogs and toads eclipsing the streets… Satan’s Etch-a-Sketch was in full effect with winds of ash and red hot glowing embers!!
Got everyone checked out of my building and finished dealing with a livid Big Appler who’s ski bags have sat in my lobby since Tuesday, unbeknownst to me with no pick-up scheduled. Okay Chief, I’m sure you need them over-nighted to go rip your non-existant snowpack on your local landfill with a chairlift on it… cry me a river.
Lunch, time to un-plug, tune out and head in the great blue yonder, sans the mob scene traveling from lift to lift. Up Centennial, Cinch and out the gate at the tip top of BC. Signs painted in red blood, screaming murder and suicide!! High Danger…probably for good reason. Took heed, said my prayers and calculated my chances as being safer outside the resort rather than inside it.
A solo skin up Beaver’s “Baldy” and the amusement of a ridiculously useless skin/boot track on a sub-15 degree slope that would burn five times the calories than any of my A-to-B “Crow-Flies” routes. I was beside myself, laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes… See for yourself. Not to knock on good ‘ol fashioned route-taking skills, but this is the most conservative example I have ever seen, you might as well go run on the hamster wheel for a couple hours. I would say that this is a very appropriate pattern for beacon searching that particular stretch, but I’m always trying to look on the sunny side I guess. Thanks for breaking trail… or I guess, you’re welcome, but thanks for the laugh, I needed it.
Shot up lookers left ridge, blowing through big wind rolls and baking soda deposition in between. Cleared the trees and was in the midst of a cross-loaded moonscape of Sastrugi and wind scraped rocks. Made it to the most accessible drop-in point at the lookers right side of the “Baldness” and sat to enjoy the solitude, scenery and the distance between myself and the rest of the world’s insanity. It’s enlightening that one can find moments of true inner peace surrounded by “hell-fire”. Goes to show one can still enjoy the backcountry on “High” Danger days, all it takes is the right route planning, slope and aspect and ice cream dreams can become a reality.
Made my peace with the afternoon and looked down onto a completely blank canvass. Unmolested and untainted the Beaver’s “Baldy” was good to shred. Stomped around the top higher angle wind slabs with no results. Dropped in and had the best run at Beaver Creek all year.
Skied my choice line and the snow pack never budged, even got to send a couple of the medium sized cliffs lower down by the trees and finally put some air under the skis. Felt great to have a slope to myself and not have to deal with the Presidents’ Week Holiday madness. Short lived, it was time to plug back in and get the game face on… after all that was just a “ski lunch break”, back to reality whatever that may be.
Old Mans ripped sometime Thursday morning direct result of the cross loaded conditions created by the west winds and heavy snow. Wasn’t able to see it yesterday, as I took the advice of the updated message boards at the Poma and stayed away from the heavily loaded north aspects, choosing an east tree line next to a large slab that broke last week and hasn’t reset completely.
It sounded like Old Mans ripped above Poc Rock, on the hard scarp area and stepped down. It ran a good part of its track, wall to wall, into the areas that we consider safe areas to stop. The big question now is what is stopping Benchmark from doing the same? The only difference in terrain is the shrubbery in the middle, but don’t really think that would impede the formation of another wind slab release. Much of the middle, right middle of the bowl hasn’t been skied, and is sitting untouched.
Abe’s is the most popular route through the uppers, besides Tweeners. There is an overall feeling that it is a safe line is due to the amount of people running the left side, but in a fifty year cycle, that is no safe area, especially if it runs to the Tele line run out. Deep slab instabilities in areas not skied or slid are the biggest threats in EV.
EVI Update 2/25/12
Just wanted to update, after seeing for myself what was going on. Got a chance for rare Saturday run with a couple new ski partners. I skied an area that I never have seen, always something new in EV to discover. I got a unique view of benchmark and Old Mans.
Saw that there was definitely a slide in the middle of the bowl, but not nearly the size I heard it was. EVI lesson of the day, don’t believe anything until you see it for yourself. The skier’s right side of the bowl was intact, and the slide in CDC was covered.
Tracks in Abe’s, on the skier’s left side, nothing had moved, the middle of Benchie not skied and definitely wind loaded. The ridge top winds were howling on this blue sky day, and again the run choice out of the wind and in north facing lower trees.
No problems on the east facing traverse highway out of the Benchmark drainage last couple days, an area that I thought might be loaded and suspect. Glad to be wrong on that one.
Wind is the continuing story, as the jet pounds us. Down low the temperatures are warming again and east facing areas are crusting up big time in EV.
Out in to the 11 inch day at Vail yesterday on my day off. Skied inbounds for a couple nice runs and then headed out to see the conditions in EV. We seem to have avoided the big winds predicted for Wednesday and the new snow was accompanied by warm temps and layered in the resort like spackle. After waiting for openings, the sounds of bombs filling the air, we headed up the Poma. Took notice of the ski patrol bomb holes on the way out. No significant movement from any of the charges on the steep east face above the catwalk, just some isolated cracking around the blast holes. Looking around at the other black marks in China and Blus Sky and again, no activity.
