Friday, May 8, 2009

Beaten to submission

Rob sent me an email the other day asking if I was done skiing for the year. Coincidentally, Dug and I had just been talking about doing Little Pine chute, just like Dug did last May.

No skinning here—just boot from the road until there’s nothing but sky above you.

On the way up, we were afforded a nice view of Scotties and the White Pine area beyond. The skiing up there still looks good, at least from a distance.

About 1,000 feet up, after hiking most of that way through rock-hard, refrozen avalanche debris, we started wondering whether we could get down on skis. We could see this exposed rock right above us and knew we’d at least have to downclimb that section.

To this point, we’d been using the coarse debris as hand and foot holds while we climbed. Yeah, we were brilliant and left the crampons and ice axes in the garage. Who knew it was going to get down to 23 degrees last night and refreeze this solid?

Anyway, just below the rock, there was a smooth, scoured section where the only way to get purchase was to kick our boots into the ice. Each kick yielded about three millimeters. Four kicks got you a half inch, which seemed to be just enough to hold you in place. Unless, like me, you decided to reuse the footholds Dug and Rob had used.

As I made a step, I had the thought “if you slip here, you may not stop for a while.” The next thing I knew, I was sliding. After a few feet, I slowed slightly, grabbed for a chunk of ice, and thought I might be done. I wasn’t. I kept sliding. Faster. I started getting scared and hardly noticed that I was careening off of ice chunks as I went, smashing my elbows, knees, and ribs in the process. Once more I slowed a bit, reached for another ice chunk, and this time was able to stop.

I slid from where Dug is standing in the photo above to where that photo was taken. Good thing I stopped, because as you can see in the photo below, I still had a bit further I could have slid, with a big granite wall at the end of my luge run.

Rob was up above and scouted around a bit only to report that everything above him was scoured and bulletproof. No way to get up without crampons, and even if we did, we probably wouldn’t want to ski down. There was no way we could safely ski the refrozen avalanche debris, so we climbed back down to the apron, where we finally put our skis on so we could make a few turns before getting back to the car.

Here’s Rob pretending like bulletproof snow embedded with rocks is fun to ski:

Back at the car, Dug sensed I was in a bit of pain and suggested I might have some bruises. I brushed him off—“I don’t bruise easily. No bruises at all from the spill I took riding Sovereign a couple weeks ago.”

When I got to the office and changed my clothes, one look at my arm revealed I was quite wrong about the bruising. My thigh had another one like this, almost as large, with more still on my chest.

Dug, perhaps understating things slightly, said “Dude. It was crazy….That could have been a bit disastrous.” I’m not sure what “a bit disastrous” means, but I think he’s right. Glad we made the call to bail out when we did.


  1. yeah, by "a bit disastrous" i meant death or maiming.

    just thought i'd clear that up.

    remember, all skiing is good skiing. even this skiing.

  2. I'm not sure what "skinning" means, but it looks like that's what happened to your arm. Glad you're okay.

  3. Dug, did I suggest that this wasn't good skiing? Because if I did, I didn't mean to. As Rob said, still beats sitting in an office. As grateful as I am that I get paid to sit in an office.

    331, climbing skins are pieces of fabric with unidrectional nap on one side and adhesive on the other cut in the dimensions of your skis. In backcountry skiing, you stick them to the bottoms of your skis to hike up the hill. Something as steep and narrow as we skied this morning, though, and they're pretty much useless, so you just hike straight up, also known as bootpacking or booting.

    We should have been frontpointing with crampons.

  4. Watching you slide raised the pucker factor on climbing back out down through the smooth parts...

    C' everyone some thigh.

  5. Are you serious? You can call that GOOD skiing? Maybe an exciting adventure, but good skiing? When I think of good skiing I imagine all the good powder days you guys have had, not a few turns on rock strewn frozen snow.

    Mark, yikes, glad you're more or less OK. I'd suggest you go buy some markup to cover those bruises so your wife will let you ski ever again, but she reads the blogs and you have photos - I have no advice for dealing with the fallout.