Despite having just arrived home for the weekend from a work trip to Lander, Erica gave me the thumbs-up to go for it, so there I was in the Loaf n' Jug parking lot in Jackson yesterday at 5:30am meeting Jeremy, Frank, and Jimmy (two young freestylers from California who are getting all fired-up about splitboarding.) We picked up one more out by the airport--Nick, an editor/filmer for Teton Gravity Research, who carried a large camera backpack through the whole thing and still managed to rip.
It took us a bit to get everything sorted out at the trailhead, but we were skinning at dawn and watched alpenglow on Albright and Static Peaks turn to a gorgeous sunrise as we passed through the meadow at the bottom of Wimpy's and traversed into Stewart's Draw.
|Working our way up Stewart's just after sunrise. A firm suncrust made for pretty quick travel.|
Having "broken trail" all the way up Stewart's Draw to Timberline Lake we were surprised to see 5 skiers ahead of us on the upper East Ridge of Buck, with 2 more coming up behind us. It was actually pretty nice to have a bootpack broken up the ridge, but having so many other people on the mountain killed Jeremy's plan to have TGR fly in and film the whole thing. Not wanting to bum out everybody else climbing Buck he called off the helicopter and we changed our focus to just having a fun day of climbing and riding.
|Booting up to the East Ridge from the Timberline Lake basin...|
|...And working our way up toward the top of the Buckshot.|
As we climbed we remained hopeful about getting fresh tracks in the Buckshot Couloir, until we watched as the party of 5 in front of us skied the upper East Face and then traversed right into the Buckshot.
Earlier, looking up at Buck from the lake, I was struck by just how deep our snowpack is this year, and how well filled-in the East Face is. There's a 600' cliff across the East Face about halfway down, so the traditional ski route descends fall-line from the summit and then makes a long traverse to end-run the cliff, but there's so much snow up there this year that I saw a clean line filled in through the cliff that might allow for a fall-line descent from the summit to the basin below. I had never seen it before, and am honestly wondering if Buck has ever seen a fall-line descent down the complete East Face.
|The East Face of Buck, with the traditional descent route in purple, and the fall-line route in orange.|
So we re-adjusted our focus again, and with hopes of a sporting adventure into the unknown on the East Face we continued our progress up the bootpack.
|Damn, that ridge is airy!|
|All grins, Jeremy loving life above 11,000'.|
|How cool to be up in this terrain with 4 other splitters?! Approaching the final summit ridge, with 2000' of vertical drop down to Avalanche Canyon on the left.|
The 2 skiers behind us caught up and passed on by midway up the ridge, and it turned out that I had met one of them at an avalanche awareness talk I gave in Idaho Falls last December--small world. We saw another pair lower on the ridge when we looked back down, then another, then another about to climb up from the lake--this sunny Saturday was bringing out the full parade of alpine enthusiasts!
|Leading out up the ridge.|
Photo: Evan Honeyfield
|Photo: Evan Honeyfield|
We relaxed on the summit in still, sunny weather for a half-hour, taking photos and eating some lunch before rigging up and strapping in for the descent. A few test turns showed the snow on the East Face to be fairly wind-hammered, but remarkably good chalky edging on a snowboard.
|Looking down our route after making a few test turns. I would typically like something bigger and stiffer to ride in this terrain, but the Voilé Artisan handled it just fine. Despite my being a longtime advocate of solid boards and approach skis, I am consistently impressed with the performance of Voilé's splits.|
I dropped in first, starting with slow tight turns and then letting it run as I gained confidence in the snow conditions.
|Frank comes in for a landing.|
|Jeremy lives it up in the chalky conditions on the upper face.|
Peeling out onto a small ridgelet, I watched as the rest of the crew ripped turns one at a time down to join me, and we continued more or less together until we reached the cliffband and our new test route. Jimmy rode first, going out of sight for about 30 seconds before we saw him railing it out into the basin below. Sick.
|Jeremy drops into our sneaker route through the cliffs on Buck's East Face.|
I went last, carving controlled turns through the rocks, ecstatic to be riding with confidence on solid snow as I threaded the line through what I had always thought to be an impassable cliff. What a high.
High-fives all around when I joined the rest of the crew, and we whooped it up as we traversed above the lake, heading out to a few thousand feet more fun riding down into Stewart's Draw and the lowlands below.
|Looking back up at the proud line we just rode.|
Having ridden out from here with Z last year, I knew that if we worked our way out the ridge that splits Stewart and Static Draws we would find a pair of lovely north-facing couloirs that were likely to be holding great powder. What I didn't anticipate was that this season's snow depth had buried the rocks that form the couloirs, so when we arrived we were looking down wide, powder-laden chutes to the Draw below. Perfect for wide-open, mach speed riding.
And then we were done. Conditions allowed us to ride all the way out to the parking lot, where cold chocolate milk (for me) and beers (for everybody else) were waiting for us.
Damn, what a day. Getting up high in big terrain with a fun crew under bluebird skies?
Crazy how it all came about, but it was awesome being in the mountains with this group of splitboarders--I'm stoked to have made some new friends, and to have found a bunch of new, motivated partners for alpine adventures.
In case you're wondering about the title reference: