Thursday, April 29, 2010

WURLOS- cottonwood peaks traverse

As I walk down the driveway of our new home, Lone Peak seems to be looking down at me mockingly. I mutter something about "it was a good effort" but my heart sinks when I think about how close we got to the goal. The WURLOS, or some interpretation of it has been in on my mind for the last few weeks and will now consume some share of my memory.

I am a little slow to report on our efforts compared to Andy and Jared but I have been swamped with the move, work, being a dad, and recovering from the 21+ hour effort. I know this is not the Himalayas or some far off land of historical mountaineering significance but this is what we have and we can make challenging adventure out of it. I have fallen in love the long ski mountaineering traverse and the variables and creativity it allows. I am hoping that by sharing pictures and stories of our route more enthusiasm and passion will be generated for this kind of "traverse" in the Wasatch.

In years past I have ridden RAWROD on the 3rd weekend in April with a good chunk of the Utah mountain biking community and understand the excitement that can be generated by a good challenge, good views, and good people. So the WURLOS is similar. It's a good challenge for sure and for comparison I would say it is similar to doing 3 laps on the White Rim Trail. The Views are awesome, and although the number of participants were small, they were quality.

So we started about 5:30 at the S Curves in Big Cottonwood. We were on dirt for about 30 min before we got into the skinning rhythm. We decided to go up bonkers and traverse above the diving board to the North ridge, not really because it promised to be a better route but because it was different from last time.

Jared and Andy heading for the 1st of many objectives

We made quick work of Bonkers and I think this was the only time I have been up it without having to put in any switchbacks, the 4-5 inches of new snow provided some good grip.

Traversing over to the ridge was a little more involved that we thought and included some down climbing which is never good in the early hours of a long day. Once on the North ridge it didn't take long to summit, just under 3 hrs after leaving the car.

Unlike the NE face, Lisa Falls, and the NW col, the East ridge is not one of the classic lines off the Twins, however it is a great line and in the light of day we were able to piece together a steep South facing mini chute that helped us avoid any down climbing by traversing under the rock ramp.

From here you boot up the SW of a mini peak known as Jepsen's Folly. This little false summit is quite sharp and I am not sure the 3 of us could stand on top together. O'Sullivan and Drom offer some great booting along with some cool knife edge skinning and skiing.

We made good time through this section which is one of my favorites as it requires a fair bit of attention!

DH off Sully might be one of my favorites.

By the time we had got to the top of Drom we had transitioned more times than I can remember. From skiing to booting to skinning back to booting, constantly changing. It's all about anticipating what mode will be the most efficient given the snow conditions and terrain. I have yet to procure a lightweight traverse style pack so I was left with either my CAMP race pack or my BD Outlaw. I went with the Outlaw for comfort and the solid waist belt despite the extra weight, but modified it with a bungee cord that allows me to donn skis without taking the pack off. I don't know why any pack manufacturer would ever build a pack without including this option. It's so simple but saves so much time and energy. If BD or anyone else wants some feedback I would be happy to help.

The NE face of Drom is a great little line and even offered a little powder skiing. Rather than traverse all the way around the Sundial we opted for a more direct aggressive route that turned about to be loads of fun including the opportunity to ski this little Jewel of a shot. Not sure if it has a name but I like "Short Cut Chute."

From the base of new chute we skinned up into the cirque where the Heart of Darkness dumps. Andy and Jared busted out the jet boil and melted 4 bottles of water while I put a booter in up the heart. Once at the top I got to relax in the sun and enjoy the views off the Monte Cristo N ridge.

The boys racing up the Heart of Darkness to bring me a bottle of water. I quickly dumped a little packet of lemon lime Carbo Rocket in the warm water and enjoyed a great moment. Over the course of the day I consumed around 150-200 oz of Lemon Lime and Mango Carbo Rocket and can once again say it is the simplest and most effective sports drink I have used in my 20 years of endurance sports. If your a cyclist you likely already know this and if your a skier you need to try it!

I like the contrast of the old and new bolts!

So the true WURL route stays on the ridge, that's great if your a runner but if you are on skis why would you ever pass up South Superior to cruise the Flagstaff ridge. We wanted to incorporate some of classic Wasatch descents in our route and Superior could not be missed. Although it was a little late in the day considering the warm temps and fresh snow, our 1 pm descent was nice and creamy and allowed us to ski in the earlier wet slide paths. Didn't feel dilly- dallying on this monster path and skied it top to bottom non-stop.

