Mike said it best, “Looks like we picked an interesting day to do this”.
It’s looking like Mike and I are going to be out of the backcountry action for a while. Mike and his wife are expecting twins any day now, and I’m committed to other activities for the next few weekends (don’t feel to sorry for me, my other activities include a free three-day stay and lift tickets at Teton Village, followed by the Pole, Pedal,Paddle race). But we figured today might be the last shot we have for a while to get some turns in.
We knew the snow pack and weather in the Lost River Range were questionable, so we picked the most conservative line we could think of. I may be the only backcountry skier in Idaho who has never skied Mt. McCaleb. The gully north of the peak has always caught my eye. It’s certainly not the most epic line in the area, far from it. But it’s always been an attractive looking route that seems to hold snow late in the year. With the sketchy snow pack and skeevy weather forecast, it seemed like just the ticket for a casual outing. We hadn’t heard anything about snow conditions in that part of the range, but decided to head in blind and see what happens.
Driving out of Arco early this morning we were surprised by the weather. We knew it wouldn’t be great, but didn’t expect a full on blizzard. The road up Lower Cedar Creek was buried, and we missed the turn to the west ridge of McCaleb. But after a bit of a cross-country hike, we found the right route and started up. Frankly, the weather sucked. We got pounded by wet snow and strong winds. Cold, wet and miserable is a rough way to start. Visibility was never better than 1/4 mile.
But once we entered the trees the wind let up and it turned into a fairly pleasant climb. We stated skinning about 9000′ and make quick work to the saddle at 10900′. We found at least a foot of new powder, and maybe as much as 18″ in places. We were hoping there was still a decent base of old snow underneath, but there wasn’t much. It promised for thin conditions down.
The power was great, but we both took some good rock hits on the way down. Doug Coombs called these conditions dust on coral. Pro tip: if you’re going to face plant, make sure it’s into good Teton powder, not into Lost River scree. But bruises heal, and core shots can be fixed. We were able to ski about 2000′ feet before heaving the skis back onto the packs for the long march out.
Needless to say, the last storm cycle has made backcountry conditions a bit dicey. Saturday, Kevin, Mike, Riley, Kodi, and I headed up to the Teton Pass Ski Resort to check out conditions for ourselves. Natural slides are evident everywhere. We didn’t find any obvious signs of instability like you would expect under these conditions. No cracking, whumping, or collapsing of any kind. This matches what we’ve been hearing, that deep hard slides are occurring with no warning. The crowns we saw in the area ranged from 3-5 feet and there is lots of evidence of highly destructive slides.
We talked to one person who had investigated an old sliding surface in Moose Brush Bowl to see if the new wind-blown snow was bonding the old surface. He didn’t think any good bonding was happening, which means the “reset” button we’ve been hoping for with all this natural activity may not be occuring. It’s looking like it could be a long winter.
But the skiing was fantastic. Lots of new, powdery snow and the best turns of the season. We just had to pass up lots of promising looking lines.
Not a lot of great pictures, but my camera was being cranky in the cold.