Our plan was to skin into the South Fork of Avalanche Canyon and check out this pair of couloirs on the North Face of Buck Mountain--the Bubblefun and Newc.
|The North Face of Buck, with the Bubblefun Couloir on the left and the Newc on the right. The summit of Mt. Wister is in the foreground.|
The idea came up years ago in a conversation with Z--climb the Newc to the notch, scramble to the summit, and ski the Bubblefun. Then, if conditions are good and we still have legs left, use the bootpack that we broke in the Newc to re-climb and ski that as well. With schedules being what they are, Z and I rarely get to ski together these days, but Parker and Paul were up for the adventure so sunrise found us below the Wanda Pinnacle making the final climb up into the South Fork.
|Photo: Josh Parker|
The weather forecast for the day was for snow showers after noon and light winds--not a perfect bluebird day, but seemingly manageable. As it turned out, the clouds and snowfall blew in earlier than forecasted, so as we broke trail up the sluff cone at the base of the Newc and then booted up some of the steepest snow climbing I've ever been on we watched the upper mountain disappear into a progressively thicker cloud.
We made it up a little over 1000' from the canyon floor, watching small sluffs coming down periodically. It seemed that despite the lack of wind and snowfall at our elevation there must be more storming up high, blowing through the notch and loading the upper couloir.
Then small sluffs progressively turned into bigger sluffs as we approached the narrows of the couloir, with easily enough volume to knock us over if we moved into their path. It was a clear choice, though not an easy decision, to bail off of Buck rather than climbing into the barrel of the gun.
1000' of steep powder turns was awfully fun, but then what?
Looking directly across the canyon, Wister came in and out of the clouds, presenting us with a lovely alternative. I've been staring at the East Face for years, and Paul and I even gave it a shot a few weeks ago, bailing in gail-force winds. But this day, with little wind and light snowfall, seemed like a prime opportunity.
We would be climbing a south-facing couloir that had baked in the sun for a couple of days prior to the base of the East Face. With Mt. Wister being 1000' shorter than Buck, and well-protected in the middle of Avalanche Canyon, it wasn't receiving the wind that was hitting the higher summits. And with fresh powder falling from the heavens? Mmmmmm...
Climbing the couloir was quick and relatively easy, with firm snow for kicking steps. We even saw occasional sunshine as the clouds flowed past.
And then the short stretch of ridge over to the base of the East Face turned squirrelly for a little while. Not particularly hard climbing, but a bit of exposure off of both sides made it ugly climbing for me, at least.
|The East Face of Mt. Wister from Shadow Peak. It seemed improbably to ski the upper section the year that I took this photo!|
But the East Face was gorgeous. Having looked at this thing for years, I've become pretty familiar with how the snow fills-in through the rocks, but this year there isn't really any "through the rocks". Our snowpack is so deep that it's pretty much just snow, with a few rocks here and there for spice.
And beautifully steep.
|Paul gets rowdy down the summit snowfield.|
|Parker makes it look easy.|
|Yup, this thing's steep!|
Photo: Paul Rachele
|Catching our breath at the base of the East Face.|
From the base of the East Face, the route naturally banks to the north as it flows down to Avalanche Canyon below. Being north-facing and relatively sheltered from the wind it often holds really high-quality snow, and we were delighted to find knee-deep, silky powder. We left the hop-turns (chop-turns?) behind and were able to fully open it up, letting our skis eat up the vertical drop in big, GS turns to the canyon below.
|Parker goes deep, with the full route to the summit in sight above.|
It was sort of unbelievable, really. We set out for a ski mountaineering adventure with little expectation of finding good snow, discovered avalanche conditions that we didn't like and forced us to change our day's objective, and ended up with steep, rowdy skiing up high on Wister and a long, steep powder run down the canyon bottom.
It did feel a little silly to have carried ropes and gear (that we were planning on using in the Bubblefun) all that way, but ultimately the consolation prize turned out to be pretty sweet.
|My boot's-eye view back across Taggart Lake. Still looks wintry up there!|
We arrived back at Taggart Lake and returned to springtime, complete with insects gamboling about on the snow and birds chirping in the trees. Winter still has the high country firmly in its grasp, but the lowlands are quickly changing seasons. I have to admit that while the ski mountaineering is still pretty fun up high it feels really good to feel warm, sunny days returning to the Tetons.