From here we took a little break on the Tram Deck to secure my broken boot buckle with a voile strap, change socks, and eat some soup. In hind sight we should have spent less time resting here as it surely compromised our daylight and travel in good weather. Andy and I got back into a good rhythm up Chips and enjoyed all the "original" comments by the Snowbird skiers. "Your going the wrong way!" "Did they take your pass?" "They built a Tram!"

We got separated from Jared and once again ended up having to stop much longer than we needed to on Hidden peak to regroup. All our precious time seems to get sucked away in and around the resorts, we seem to be much less distracted in BC. Once again huge props to Snowbird for being a true "Skiers" mountain and embracing uphill traffic and the culture of ski touring. Although we missed Sugerloaf, I am very pleased we stuck to our guns and skipped Alta.

We put in another booter up the AF twins. From the top we enjoyed some easy skinning and skiing on firm refreeze as we headed towards Red Stack, Red Baldy, White Baldy, and beyond...

Earlier in the year while on Red baldy I had spied this little ridge ramp off Red Stack that looked like a fun ski. A little down climb through the cliffs at the top put me right into position to enjoy some not yet refrozen soft snow.

We had a couple options for ascending Red Baldy and ended up booting up one of the North chutes rather than gamble on traversing the ridge. I think this was a good call.

This was my first time up White Baldy and in contrast to Red Baldy we decided to stick to the ridge scramble rather than the exposed North Face. Again, another good call as the boot/scramble up the NE ridge was one of my favorites.

From the top of White Baldy we enjoyed a nice Wasatch sunset over the Pheif, North Thunder, and the distant Lone Peak. The ski down was also some of the best "powder" snow we encountered.

That ridge in the picture at the top of White Pine drainage is a serious knife edge and for a chunk of it I was on all 4's. Jared missed out as he dropped a skin down off the South side and just stayed down there on skins until things mellowed. This is just another good example of how multiple routes and modes can lead to the same destination. I love it!

It's pretty easy for morale to go down with the sun and temperatures but as I have experienced in 24 hr MTB races you just have to push through the dusk and then you start to enjoy the night. Booting up the pheif was awesome, finally a hard frozen pre-set booter!

On top of the Pheif Jared took his pants off.

The steep dark hard snow DH of the SW side was also super fun. I don't have any more pics that turned out, it was dark and I wanted to keep moving, faster the better.

We dropped into the top of Hogum Fork and booted back up to the Chipman Saddle. The snow was falling pretty hard by now and after the out and back on Chipman our visibility was nearly gone. We traversed over to access the East ridge of Bighorn but had a hard time finding our way in the white/black out conditions. We made the conservative decision to abandon Bighorn and Lone and descend out upper Bells. In hind sight we should have found cover, fired up the jet boil, enjoyed some soup, skipped the spicy Bighorn ridge, and ascended a more conservative route up Lone Peak. Then rather than skiing the NE face we could have followed our ascent route back down and out Bells. But that's hind sight and there is always next time.

The roughest part of the whole deal was probably the hike out Bells, save some energy because the 90 minute slog downhill is a killer.

I got all sorts of plans for other traverses now and hope to do this one again next year. Maybe mid-winter and backwards, to avoid the dirt walk out Bells.

If you have your own traverse plans in mind I would love to hear about them but don't be surprised if I invite myself along.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


So the last time I suited up for a dedicated bike ride was the first of March at the Rampage. This may be the longest I have ever gone. Of course I have been riding in street clothes for transportation and enjoying our Sunday morning family trailer ride but otherwise have not been out on the trails or road for the sake of training or pleasure. I am missing it and about ready to start getting in some miles in preperation for some big summer races. I am not realy sure where my fitness lies at the moment but know for sure that it can improve for here. I have continued to get out on the skis a little and if conditions warrant may get another stab at the Traverse, will see?

Yesterday we started the move into the new house and more importantly ending the drain of disposable time and energy. I have very much enjoyed the process but it has run it's course and I am ready to get back to some stability and the fitness that comes with it. I also hope to get a little more consistent and creative with my posting as I have missed this outlet.

Now we just have a garage full of furniture and stuff that we don't need or want, lets organize.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cottonwood Peaks Traverse, or whatever you want to call it.

So it was a good effort, just not good enough. In hindsight we left to many variables out of our control in regards to the route coursing through Alta and Snowbird. I never would have guessed we would have such poor luck. I called Snowbird snow safety the day before but could not get a hold of them. Guess I should have tried harder.

Anyway, Jared and Andy have posted some good reports so I am just going to throw in a few highs and lows.

-View from Salt Lake Twins at 4:58am.
-Skiing technical terrain in the dark.
-Fun rock moves.

