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.