Friday, April 18, 2008

Ben Lomond's south face: finally got up there!

The south face of Ben Lomond. 

April 5, 2008
I'd checked out the south face of Ben Lomond through binoculars almost every day for three winters now, at breaks from work. Its the most striking alpine face in the Ogden area, and one of the prettiest in the Wasatch. Even though the runout was melted out now, I didn't want to let the whole face melt out again, and decided to give it a go. Couldn't find a touring partner, but I got motivated enough for a pre-dawn departure, and hoofed up the new construction dirt roads to a water tower well before the sun hit, then through the scrub oak into the main runout gully. At a large boulder in the gully, I put on my boots, huddling on the downwind side in the chilly breeze. Tree trunk fragments everywhere told the tale of huge midwinter powder avalanches. A welcome sun hit, as a hawk circled over the foothills. Slowly crunching up the hard corn snow, the gully was long and mellow; the slopes above were another story.

Multiple cliffs rose in front of me as the couloir snaked right, into the shade of cliffs on the east. Around 9:30 some small rockfall bounced down the snow, so I decided it was a good time to put on the helmet. It occurred to me that mountain goats would love this terrain, and they are notorious for knocking down larger rocks (Hellgate memories ;-), but I didn't see any. I pushed out of the shade and into the sun again, and stopped on a ledge for a rest, and to contemplate a choice. The line I'd chosen through binoculars had a strange ice bulge section, and I hadn't brought crampons or ice tools (just my trusty old Leki self-arrest grip poles, and the Vert climbing snowshoes). So I opted for a more direct rock band. I had cell phone coverage, and called my buddy Gregg, who was set up with his 400mm lens, but the distance was too great, and even the 400mm lens wasn't enough for him to pick me out.

The rock band didn't look too hard, but as I moved up it became deceptively smooth. Contemplated some tough moves in ski mountaineering boots, acutely aware that I did not want to down climb this. It was probably possible to traverse very far left on the descent to avoid the downclimb and the ice bulge, but the snow was shaded and hard over there. That would make it a serious, difficult traverse, rather than a fun soft corn descent. Suddenly some small rockfall pelted my elbow. Leaning in to the cliff, I tried to hide under the helmet; super glad I had put it on. Time to head down, even though the snow was still not that soft here either.
Downclimbed, put on the board on 45 degree hard corn, and gingerly sideslipped through rock solid old wet slide chunks, down into the main chute, where it was much better, a couple thousand feet of sweet soft corn. Didn't hit a single rock somehow (with the snowboard anyway ;-). Quite an impressive face, with loads of limestone cliffs, more difficult than I'd thought to get through.

So the most direct south face lines would require a rappel now. There are some other options that start down the southwest ridge, then cut into the south face on some SE slopes that catch more direct early sun. They would need a bit earlier start, but they would be more consistent soft corn. They also aren't under the myriad of cliffs that ring the central couloir, so there should be less rockfall. I hope to try one of those lines before they are gone this year.

Did you ever read about Marco Siffredi, the young man who did the first snowboard descent of Everest, with *no* sponsors? Incredible story.
The Disappearance of Marco Siffredi

Heres the first half of the Siffredi story, with some classic steeps photos: worth reading to the last sentence:

My old touring partner, Dan Caruso, came up with "playing in the gravity fields", when we were talking about our descents on Mt. Superior, and climbs on the Hellgate cliffs. Whats up Danny!?

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