-Skiing East ridge of O'sullivan. Possibly one of the coolest lines around. Steep technical ridge line bouncing back and forth from soft to hard snow. Exposure keeps the speed in check.

-Watching Andy's gear debacle-broken boot cable,lost pole basket, torn pack, and missing lens. And I am probably missing something. He had been wearing these glasses for 2 hours before anyone noticed, including him. Jared and I were almost peeing on top of Monte Cristo.

-Skiing South Superior on the race skis.
-Free cookies at Gold Miners Daughter, only thing good about Alta.
-Although we were defeated, we were the talk of the tram deck as we strutted across in tights, euro helmets with car lights strapped on top, and carrying kids skis. The Bro-Brah's didn't know what to think.

My sore big toe from the frost bite episode on Nebo.
Slow snow- unsupportable up and down.
Not getting to use crampons.
Power hungry mountain host at Alta.
Everyone at Alta.
The big shut down on Hidden Peak.

We learned a ton and got in a great training day. I am actually surprised how quickly I recovered, if it wasn't so warm we could have tried it again today. Will be watching the weather...

Sunday, April 04, 2010


I always struggle with decisions. There are just to many good options for what seems like not enough time. Having won the Cholla Challenge multiple times in the past, I really wanted to go down and race. Test out the house work/ski training plan on the bike fitness. I rode the MTB to work on Friday and felt great, making the decision even harder. But being Easter weekend and with my long lost brother Kyle and his family coming to town for the annual family weenie roast/egg hunt/fight I would have had to drive down Saturday morning by myself, race, and then drive straight home. Not a great way to spend a weekend.

Adding additional layers to the decision conundrum was the "brothers" plan to ski Nebo in the new snow.

I don't always make the right decision, but I did this time.

At 11,928 feet Mt Nebo is the highest peak on the Wasatch Front and is home to possibly the longest sustained ski decent in Utah. With the low elevation starting point on the West side just above Mona you have the potential for a 6000 ft continuous ski run, depending on snow conditions. The recent cold spring storm would only help our chances of a 6k descent.

The brothers, Jared, Sam, and Arron met Andy and I in Mona at 5:30am. It was cloudy but calm and we were concerned about the storm scheduled to push through in the late morning. Who knows maybe Nebo is far enough South to avoid the brunt of it.

We found the dirt road to get under the freeway and headed to the mouth of Pole Canyon. We had to park at about 6100 ft due to snow on the road and started skinning right from the car.
As we climbed up the canyon the snow and wind increased to the point that even though it was now daylight it was not much lighter, and visibility was actually worse. We hit a sub ridge that would take us up to the main Nebo ridge but at about 10,500' the NW winds were pushing the front through and we could barely stand up. We ducked off the ridge to regroup and found some trees to hunker down behind. We were getting cold despite going uphill and I had at least 5 layers on including short sleeve base, long sleeve base, my home made wind stopper vest, winter shell, and down puffy. The guys wearing tights today were really hating it.

So what do you do when you get cold, off course you start a fire! Its always good to practice your survival skills and what better place than while perched on he side of a mountain in a blizzard.

We had a lighter and about 30 regular matches. We also had a little paper but refused to use it. 1st we dug a large shelf into the snow, as much to stay warm as to have some shelter and a place to build a fire. Time is critical in emergency situations, and although we could just ski down to the car at anytime we treated this like a do or die situation. Everyone had there responsibilities in building the bivy site. We all took turns digging to stay warm, Voile shovels really are the best if you actually have to do some real digging. Andy and I were the fire starters, Sam kept his skis on so he could hunt for dry pine needles and gather wood, Jared climbed trees to test the agility of his ski boots, and Arron was officially in charge of Klondike derby jokes.

Somehow we managed to start a raging fire and all warmed up with hopes that the front would pass and things would calm down. Things cleared for a minute and we made our summit bid. Once on the main ridge the winds started nukin again and the visibility soured, but at least we were on the ridge and new all we had to do as follow it to the top.

For the route down we chose the NW Coulior which starts just North of the summit and allowed us to ski the steep upper ramp right into its opening. The top 3rd was wind blasted but once in the protection of the rock walls it was full to the brim with soft snow. All the wind blown snow made us a little leery of such a big line but multiple ski cuts produced nothing and we carefully leap froged down the chute into one of the largest apron's I have ever seen. Once off the apron we enjoyed miles of great tree skiing that dumped us out on the road which skied like a steep powder cat track.

By the time we hit the cars we had enjoyed 5900' of continuous turns and possibly the best pitch in the Wasatch!