Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Waddington Whip-Crack

Powderprincess near Mt. Waddington

Photo taken of the PowderPrincess moments before the tragedy.

My hat had fallen out of my jacket and was rolling towards a gaping crevasse below. It was a new hat, but after several days of foul weather and even some blistering sun, I had grown rather attached to it. I wasn’t ready to see it go.

“Bruno! Let’s get it!” I suggested.

But this was no easy task. Bruno, PowderPrincess, Ilsa, and I were roped up together, in the middle of a steep crevassed slope.

Bruno took off in a hurry, pointing his skis directly at the tumbling hat. With a yank, PowderPrincess followed behind. I tried to time my acceleration so that I wouldn’t pull her from behind, but then I felt a tugging from behind me. Ilsa wasn’t ready, but I had yanked her off on our journey. The four of us were hurtling towards my run-away hat.

Soon, we were coming up on it, but we were going to fast. Bruno scrubbed off a quick turn to reduce our speed. His little turn threw PowderPrincess into a wider arc. PowderPrincess’ wide arc flung me faster into an even larger arc, which in turn catapaulted Ilsa into a huge sweeping carve at warp speed behind me.

The forces were more than anyone could handle. Ilsa went down, busting through the breakable crust with her heavy backpack into a deep crater as her sled tumbled into her from behind. The rope went taught behind me and I stopped, my feet practically lifting up off the snow beneath me until I landed on my side. In front of me I saw PowderPrincess go down as the rope suddenly went taught on her.

Bruno was close to the hat, but the rope pulled him to a stop too. He remained standing, his legs in a super wide snow plow, his sled dangling down the slope in front of him.

“Guys, Come on!” He urged.

The hat was rolling closer towards the big frown of a crevasse. Soon to be swallowed whole, but there was still time for another attempt. We became determined, newly focused. We jumped up, back onto our skis. Ilsa somehow quickly untangling herself from her sled. Again, Bruno picked a direct line for the hat. We were moving in on it fast. The line was taught between us all.

skiing downhill while roped up in crevassed terrain

Hold on to your car keys! Photo by Eric Gignoux.

All our legs and skis were thrust out widely into giant snow plows. We were holding on, carefully balancing our skiing along with the actions of each other. We were moderating the forces between our feet, our weighty backpacks and the tensions of the rope. We were watching Bruno, full of hope as he neared the hat. He arched a perfect turn, lining himself up to grab it. He had both poles in one hand. His right hand free to grab the drunkenly rolling hat.

Again, I felt his small turn throw the rest of us into a wider, gyroscopic swing. I saw PowderPrincess skittering out to the left, skis bouncing wildly off the crusty snow. Her poles were dragging on the surface throwing up chunks of ice. Her humungous backpack threatening her delicate balance.

I too was sliding off to the left. My legs bouncing off the snow in a ridiculously wide stance. My movements were caught in an odd limbo, stuck between the actions of PowderPrincess in front of me and Ilsa behind me. I wanted to sluff off some speed to help stablize the group, but I was caught up with simply trying to stay upright.

I was holding on, giving everything I could. The odd weight of my traverse backpack had my legs screaming, but we were closing in on the hat. Bruno was gaining on it. We were gaining on it. It was rolling near the tip of his ski. He was squatting down to grab it.

I was still being catapaulted to the left. I dug my edges in as best as I could to keep from spiraling out of control. My skies richoched off the icy crusts. Bruno was reaching out. I could see each of his fingers extended, the hat inches away from his grasp.

He went for it, just as I felt the rope go taught behind me. Ilsa had gone down. I was yanked down, into the crusts, as was PowderPrincess before me, and Bruno was after her. We had all stopped completely. The hat rolled away.

We sat in the snow, roped up together, watching it go. The Crevasse loomed even larger, closer. Bruno, always the optimist, appeared to be gearing up for one more attempt.

“Let’s forget about it.” I suggested. So we sat. We watched it roll in it’s care-free yet suicidal course.  It was oddly fascinating after the high speed game of tug of war. It rolled once, twice, a third time. Then without a sound, it disappeared into the blue depths of the crevasse, never to be seen again.

It’s demise was so easy, yet so absolute, I shuddered with the sudden reminder of our mortality and the real perils of glacier travel. To lose a hat is a miniscule sacrifice to make; I was glad to be above the surface of this icy river. My tired legs and the thick grey sky above no longer seemed such a menace.

Mineral Bottom before and after

I just found out that Mineral Bottom road in Canyonlands washed out. When I saw the photo in the Salt Lake Tribune, I realized that I had a very similar “before” photo. So, with no further ado:

Before

Mineral Bottom before it washed out

Mineral Bottom before it washed out. Photo by Foothillfreak

After

Mineral Bottom road, washed to the bottom

Mineral Bottom road, washed to the bottom. Photo by sltrib.com