Category Archives: Skiing

Snow! Snow! Snow! What else are you going to do?

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

Hay Ere Onthi

The GR 11 is indicated by a red and white stripe painted on rocks, trees, ruins, and iglesias.

He looked at me and said it again, this time with noticeable frustration and urgency, “Hay Ere Onthi!”

I was puzzled. This word did not sound spanish and I was pretty sure that I’d never heard it before in my life. Maybe it was one of his odd Catalyan phrases. Something Latin?  But I could tell by his exasperated expression that I should know intimately what he was talking about.

With a long sweep of his index finger he pointed down along the muddy trail and off to the eastern horizon, where the high Pyrenees were beginning to jut up out of the foothills like a disheveled pile of sharks teeth. As I looked eastwardly down the path, towards an unseeable Mediteranean sea some 430 miles away, I realized with great embarassment that he was talking about the path we had been walking together for the last 4 days, the GR 11.

I had read that the spanish call it La Senda, or the Gran Recorrido, but “Hay Ere Onthi”,´which I´d finally realized is the lispy Castillian pronunciation of GR 11, is what I´ve been hearing. The GR 11 is one of a variety of long distance trails in Europe that traverse the mountain ranges, follow the coasts or retrace pilgrimages to battered old iglesias. But the GR 11 is the most special to me as it starts at the Atlantic and finishes on the Mediteranean, all the while wandering the foothills and jagged peaks of  the Pyrenees mountains in between. It passes through at least four distinct cultural areas of Spain, Basque Country, Aragon, Andora,  and Catalyunia, all people of soaring individuality and pride. The trail also boasts ancient Spanish villages unknown to most North Americans, some of the best breads, wines, goat cheese, coffees and olives in the world, right along the path.

I had learned how to follow the trail, looking for the red and white stripes painted on trees, rocks, and ruins. But now, best of all, I´d finally learned how to say it.

Weathered by Waddington

Skiing in the Waddington wilderness

Looking little in the Coastal Range, Mt. Waddington on the horizon.

Foothill is back from BC’s Coastal Range. Burned, bruised, beaten and perhaps a bit baffled about life, leisure, and why we do the things we do. For now, here’s a sneak preview of one of the few sunny moments from the trip. I’ll post more after I do a slideshow here in SLC.

Face to face with the enemy

backcountry skiing with a grouse

A wasatch grouse in attack mode

I’ve had the crap scared out of myself countless times by grouse. They must find some very perverse pleasure in waiting until the very last second to burst out of the bushes right next to you while making an ungodly amount of noise that rarely fails to send one’s heart racing.

About the size, shape, and color of a football, they have infuriated me enough times that when I see one on the trail, I sometimes fantasize about giving it a good punt. But like Lucy holding the ball for Charley Brown to kick, the grouse would remove itself from my reach at the last second, leaving me reeling and ashamed for falling for the same old trick.

They are disturbing enough in summertime, when a single bird will set up to terrorize you multiple times as you hike down a set of switchbacks. But I find them worse in winter, when they can burst out of the snowpack directly under your feet, turning a peaceful wilderness landscape into a virtual mine field. On one such a day, a grouse exploded from the snow next to my boot and knocked the ski pole out of my hand as it flew over my skis and took to the air. As this was the third in a series of close calls, my nerves were so shot I wanted to call it a day.

Eye to eye
Near the end of a spring ski run the other day, we must have skied over a grouse’s nest. As we stood discussing the unique quality of the corn we had just skied, The grouse burst from the snow onto his feet and started stomping downhill to scare us away. I whipped out my camera to video the attack, and the camera memory instantly ran out.

Powder Princess was first in the angry birds path, but he marched right by her, recogonizing me, I suppose, as the physically larger threat.

He came straight to me, charging slow but steady in a game of wild bluff. With my ankles feeling quite safe in plastic boots, I was not inclined to flee. Rather I wanted to find out what would happen next. The grouse himself didn’t seem too sure, so he started pacing an angry circle around me, stomping a track in perfect corn. After a couple laps, he tightened the circle and started walking over my skis and next to my boots. He gave me angry, bird eye looks, and occasionally stopped for a squawk, which i found rather quiet. Finally, growing tired, or bored, he stopped on the front of my skis in hopes of either staring me down, or going for a ride.

This little creature was making a total sacrifice of itself, trying to keep me away from its young back in the nest at any cost. Luckily for the grouse, we were not participants in it’s serious game of survival, but passers by in search of a greater goal: smooth corn and good skiing. And besides, I was in the mood for fish tacos…

Utah Deep Powder Fest, in May?

This year the saying came true, “April showers brings May powders”.

I’m still grinning. I’m still buzzed from the last three days of amazing skiing in the mountains. A big “thanks” goes out to Ullr, the Norse god of winter, that swept through the Wasatch in a big, big way. For four straight days, He dropped the temperatures a solid 20 degrees, buried the sun behind a thick shield of clouds, and poured light, fluffy powder on us. There was little to no wind. There were little to no instabilities. He brought us deep powder, worthy of fables, and rivaling that of even the coldest, shortest days of winter. He brought us the winter storm we dream about all summer long, in May.

Top secret wasatch powder stash

And then the sun briefly shineth upon the traces of our mortal glory...

Skiing in the La Sals

Skiing in Golds Basin

Not what you typically think of when you hear the word "Moab"

summit of Mount Tuk

Slick Rock and Ice

Summit of Mt. Tuk

Zee Summit, At last! The ascent of Mt. Tuk from Golds Basin this time of year is an incredible stair-master.

ski-hiking in Moab

Fittin in with the flora in Pack Creek.

Check out the rest of the photos on the La Sals Photo Album Page. Be sure to click the “like” Foothill Freak button so you can leave a comment.