Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wherein I prove that I am not a complete and total ninny

I may have mentioned that during our climb and ski of Superior on Saturday that I was a bit nervous. Something about walking across an exposed ridge barely wider than your boots that's covered in rotten rock and snow will do that to you. But I made it to the top, and, after collecting myself a bit, had a great time skiing. In fact, once I got my skis on, I was fine. Sure, there was a steep chute right at the top, but it wasn't any steeper than dozens of other lines I had skied. As freaked out as I can be by exposure, once I get my skis on, the nerves generally go away.

I was not, however, so smitten by the experience that I was in a rush to go right out and do it again. So when Dug suggested climbing and skiing Box Elder peak Thursday morning, my first question was "how much exposure is there on the hike up?" Having never been to the top, Dug responded with the non-answer "you'll be fine. FINE." None of the guidebooks said anything about the hike along the ridge being treacherous, so I agreed to go along.

A half dozen of us met at the Dry Creek trailhead well before dawn to make the hike to the 11,101 foot summit, the largest and most prominent between Lone Peak and Mount Timpanogos, which also happen to be the three big peaks visible from my front window.

Everything was great until we got to the top of the Shotgun chutes. At this point, had I just been along for the skiing, I would have skipped the summit and dropped from there. In fact, that's exactly what Mike L. and Quinn did. The shotgun chutes are North-facing, protected somewhat by trees, and harbored nice snow even though it had been more than a week since the last storm. Who could blame them for wanting to ski that?

Here's Mike, booting towards the top of the Shotgun Chutes. It was kinda steep.

The view from there didn't suck, either.

And my favorite pic of the day, Dug making his way up the Summit Ridge from the Shotgun Chutes.

Since I'm a compulsive box-ticker, however, I couldn't hike this far without tagging the summit and skiing the cirque, so I kept going. Unlike Superior, the ridge hike was generally as wide as a driveway. Sure, massive cliffs still dropped from either side, but the feeling that you might actually fall wasn't nearly so poignant.

Nevertheless, my internal demons maintained their chatter all the way up "what if the cornice breaks off?" "What if you lose your footing on this boilerplate?" "What if this tree you're using as a handhold gives way?" "What if you slip on this loose rock?" Notwithstanding, I still eventually made it to the summit.

Tyler, Dug, and Rob making the final push to the top.

Whereupon something entirely new happened: I started wondering how I was going to get down. Seriously. I looked at the bulletproof snowpack interspersed with sastrugi, the 40-48 degree pitch, the cliff bands scattered throughout the cirque, and for the first time in years, I was scared of a ski descent. The last time I had a feeling approaching this was in 1993 skiing the main Baldy Chute at Alta. But even then it was just enough nerves to sharpen my senses, not intimidate me or cause me to ski apprehensively.

Given that this was the view from the top looking down, I suspect you can understand why I may have been a tad nervous.

Not wanting to billy-goat the rocks, we downclimbed just a bit and found this nice flat spot to take off our skins and put on our skis.

The first few turns were a bit tentative, but after that I was able to settle into a rhythm and actually ski. Looking up at Tyler descending the first pitch.

As we made our way down, we thought things were starting to mellow out until we got to a cliff band. Rob went left and ended up dropping his skis off the rocks and climbing down. I went the middle route and had to climb back up and over to get to this nice little couloir.

Here's Dug making his way down what I thought was the most aesthetic line of the day.

Followed by me.

From there it was nice, mellow skiing on the Apron to about 8,000 feet. Dug's smiling because he's just skied from as high as you can see to where he's standing in this photo. On a Thursday.

The rest of the way out was uneventful if a bit hot and exhausting with 6,600 feet of climbing under our belts. There was quite a bit of surface hoar on the lower reaches, in some places as large as potato chips and in others light enough that less snobbish skiers would confuse it for powder.

Having made it down without falling--or even coming close for that matter--I'm growing more comfortable with the terrain. Not sure I'll ever be comfortable climbing Superior, but I wouldn't hesitate to do Box Elder again, at least not for reasons related to the skiing. Now all I need to do is conquer Timp, and I'll have climbed and skied all the major peaks visible from my house. Thank goodness I can't see the Pfeifferhorn.


  1. So when Dug suggested Box Elder, it took you 10 seconds instead of 2 to decide, right?

    It's all beautiful, but I'll hike it without the snow. :)

  2. that was yum. i've been trying to get up and ski that face for years.

    yay us.

  3. You guys are living large. Good job ticking off another peak. Nice photos and good write-up.

  4. EXCELLENT post, both photos, writing, and context. I'm not a skier, but this makes me think...