the chute is the boss
May 8, 2009
Some days you’re the hammer, some days you’re the nail. Some days you’re whatever someone is hammering the nail into. Some days you’re Mark, and it’s more like you’re sliding backwards down a frozen snowfield, bouncing off of frozen avalanche debris. Ouch.
Me n Mark n Rob tried to hike up Little Pine couloir early this morning. I did this chute last May, and it was delicious. I’ve since decided to make Little Pine my season ending punctuation mark. Well, it punctuated us all right.
The usual rule for late Spring backcountry skiing is get out early, go home early, to avoid the dangerous wet slide conditions that you get when the snow really heats up. The idea is, hike up when it’s frozen, ski down as it softens, but get off before it goes all mushy.
Unfortunately, Little Pine mushed some time back, and put a largish avalanche debris pile below the narrow choke 1/3 of the way up. And, um, the debris pile subsequently froze solid, leaving frozen boulders and scoured luge runs where the debris ran.
Mark n Rob and I all own ice axes and crampons. Except, today we didn’t think we’d need them, since we were just booting straight up 3,000 feet, and skiing down, a pretty non-technical chute. When it’s all filled in. Which it wasn’t.
As we climbed through the lower debris pile, it became clear that the ski out would be a nightmare. The overnight temperature got much lower than we expected, and the daytime high was going to be much lower than we expected, meaning the snow started absolutely frozen, and softened imperceptibly as we got back in the car. And the higher and steeper it got, the sketchier it got, since, without axe or crampon, our kick steps were all held us to the snow.
Mark at the start:
Rob at the start (his eyes look like they know something bad is coming, don’t they?):
Here’s the kind of angle you’d get from a horror movie, to let you know, something wicked this way comes:
We got to the rock band, and by then we were all pretty much agreed that we wouldn’t be skiing Little Pine today, or even going to the top half. We are just beaters, anyway, not mountaineers, and generally we have a pretty low tolerance for risk. But Rob somehow got up and over the rock band to confirm that above was as frozen and exposed as below. And then he had to come back down.
Here, a thin patina of brittle snow clings to some rocks, and would break off if you kick-stepped too vigorously.
I don’t have a picture of it, since all I could do was stare with horror, but this is looking down at Mark after his kick step broke off and he slid about 100 yards down a frozen luge run, bouncing off of frozen debris all the way down. Mark claims he doesn’t bruise. I’m pretty sure we’ll be putting that theory to the test this weekend.
Mark didn’t move for a while, since he couldn’t unclench. I think his testicles exchanged sides for a while. It takes a good whack to get those babies back in place.
Here’s Rob, trying to down-climb a frozen wall by kicking his plastic boots into the “snow.”
He was understandably cautious. Wherever there was broken debris, the footholds weren’t so bad. But crossing the scoured out avalanche runs left us a bit gripped.
We had worked hard enough for little enough that we skied the frozen crap on the apron, just to show that chute who’s boss.
Oh hell, who am I kidding? The chute is boss.