The last three days I’ve been poking, prodding and stomping around, looking for evidence of instability with the recent winds and then the 11 inches that turned into a foot and a half in EV. We started our day in Tweeners, taking the opportunity to break small burgeoning cornice chunks along the way. As with the previous days, nothing. Some minor shedding of the upper wind affected scarp areas, but theses natural slab breaks were tiny and only ran a few feet.
The skiing in Tweeners was again accompanied by no movement whatsoever. No sluffing and no slab release in the upper concave wind affected face. The lower triangle face held again and we were off into the trees to enjoy some deep freshness. So far so good.
Second run we decided to get back to the Old Man. Old Man’s had sat unskied for a few days. With the ridge top winds, this was going to put our observations to the test. We spent a good fifteen minutes taking turns trundling stove sized cornice chunks down into the scarp area. We made a mess of things in the upper entrance, but completely necessary to see if anything would step down into the rollover faces that ran last week. Again watched the chunks impact and explode, with no results.
Stepped into the right side, J leading the charge and sent it. Watch as his tracks laced the right side again with no movement, sluffing cracking or slab release of any kind. Luke and I followed one at a time, meeting up at a safe area in the right tree stand. We all kind of looked at eachother. Holy shit, a day of deep snow and moderate stability. I couldn’t believe it either. Looking up, we could see that the second rollover face was still not filled in completely from last week and shark fins protruded from the thin snow. No visible naturals anywhere we could see. Spacklefest was on.
The factors?. I don’t claim to know why this was possible, but the dense wet snow, warm temps and little wind helped. The weak layers are still down there in the pack but at least today they were dormant.
Third run Luke and I had EV to ourselves and took out time to enjoy a lenghty skin. We took a slow boat out to our favorite actual East Vail Chute and took time digging a pit and doing some CT tests. We should have a video of the CT results and a brief gratuitous pow video to view soon. Again, the snow was deep and unreactive. Skiing pow without having to dodge bullets every turn was a nice change, if only for a day. We got out of EV finally around 5 pm. We were powder gluttons for sure, and our cup runneth over today. A whole large pizza then sleep.
Woke up, muscles tired and groggy. Looked out the window to see that reset button has been pushed again. Another four inches and dumping at 7 am, with the winds up and no visibility. Not assuming anything about snow today as weather conditions are drastically different. Start at square one with the progression of runs and snow assessment again. Headed out to see what is going on in the ever-changing world of EV Looks like second season is on and the storms are starting to track our way. Let you know.
Howling ridge top winds today had me thinking of severe wind slabs. Anything North facing and open had to be severely crossloaded in the upper areas due to the north westerly winds gusting at times over 40 mph. Temperatures were warmer by ten degrees from the previous day. Headed out into the whiteout to the Top of the World where no one one was. Grey, windy and spooky, it was a throwback day in EV.
Continued the Tweeners excursions as visibility was almost nothing and it offered the sneak through the wind loaded upper areas. Traversing across the ridge to Tweeners, the hollow drummy sound of hard wind slab let me know that Benchie and Old Mans open areas were not to be trifled with today.
Matt and Peter caught up with me later after my run to let me know they had a windslab rip on a ski cut in the left side of Abe’s. Thanks for the info, confirmation of the wind slab issue. These young guns are part of the next generation of EV skiers that will be out there long after I’ve headed to the elepphant graveyard of powder skiers, Edwards. I appreciate them taking the time to be involved. If this site gives the up and comers out there any useful info that helps keep them safe, it is a success in my eyes.
Spent some time trundling person sized chunks of wind slab at the top of the skier’s right side of Benchie. No cornice on the roll, so I could do this. Watched as the wind slab chunks hit the incline and snow density change in the middle of the bowl, looking for propagation into the middle areas and over the cliffs into the flats. It can be an indicator of what is going on below the firm upper scarp areas in both Benchmark and Old man’s, where the snow softens and the angle eases. No reaction to the hard slab chunk explosions.
Moved over to Tweeners and did the same, taking advantage of the lack of the cornice to stomp around a bit. Again nothing moving after the initial slide for life the chunks did. Skied it with no activity, again no sluffing on the run, or cracking up top in the wind exposed entrance. Pleasant surprise.
The world below the ridgeline was completely different. Calm wind, relatively light new accumulation( a few inches) and skiing boot deep fresh powder on a supportive base. Stayed on the ridge line all the way to the end.
The face below Tweeners is notorious for sliding. Facing slightly NE, it tends to get crusts with the sunhit, then covered by storm snow. When instability is bad, this triangle face can let you know. Didn’t spend more a than a few seconds on the face, felt the crust at times underneath the varying depths of new snow. Again, much to my surprise, it held with out so much as a sluff through the run.
Had the world to myself, enjoyed the solitude in the Forgotten Trees with some fine pow skiing. Watching the snow stack up on the deck as the next system moves through(four inches at 9:45 of the fluff at EV base)Day off tomorrow should get back to the pits and multiple runs.