Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

Month: June 2008

Spring* Mountaineering 2008: AF Twins

Well, yesterday it hit 96 in the valley and I think that’ll mark the end of the spring mountaineering season here in Salt Lake. Of course, I said similar things about the ski season way back in April so who knows; weather’s pretty unpredictable at 10,000 feet. Over the past few weeks I got in a few quality climbs, though:

June 1 | American Fork Twin Peaks

I have a lot of peaks on my list, and this one has been right near the top for about a year now. It is the highest peak in Salt Lake County at 11,489 ft. and is best known as the foreboding backdrop to Snowbird Ski Resort.

Claire and I met up at the Little Cottonwood Park n Ride at 7am sharp to tackle the Pipeline Couloir. We were the only car in the westernmost lot of Snowbird and headed up some groomers for the 2-3 mile approach to the base of the bowl right below the summit massif. It was pretty smooth sailing with a lot of traversing, and by around nine we saw the first few skiers and boarders coming off the lifts on the groomers. The SKRRRRACCCCK of metal on ice didn’t sound overly appealing, even though I had been up at Snowbird the weekend before (that was two days after a foot dump of snow, though, and conditions were money!)

We were about to gear up with crampons when a skier came over to us. Immediately I knew it was ski patrol and that we were probably f-ed when it came to going up our desired route.


American Fork Twin Peaks Routes

I had read a warning on SummitPost about trying the couloir while Snowbird was still open but disregarded it, figuring that there was no way red tape could get in the way of my mountaineering experience.

Well, I was wrong. The ski patrol kind of skirted around telling us that we weren’t allowed to do our intended route. He was a young dude, maybe about my age, and didn’t seem too happy to have to tell us this, so I prodded a bit to see what the real deal was. Basically the entire route was off-limits because it’s in a “permanently closed” area of the resort. I was pretty ticked. A few options crossed my mind:

  1. Wait for him to leave, then go up the couloir anyway. Avalanche danger was nil; why the hell was it closed? And what are they gonna do, land a helicopter on top of the summit, handcuff us or give us a ticket? Pssht.
  2. Traverse east and head up the adjacent bowl even though it was closed, too. I figured they’d just let it go as long as we climbed fast. What would be the point, though, it wouldn’t be any more fun than the ridge.
  3. Traverse over and up through the backcountry access gate, gaining the ridge and following it to the summit, then coming down the other side. Might not be too bad, and we’d be legal the whole way.
  4. Turn around and go home. HA HA!

We decided on option three. I was a bit POed; it’s one things to get booted off a route due to poor conditions or lack of experience, but by ski patrol? WTF man!? It didn’t matter, though, by the time we gained the ridge and had a sweet view of Mineral Basin on the other side I was plenty psyched again. The terrain was pretty mellow, probably class two all the way up to the East summit where it dropped to easy class one over the col and to the West and highest summit. We made short work of the ridge and summited around 11 to a phenomenal view of the canyon and surrounding peaks.

After about a half mile of descending I was kicking myself for not having brought skis. By that time the snow was getting really soft and corny, and the ride out would’ve been awesome. After some sporadic postholing on the ridge, we settled for a few sweet steep glissades and cruised on out.

So, all in all it was a pretty sweet outing. Claire was impressively fast and a positive, proficient partner. And ya can’t complain about a 11k foot snow-capped summit for yourself on a cloudless day in June!

*ok, maybe summer by this point

Spring Mountaineering: Part Two

Well, it’s June and I’m still hitting the peaks. The past couple weeks have seen two storms dump a foot of snow apiece in the mountains, which has ensured good conditions for another few weeks. This is what I’ve been up to:

May 17 | Dromedary and Sunrise Peaks

The triple traverse has been on my list for quite a while, but all the organized trips I’ve come across I have had scheduling conflicts with. So, on the 17th I thought I’d give it a shot, with the vague goal of getting up at least the first two and perhaps Broads Fork Twins too.

At 7 am I was on the trail and hiking up Tanner’s Gulch. During the winter this gulch funnels enormous amounts of avalanche runoff and is undoubtedly one of the worst terrain traps in the state. However, in the Spring it’s pretty benign. The first half mile or so was hiking on bare ground to a stream running out of the gully.


My route up Dromedary (right peak) and Sunrise

From there the snow started and eventually bridged the stream. Already, streams of runoff were running down the gully walls. It was a pretty cool, if not eerie, sight. After an hour or so I emerged from the tunnel of the lower gully and started climbing steeper snow into the bowl between the two peaks. The whole time I could hear the roar of water beneath me, where the snowmelt was running down the rock 20 feet beneath me. Pretty unsettling. Rarely, glide avalanches cut loose in similar conditions, where the entire snowpack cuts and glides down the lubricated rock. These types of avalanches are entirely unpredictable, but thankfully, extremely rare.

After another few minutes I caught up to the two climbers ahead of me, one of whom I recognized from SummitPost. They were hoping to summit both peaks as well, but ended up turning back early. We climbed together for a little while before I pulled ahead, right about where my route takes a right-hand turn in the map. From there I gained a ridge and fought through some horrendous waist-deep postholing to make my way to more solid ground on the upper ridge just west of the Dromedary summit. From there it was easy class two terrain to the top.

After a snack I pushed on to Sunrise Peak. Downclimbing the ridge was pretty easy, but this time I continued all the way down to the saddle, having to do a slight traverse around a cliffband. From there I started up the ridge up Sunrise, which entailed the most fun climbing of the entire day. 60 degree snow slopes and sustained class three rock scrambling gave way to more gentle snow slopes all the way to the summit. It was pretty sweet.

The descent was ridiculously fun, too, at least once I got back down into the bowl between the two peaks. The snow had turned pretty slushy by then so I decided to glissade. It was hands-down the most fun glissade I’ve ever done, where you’re basically riding a sled of snow for 1500 feet until the slope gradually eases. I took a video of one of the shorter glissades (small | medium),
with which I will include some commentary:

  • 0:14 > run over a rock. Ouch.
  • 0:19 > run over something else. I ignore it and continue sliding since it’s so sweet.
  • 0:31 > Realizing I’m about to collide with a rock outcrop, I attempt to turn.
  • 0:33 > Turning is less than effective; as I glance off the rock, softening the impact a bit with my boots. I am still gleeful and continue glissading unperturbed.

The rest of the descent went off without a hitch, and I was back at the car by one, sunburned but satisfied.

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