Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fun skiing on a rarely skied descent!
Last week I had the distinct honor of teaming up with maybe the most secretive couple in our small local ski community, Steve and Deb. They are so secretive I worked with Deb of them for literally 7 years before she gave up the goods on one of their favorite stashes! With folks publishing books on backcountry tours these days you gotta respect that.

They had promised to show me their preferred route up Sheep Mountain, a local landmark. Sheep is usually skied by skiing your route of ascent which is generally a SE aspect. I wanted to try something Id heard about from a few people and ski off the North side which drops 3,500 feet into the Weminuche Wilderness where you get on the West Fork (of the San Juan) trail for 5.5 miles to the winter road closure for a 9.5 mile tour. Kinda easy mileage with light gear but for more traditional CB skiers there is a lot of low angle terrain involved and this descent doesnt get done very often. Anyway, they were game for trying it so we set shuttle and were off. Steve and Deb ski traditional BC gear but make up for it to an extent by logging more hours in the BC than anyone I know. They are super fit but I was able to pull away on the uphill and log an extra descent in "almost corn". The final ridge was still crusty in places requiring one of my favorite suffering techniques, the crawl. While embraced by many, it doesnt get the credit it deserves due to the pitiful looking nature of most people doing it!
Going up!

Looking back down my knee crawling section of the ridge- a really good technique in certain conditions!

More traditional steep ridge technique!

Nearing the summit with the South San Juans spread out behind us
Then it was time to go down. It was still pretty early for spring conditions on North facing slopes but the fact that the fact that the exit was so low and South facing kept us from dallying too long. The meat of the descent was a great drainage with a relatively tame angle interspersed with a few nice steep sections. The snow was a little tricky but plenty fun with a little bit of everything from ice to crust, fluff and more "almost corn".

Then we hit to burn from the West Fork Fire a few years back and skied that for a while on a descending traverse to skier's left. There was food skiing here and there plus some tricky stuff and a few dry patches before we got to the river.

Then we skinned up onto the trail and skated it out for 5.5 miles to the car. A super fun little outing with some super folks.

A few things that were reinforced on this trip for me were:

1.  Hot waxing skins is the bomb. Dealing with wet snow is so much easier! Just do it.
2.  Always bring ski crampons in the spring. Sure, using them may be a sign of weakness but it can save a ton of time on long side slope excursions.
3. Short skis rock for anything where you may need to have them on your back for any length of time. You dont have many issues with the tails snagging on stuff behind you. I think the longest Id ever go is a 171 and Im over 6' tall.
4. Skating is an awesome technique to have in your quiver. I have been hitting it hard this year to learn how to do it and with just one season under my belt I could really efficiently cover ground. If you have not done this much Id suggest experimenting with free heel, unlocked cuff and maybe even flat footed on the ski. One thing Id love to find would be some extendable poles that go well over the usual 145 max length. If anyone knows of such poles, PLEASE let me know!
5.  Finally, the Black Diamond Whippet is an awesome piece of equipment. While I still have not really had to use it it sure gives you an added level of security in steep icy terrain.


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