Monday, February 7, 2011

My first backcountry ski tour - North Fork Wilderness, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Watch for links to video below, and click the pics for larger versions!!

Well... it was time once more for ANGST (the Annual Naked Guy's Ski Trip haha) in Utah. This year was to be Park City... 4 days of bliss in feathery Utah pow, but after having done a backcountry ski training course this past weekend at Alpine Meadows in Tahoe with the ever-cool Rich Meyer (my guide the first time I went up Shasta last year), I decided to fly in a few days early to put my newfound skills to the test.

With a huge dump of fresh powder in the night, my original plan was actually to just head up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Solitude and resort-ski my ass off while maybe diving off into a bit of the sidecountry. But on the way there, I spotted the most beautiful lines in high, uncut snowfields, accessed by up a steep drainage in the North Fork trail direction.

I simply couldn't resist the call of it. In a split-second, I'd made the decision to stop, pulled off to the side of the road, parked the car at the trailhead, and unloaded my crap.

It didn't take me too long to get the skins on my skis and out onto the track, and along the way, I made a few carefully planned switchbacks that gave me the opportunity to practice my kick turns, and kept a good, steady, efficient grade up the mountain.

About 500 vertical feet up the first hill I paused for a minute, because I heard a helicopter coming in. Sure 'nuff... below was a heli rescue happening, apparently for somebody at the nordic center. Can you get injured cross country skiing? Maybe somebody had a heart attack or something. I dunno... Bizarro... Anyway,

I continued upward, and every minute I climbed higher gave me ever more spectacular views. It was such a perfect day... sunny but cold, and the snow conditions were perfect. the scenery got more spectacular by the minute.

It was a perfect sunny day, snow conditions were good, . And Higher and higher I went, marveling at my good fortune. THIS is why I do what I do... those perfect solitary moments of quiet calm, of absolute alone-ness... I had the entire mountainside to myself, and I couldn't believe people were passing this by.

I had set a time limit for myself of a few hours just sorta cruising around up in the area to see what I could see and get some good practice in before heading back down, and I definitely found what I needed. Pure perfection, in a single photograph:

I think I'd have just about killed for an ultrawide or a 180-degree fisheye to capture even more of that scene. The clouds were perfect, the day was bright, and the conditions were pristine, but the deep powder below me beckoned as the sun waxed high.

Amply satisfied, I decided to find myself a place to transition from climbing to skiing and head back down to the car. Due to some poor planning of my upward line, I got a little bit hung up in some trees near the top of my route for the day, so I had to kinda work my way out of that mess and traverse back over into the clean downhill line I'd spotted far below and hours earlier.

I finally made my way out, found a good spot to transition, and made the switch. As I took one last glimpse of the perfect beauty that surrounded me, I shook my head in disbelief. "Imagine what I could see if I actually PLANNED to be here," I thought to myself.

And then I hurled myself down the hill in fresh, chest deep Utah fluff. WOW. Hard to beat a perfect line in perfect snow on a such a heartbreakingly perfect day.