Powerhouse Couloir

Stairs Plant, Generator Couloir (left), Powerhouse Couloir (middle), and Substation (right).

After a great morning of low-elevation couloir skiing with JBo, I thought that it was time to try to jump on some of the low-elevation routes in Big Cottonwood Canyon before the sun has its way with things. The lowest of the Chuting Gallery couloirs in BCC is the Powerhouse couloir, so named for the Stairs hydroelectric plant at its base. The Powerhouse couloir tapers into a small stream that joins BCC creek just below the Stairs plant spillway.

A scraped Powerhouse couloir.

Starting with a low-elevation bushwhack with some GPS guidance, I eventually found the creek bed leading to the Powerhouse couloir. It had been skied the day before, so a booter was in, and the climb went quickly. All signs seemed to indicate that no one had skied the neighboring Generator couloir, so tryin to be smart I wandered up along the ridge to try to find the entrance.

My, look at this fine couloir. Is it the Generator?

There are three promising looking entrances. I texted Jbo from the top and he said that at least 2 of them go. I’m not the only one to have struggled with this it seems (Noah Howell: 1, 2). I skied into the highest that I could find and found great snow. I congratulated myself on my genius. And then I encountered a steep, icy, convex runnel.

My turnaround.

Not willing to downclimb solo into god-knows-what, I bailed. Another 1000 feet of bootpacking got me back to the ridge and to Powerhouse, which has a nice 40-degree entrance which soon mellows to aesthetic skiing. Approach notes for the interested: I parked at the campground bridge below the plant, crossed the bridge, and skinned up and left. You soon encounter a creek bed– this leads to Substation. Continue up and over a small ridge to the left to find a second creek bed. If you arrived low enough, this will split. The left fork goes to the Generator, the right to the Powerhouse.

The following day Forrest joined me for a mission to the Generator. Maybe if we came at it from below, we could find the right line?

A simple approach up a heinous stream bed.

The stream bed approach is one of the worst that I’ve ever done in the Wasatch. Maybe the single worst. It is unavoidable if approaching from below and is a stand-alone reason to approach this route from above.

Lower Generator Couloir.

After a lot of cursing, falling in holes, and stemming up wet rocks, we reached continuous snow and a proper couloir. The base of the couloir is huge, collecting all of the various lines from Storm Mountain’s complex NW face. The Generator couloir has two variations, forking in its middle. There is debate as to which is the one described in the Chuting Gallery, though I think a reading of the holy book makes it clear: “Continue stumbling around until you find the creek bed and follow this up onto the apron. Follow the apron to its head, where it splits into two distinct chutes. Follow the chute to your right, even though it doesn’t look very promising” (p.15-16).

We went left. There was clearly a step of water ice guarding the right variation and we each had a single dull whippet and no rope.

Forrest in the icy choke of the Generator. Whippets rule.

Even still, the left variation had a tight and icy choke that demanded some attention. Above this a gradually widening couloir continued to the ridge. I remarked that there were ski tracks in the upper couloir that ended just above the choke. It took me a few minutes, but I eventually realized that they were mine. I’d been on track the day before, and I was glad that I’d bailed where I did.

On and on towards the ridge.
Nearing the end of the Generator Couloir.

We punched up to the ridge and again worked back down to the Powerhouse. After a weak overnight freeze, it actually skied well despite having been scraped out.

Scrambling down to the top of Powerhouse.
Forrest in the top of Powerhouse.
Yours truly, hop turn.
Forrest negotiating the thin crux of Powerhouse.

So, the Generator will go unskied this year. Even between my two consecutive days in the Powerhouse, the melt was incredible. Spring is here at the lower elevations. Next year it will be an approach from the top, and with a rope.

Forrest on the out.


Category: Skiing


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