So with the Tetons in the middle of a multi-week storm cycle and a DEEP snowpack on the ground, when Scotty said he'd be interested in giving it a go what could I do but say yes?
But how to do it...
There's a big "light is right" push in the backcountry world these days, with fanatics logging 10,000'+ days on skinny little munchkin skis and faerie-slipper boots. Sure, that's probably pretty fun, but if I can cover 12,000' and 20 miles and have fun on the downhills on some girthier gear, why wouldn't I go for that option? With that in mind, I pulled my shit together and slapped skins on my new Artisan splitboard from Voilé. Take that, you aerobic mutant Dorais brothers!
I know, I know--with my historical preference for approach skis and solid boards, it could strike one as an appalling about-face for me to start using a split. I might even be accused of "waffling", if I were running for president. But to be honest, my aging back is tiring of hauling a snowboard around, and the thought of having a touch more float and glide while skinning is pretty attractive.
Having had the Artisan out for a single day of guiding prior to this adventure I still had some efficiencies to develop, but what a sweet ride! Sure, heavier than your honeycomb-balsa-wood-core-skinnies with aluminum edges, but damn this thing was a blast in the pow. And with the split skis being wider than my boot underfoot it's a trailbreaking machine.
|Here we go!|
|Loved the stillness of being the only people in Mail Cabin.|
Not that it felt easy breaking trail out there on Saturday. We were the first car in the parking lot, and got fresh tracks right from the start all the way to the top of Lone Pine. Ankle-deep soon turned to knee-deep and heavy, with temps just south of rain resulting in super wet snowfall.
|Welcome to the White Room? No, welcome to the Wet Room.|
That said, one of the benefits of breaking trail uphill is that it typically results in breaking trail downhill as well, and the turns off the back of Lone Pine were epic. Watching Scotty make wiggle-turns as I ripped past him I realized once again that
I LOVE SNOWBOARDING.
(Especially in waist-deep powder that I had to sweat to get.)
We got Burbanked once again this year, wandering around through the nondescript woods of the Burbank Triangle for an hour or so until we finally found ourselves on the map and headed for Oliver Peak. Thankfully Scotty brought a compass.
|I was really wishing for one of Voilé's revolutionary Revelators here--not steep enough to ride but enough downhill to make skins slow and awkward. A splitboard with scales?! Sick!|
|Wandering out of the Burbank Triangle.|
|Scotty battles sideways snow on the shoulder of Oliver. At least it was drier up here.|
The overall theme for the day became wet-and-heavy snow down low and nuking winds up high, with a powdery sweet spot somewhere at mid-elevations. We forged through sideways snowfall, little visibility, and a cold left cheek to the top of Oliver, and then made a rapid transition to downhill-mode for a couple thousand feet of amazing powder to Stateline. Once again, the Artisan ruled the day.
|Crossing the log over the creek at Stateline. We were already soaking wet, but an unintentional swim seemed like a bad option anyway. (It's probably thigh-deep here.)|
Down at Stateline we discovered that the Pass highway was closed, and that the enormous parking lot was nearly full. Thankful that we weren't trying to drive anywhere, we crossed the road and started skinning up through the forest towards Talbot's and the West Ridge of Mt. Taylor. This was the one stretch of the day where we had a track broken for us--someone chose the south-facing aspens for their powder turns and had put a track in to the ridgetop.
Walking a mile in someone else's track? So good.
And then it ended. Skinning 4 miles and almost 4000' from Stateline to the top of Taylor takes a long time. Add in knee-deep, thick trailbreaking and it takes a really long time.
|Getting close to the top of Mt. Taylor.(?)|
The breeze picked up as we gained elevation, pleasantly drying out our saturated clothing, and turned gale-force as we neared the summit of Taylor. It's difficult to describe the experience of stumbling to the top of a mountain in shrieking winds and snowfall with absolutely zero visibility and realizing that though you're not sure exactly where you are you know you're surrounded by major avalanche terrain. It's daunting. And mildly scary.
I called Erica from the summit (once I discovered that it was 4:30pm) to ask for a raincheck on date night, and forgiveness for having to ask such a lame favor.
|The view from the top of Taylor. Sweet.|
Back to business, I put on all of the clothing I had with me and we started the process of figuring out our trip down. With the heavy snowfall and high winds, we knew that we had to thread the needle down the Southeast Ridge to avoid big avalanche terrain. The trick was how to find the needle. We weren't even totally sure we were actually on the summit, and could barely make out the surface of the snow let alone terrain features below us.
A little bit of guesswork and brief views of a rock or a stubby tree led us down to the false summit and then to what seemed like the Southeast Ridge, or at least a relatively low-angle route downhill. After ripping skins and committing to downhill travel, Scotty broke out his probe and employed some advanced route-finding technique while I fought off a vertigo-induced urge to vomit.
|Sometimes this is the only way to tell where the ground is...|
And then we made out a familiar rock outcropping and there we were--smack on the Southeast Ridge! Some combination of dead reckoning whiteout navigational skill and good luck put us right where we wanted to be, with a couple thousand feet of deep powder and safe terrain to the bottom of Coal Creek. Good thing too--every little roll and drift that we ski-cut on our descent shattered and released in small avalanches.
But the turns were damn fine...
|Scotty takes off down the Southeast Ridge of Mt. Taylor...|
|...And disappears into the foggy pow.|
|"That's where we need to sneak through the cliffs below." Threading the needle.|
|And finding the goods.|
So we pointed ourselves down the luge run and banked turns to the parking lot, where we once again had it all to ourselves.
|"Dude, where's my car?"|
First in, last out; "Bell-to-bell," as Scotty put it. Standing back at the beginning 11 hours later, with 12" of fresh snow on top of the car, we had to question what the hell we had just done. 16 miles and 8,000'+ of brutal trailbreaking in a sometimes-sideways blizzard--oof. We had some phenomenal powder turns, to be sure, but an absurd amount of travel to get to them.
Though I would like to say that we got to see a ton of amazing country, in reality we couldn't see much of anything for most of the day. Lots of shades of white and grey, with dark trees and red backpacks to add spice.
Good workout? Check.
Good adventure? Yup.
Good fun? Sure.
Would I do it again? Absolutely.
I guess this is just what we do when storms and stability keep us from getting too rowdy in the alpine.
Splitboard and all.