Saturday, April 19, 2008

Exploring Mt. Ogden's "little" chute

April 12, 2008
In spite of having to work at 1 PM (or was it 2 :-), I went up to the Basin for a good morning of snowboarding. My buddy Gregg brought a camera, and I hoped to get some photos of that "logical chute" high point I'd hiked over last week. There had been a warm spell, then another fresh storm, and northfacing conditions were excellent, but I didn't have time for a long tour, so I did the Logical chute point, and a few extra turns in the quiet of the backcountry, then we booted back inbounds. Mt Ogden cirque was open, too, but I had to get to work, and didn't have time for the hike. We watched some guys tag the steep line down from the summit towers; "Darn! He took my line!" I joked (March 14, 2009: I met Nate Crowther on the Tram; sounds like those were his tracks). Still want to do that one before the lifts are done this year. I want to measure it, too; it looks to be solidly over 55 degrees; one of the steepest lines on Mt. Ogden. A perfect photo day, too, bluebird!

I met up with another buddy from work, Dave, a ski instructor at the Basin, and we ripped some fun runs in the sun, mixing John Paul trees with the Hollywood groomer out the bottom. We looked at some Mt Ogden lines, and I speculated about a tiny narrow chute to viewers left of the summit tower line. "Is that wide enough?" Dave asked. "I only need 165 centimeters" I replied, and we laughed. That is true actually, but as I would learn in a few days, it is not even 165 cm wide; snow on the rocks just makes it look wider.

This was the last day for John Paul and the Mt Allen Tram, and I am sorry to see them go. They are the heart of Snowbasin for me; the key to the north-facing Snowbasin backcountry.

April 16, 2008
Now the Basin is down to the Needles Express and the Porcupine chair, as far as the top lifts go. At least they extended their season for another week! I stopped at the patrol shack at the top of Porky, and talked to the guys about how to access the backcountry now. Dave Jenkins said that the Mt Ogden cirque was treated as backcountry now, and that meant it was fair game. Porky cirque was closed that day, and so the two (possibly three) east-facing lines on Mt Ogden that I'm interested in were closed today, but they said that I could hike and descend Mt Ogden on the north side. So I traversed out as far as I could (being on a snowboard, that is a falling traverse, but what can you do), and started booting. There was about 8" of fresh over refrozen crust, and I felt quite good about the avalanche potential, or lack thereof, but from force of habit (and to set a good example for any viewers/critics), I booted tree to tree, then did a rising traverse to head for the base of the cliffs. I was headed toward the base of the classic Mt Ogden couloir, and also the base of the "little chute" I'd looked at with Dave.

The booting was a little deeper and more unconsolidated than I expected, so I figured I'd go back to the car for the Vert snowshoes. Just for good measure, I did a cut hard skiers right; nothing moving; then some sweet turns down into a glade.

Back at the car, no Verts! Oops, a major oversight. Verts are the best climbing snowshoes ever made; still, in 2008, far better than anything else on the market for climbing 50 degree chutes. Oh well, it was bootable without, but that would make it quite a bit more work. I went right back up, Needles to Porcupine chair, traversed out, followed my boot, and continued up and right. When I got too close to the cliffs, I tended to sink in to the gap by the rock, sort of like a crevasse. That is what you see early season on Superior for example; clearly noone has hiked this line all winter. Understandable, I suppose, but it made booting alot of work; I was really missing the Verts. I struggled to get around a large crevasse-cave that kept going and going, and sunk in deep a couple times. One patroller in a sweep group started yelling at me (I guess; I couldn't hear him very well), from way down in the glade, then they thought better of it, and left me alone. I suppose they got the word that what I was doing was cool. It would have taken them at least an hour to hike up to where I was, too :-).

I continued up and right, up and right, and finally gained the little chute. Up and up; it steepened to 50 degrees, and over; 30 more yards, and a reading of 53; in another 10 yards, 54. At 55 degrees, I felt a little uneasy; I guess its been a quite few years since I'd been on anything this steep and exposed. I reevaluated conditions; it was good, stable soft powder conditions, plenty of daylight, super good. The chute narrowed into the crux choke, at 55 degrees and steepening. Probing the right side, I saw it was rock with just a few inches of snow plastered on it. Darn! The real snow was only a meter wide, for at least 10 feet, maybe more. I might be able to climb it, but this was beyond something I wanted to descend without a rope, and I hadn't brought a rope. Even with a solid belay, it would be pretty abusive to the snowboard, to grind one end down the rock. I have downclimbed something like this before, with a snowboard on, using rock handholds and "footholds" for one end of the board, but its not something I'd care to repeat, and certainly not solo, without a rope.

So I cut out a platform at the highest spot that was board width (164cm between the rock walls), and started gearing up. The kneepads were already on, so I put on the tailbone pad and back wrap (a Home Depot black elastic back wrap, with the suspenders cut off, that I've taken to wearing this year), tightened up the boot buckles, drank water, did up all the vent zippers, pack buckles, pack on, then got ready for the critical operation of putting on the board. I pounded out solid handholds, carved room to operate the toe throws on my Burton race plates, and eased into the rear binding, then the front binding; no problem! Its always a good feeling to get the second binding on in supersteep terrain. Readying my two self-arrest grip Lekis, I began a controlled sideslip with arrest grips planted; so far so good; pushing down a predictable sluff, as usual. A cut left, then a jump turn to heelside, and a rip down a fun powder ridge, dodging left to miss a rock. Powder!!! Great conditions! There was more than twice as much up here as was reported, a foot and a half, with a softer base than I expected. I cut right to go push snow down into the crevasse-cave I'd struggled to get around, for no particular reason, then opened up the speed for some awesome powder turns, even a couple faceshots in the wind. The mountain was quiet and empty now, over an hour after closing. I dropped left and poked around in the trees looking for powder, then cruised down to the deserted base facilities. Another fine, fine day at Snowbasin!
(March 14, 2009: someone put tracks in this line, from the summit. See the photo in the March 15 2009 post).

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