Sunday, January 17, 2010

No Whumph - Kelly Mountain

Snow physics is truly interesting. Yesterday, Margie and I went on the same snowshoe route that I did 2 weeks ago on Kelly Mountain. Then (see previous blog), there were several minutes when I was willing to bet Alan and I would make the local paper for starting a slide down Norm's Hill. Just this past Thursday, the northern section of southeast Idaho got hit with a warmer, heavier layer of snow...a wonderful present for the upcoming (this) holiday weekend...and a night and day difference for this area's snow conditions.

Conditions 2 weeks before.


On the way up the Moose Canyon trail, we passed a group of beginner snowshoers and wondered why their "guide" chose the route we were on as it has a steady half-hour or so steep climb. At a junction, two of the group's members decided what we were doing looked more interesting than the turnoff the leader was taking and followed behind us. Noland had maybe 15 years on us (guessing) but was steady and very talkative up the whole ascent. At the ridge, his much-younger-than-us partner had fallen way behind. We had no intention of inviting them with us on the Moose Trail variation, because of it's length and strenuousness, and because someone, who will remain nameless, stayed up too late playing scrabble with a friend the night before and delayed the trip start by 3.5 hours. Since the day was short, we suggested Noland regroup with his friend, wished him well, and took off.

The weather was close to springlike for January. Little wind, lots of sun, and comfortable-cold temperatures. While we still had to break trail a good part of the way, a base of sorts feels to have formed in the snow, and the wind in the last two weeks has done some packing and consolidating as well. We reached the igloo (our usual trip stop) in what would have been record time if we hadn't spent as much time socializing with Noland as we did.

With far less trepidation than 2 weeks prior, we started down Dora's Drop onto Norm's Hill and on an already one-person broken trail. Big difference this time, no whumphs, no cracks, no thrills, no chills. Just an uneventful quick descent. So, it was back to the car and another good day of playing in Mother Nature's gym. (Check Avalanche.org for information about the area you are going.)

Unbelievably, I left my sapphire at home, but remembered the camera has video capabilities too. Just a short clip showing how nice a day it was.

video
(Make that Highway 26...you can't see I-15, but I had the direction correct.)

Gear Notes. Denali Evo Ascents: I field deployed my floats mid-trek for breaking trail. Removing them when back on packed trails required using my pole tip as a pry bar, just to help pop the set. I used the climbing bars on the steep ascent this time. Because the trail was punched already, the bars helped keep my weight directly over the teeth and kept me from backsliding. I didn't use them two weeks ago in the baseless powder. Traction was better then by having your weight closer to the ground to essentially kick and pack steps...no backsliding then either.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Whumph, Whumph. Kelly Mountain

I had been itching to get on the snowshoes and get some vertical, and finally it snowed, a lot...actually, too much. What is usually a no-never-mind conditioner at Kelly Canyon took a turn for the frightful....

My friend, Alan, and I ventured out to Kelly Canyon today, where an awesome matrix of snowshoe trails are marked. I was looking forward to a good workout; the entire full-day loop is what I selected. Because of the previous night's heavy snowfall, we had to break through a couple feet of snow, the entire way. I should say, he had to. I took my turn in front several times, but Alan, hands down, took the day's award for trail breaking.

video
Ridge Stop

It wasn't until we were well past the half way point on the ridge, sheltering in the igloo the boy scouts make every year, and getting ready to head down that it fully occurs to me, "You know, it snowed a lot, there isn't a base, and what we'll be going down is pretty steep. We'll have to stay close to the trees."

video
Igloo Stop

And so we started down. And it's going fairly well, until I hear whumph. I look around and listen, whumph. I have to get Alan's attention to get him to stop moving and listen...whumph. "That is weird, it sounds like they are blasting the hill (the nearby ski hill), but timewise it doesn't make sense...the lifts are open." I am whispering; he isn't. I suggest we stay extremely quiet. I advise keeping off the open slopes and listening carefully...when we hear it again. We continue down. Whumph. It sounds closer this time and that's when we realize it is us...and then Alan sees "it." "Look," he points, "that crack just appeared." Yike. I look around ... the slope is skiable, the slope is slide-able. This is not good, this is really not good. It's late in the afternoon, doubling back is not an option. There really is no choice other than down and out, and the sooner the better...and that's when I felt the first wave of fright. We quickly head to a tree, reach it, pause, whumph, crack, quickly move to another tree, another whumph, another crack, and the fright continued.

It's not unusual to see an occasional skier when I am on Norm's Hill, a steep, north-facing, lightly wooded, back-country ski slope. It is only 500 feet long, but there are no skiers this day...and no tracks indicating there were any all day. Hum...no base, a major snowstorm, no ski tracks, and steep enough...my stupidity is in full bloom. Worst of all, this isn't news to me. Back-country conditions have been terrible all season. I've watched the Titus Ridge snow pit video, and talked with others that have been out on Teton Pass. But this isn't Titus Ridge or Glory Mountain, it's Norm's Hill for Pete's sake. I can't even process that a slide is possible, but the whumphing and cracking are unmistakable, which means we are exactly where we shouldn't be.

"I think we should head into the thicker area of trees, the more trees the better," Alan said, breaking my self-berating. No argument from me. I stay on his heels...not exactly the prescribed mode of "avalanche country" travel. You are suppose to move one person at a time. That way, if the slope releases, one person should have a better chance for survival and initiate a rescue. But the whumphs continue, we have no avalanche beacons, and staying together and moving quickly and quietly seemed most prudent, so we did. Alan was knee to thigh-high in snow, but it's amazing how fast you can move when you are motivated. Whumph, another crack, whumph, and another. We finally make it to the thicker area of trees and brush. We stop and breathe and do that nervous, relieved laugh. "Don't laugh, we're not down yet," I hush us. We continue down, and the yurt comes into view...there are no more whumphs.

We make our way to the yurt and have it to ourselves. As we warm in the shelter and stoke up the fire, we laugh, and laugh some more, because we can't stop, and I laugh so hard I start to cry, but it was because I knew better. Too greedy to get out I was. Too greedy to be in the beautiful white blanket under tall green pines, and quiet skies, no people, and little wind I was. Too greedy to show a friend one of my favorite places. Too greedy to really remember about being safe. God taught me a lesson in greed today...and even why it is called a deadly sin, because today, it could possibly have been.

video
Post-Scare Interview (videos by Sapphire [my Ipod])

Philippians 2:3. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but
in humility consider others better than yourselves.