Coalpit Headwall

Nico and Noah at the base of the Y, beginning some stiff conditions that were unrelenting to the summit ridgeline.

In a rare period of mid-winter low avalanche danger, I phone up Noah and Nico to take advantage of the conditions and get on one of the big Wasatch lines that I’ve long eyed from the valley, the Coalpit headwall.

While not the steepest, nor narrowest line in the canyon, it is a relatively remote face with a long approach and a payoff of 5000 feet of descending to Little Cottonwood road.

The Chuting Gallery notes a number of approaches, but the Y-couloir is the ‘shortest’ though ‘a lot of effort’. Knowing that it’d been skied to death since the last storm, we decided to head up the Y, hoping for a conga-line bootpack and easy access to the face.

Nick navigating some mixed terrain complete with sugar snow, rock, and ancient pine with ancient hand-line.
Nick reaching the ridgeline at the top of the Y-couloir.
Happy to be out of the Y and unaware of what is about to come.

The Y went slowly, with a marginal bootpack that had to be kicked in for most of the route. It was good conditions for crampons and two axes, but with no spikes and just a whippet, it was considerably slower.

On the ridge, I had hoped for an easy and sunny skinner to the shoulder of the headwall. Wrong! For the next 1-2 hours we skinned and booted across steep and exposed terrain, forced off the ridge by big granite gendarmes, at times deploying our short rope for exposed and thin sections of skinning.

One of the more relaxed sections of skinning, about to get really terrible.
Finally nearing the headwall. Our line took the center of the face from just left of the dark rocks on the ridge.

By the time we finally made it to the headwall, we were a bit discouraged but awfully glad to be done with the ridge. The face loomed near, and the bootpack up the shoulder of Thunder Mountain to the top of the face was easier and scenic.

Noah on the Thunder Mountain ridgeline
Nick, Pfiefferhorn in the background.
Noah, with the LCC backcountry in all of its glory.
A glimpse down the Hypodermic Needle. A bit thin yet, but a more reasonable approach by far.
The “Northeast” (east) face of Lone Peak, with the NE Couloir at center.

After a short break on the summit, we dropped into the center of the face, which felt steep in moderately firm conditions. Snow was variable, some soft, some a bit crusty, some breakable, but all skiable.

The view from Coalpit Headwall.
Me, working out onto the line. Photo by Noah.
Noah skiing the upper face.
Nico, nearing the end of the face. Photo by Noah.

From the headwall, another 3000’+ of skiing leads to the road. The middle pitches held a sweet payoff of sheltered pow more than a week after the last storm. Ultimately the face narrows to a tight couloir of survival skiing, punctuated by the final crux, a waterfall.

Onto the apron with 3000 feet to go. Photo by Noah.
Noah contemplating the waterfall.
Rapelling to skier’s left of the falls.

After some rapelling shenanigans at the waterfall, we were through the difficulties and needed only to navigate several hundred feet of dense willows until we made it to the fat bike trail that parallels the road.

The team was gassed, and I was almost late to work, but it was worth it. While I’ll never approach Coalpit along that ridge again (trust me, go up the Hypodermic Needle), I am glad to have ticked one of the bigger faces in the range after looking at it for so long.

This winter has been a learning experience, and I only now feel like I’m getting a better sense for the possibilities of the Wasatch. A storm is pounding us now, so there won’t be any big faces to ski for a while yet. No problem, skiing powder is a fine pastime.

Noah enjoying a bit of breakable crust before the willows.

Category: Adventures, Travel, & WritingSkiing


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