This has been the busiest winter of my life, and it’s hardly over. School, Japan, Christmas, School… it has been nonstop. The blog has been silent.
For the last week, I’ve been in Utah skiing a great run of high pressure with my fiancé Taylor and staying with my parents for a belated Christmas. A couple of days ago, Taylor had to take off for a work conference, so I was left without a partner for today. That meant that it was time to check a couple of boxes in the back of my copy of the Chuting Gallery.
With low danger throughout the avalanche rose and protected powder on northerly aspects, conditions were right to do some silly things.
The day started with a cruise up the highway that is Cardiff pass, and I picked the first line that looked good and tight for a warmup. A few jump turns through the choke and a short powder apron were my reward before I climbed back to the ridge to boot up towards Mt Superior.
The cruise up superior was shorter than I remembered, and the summit was windless. Another short and steep ski down Cardiac Chute led to the skintrack that I’d need up Cardiac Pass towards the main event for the day.
The real reason that I was toting around extra training weight was to finally get my ass down the Heart of Darkness couloir. It’s a ski run, kinda. In that it’s a thing that you do with skis on.
Because it requires a long approach, involves almost no skiing and certainly no good skiing, I’ve struggled to find a partner for the HOD for several trips. Thankfully, yesterday evening I managed to find an old rope of mine and my very first climbing harness in my parents’ garage, which along with a single locking carabiner were all I needed to piece together a run.
The approach was more annoying than expected because of windslab below the entrance, forcing a steeper skinner and booter to the ridge with a ski down to the couloir. Still, it made for an ominous looking entrance from above.
One new and one old bolt merged by a tangle of tat is easily accessible from the entrance. I fixed my rope (possibly the first rope that I ever owned? It had been cut into 2 pieces at some point, making for a perfect 25m section to fix.) The existing fixed line was frozen into the snow below and was too taught to rappel.
After reminding myself how to rappel on a munter, I was quickly down onto the snow.
…Where the skis barely fit and god bless you if you manage a turn in the upper couloir.
A bit of side stepping down very icy snow led to wider and even icier snow. Pride forced a number of jump turns down the ice before the increasingly wide couloir gave way to much better snow.
A long skin around the ridge split by the HOD led me back up towards Mt Superior. I spied a skintrack up the ridge that I hoped would lead me to the top of the long pow slope called High Ivory.
Having neglected to actually consult my map, at the pass I discovered that I had in fact topped out on cardiac ridge, which is currently hardslab hangfire over a massive bed surface from natural avalanching during the last storm cycle. I was irritated to have climbed an extra pitch but wasn’t going to ski that death trap, so down-again-up-again and I was back to the proper pass into Cardiff Fork.
After a pow run down Cardiac Bowl and a long traversing skin track, I made my way back to one final objective for the day, a couloir called Holy Molé. The start, as described by Andrew McLean, is as follows:
“…although it doesn’t look like much more than a bunch of trees with a valley below. Have faith and start down. A tight chute will appear, which in low snow may need some downclimbing or a rope to get through.”
Without the help of a pair of tracks leading to the choke, I might not have had the confidence to proceed, as the entrance to the couloir proper was punctuated by some very steep brushy cliffs.
Still, the tracks led round to a nice euro-style dryski entrance, maneuvering skis across roots over a cliff. Plenty of living vegetation made this fun, rather than terrifying.
Through the choke, the couloir was a properly good ski and a great end to a good trip. Sluffing from the pitch above had filled the prior tracks, and it skied like it was brand new.
My legs were toast by the time that I had the displeasure of descending the chunky and crusty southerly sloped towards Alta and my car. Totals for the day were around 7500′ and 11.5 miles, though my GPS went bananas while I was in the HOD.
Tomorrow, it’ll be home with sore legs for another round of studying. Hopefully, I’ll be back for an ER residency in a year and a half. Powder is winning over smog.