The (Other) Winter Carnival Part 2: Ice Bumps
As I said in Part 1, there is no better way to describe the last several days of skiing in Vermont than as a “winter carnival.” It all started Wednesday February 2nd, when a dynamo of a storm spread a thick shield of fluffy snow across VTah. Snow showers and sunny skies then alternated on-again-off-again for several days until yet another storm took aim for the weekend. Over several winter carnival TRs to be released over the next few days, we will be detailing the high points of this snow as we got to schuss it. Today’s TR covers the “ice bumps” portion of our (other) Winter Carnival.
As you may recall, in our last adventure Ben and I converted some beta we had gathered into a ski–>rappel–>ski descent nestled deep in a mountain pass of Vermont. We enjoyed very stable powder snow conditions, and were able to proceed assuredly without significant risk of avalanches. Before we could say “thank you Ullr” however, we picked up another 10″ of heavy snow. The storm that came through was so strong that folks throughout New England were reporting thunder snow! To add insult to injury, the winds blew hard out of the south half of the compass, and deposited the snow in funny places. Suddenly rather than a powdery stable snowpack as we had enjoyed in our ski mountaineering descent, we had a dense upside down snowpack. The laws of physics apply everywhere, and suddenly… BANG! We have avalanches. (Picture date: Sunday February 6th, 2011)
Even in New England, and not in Tuckerman Ravine… avalanches can happen. (Picture date: Sunday February 6th, 2011)
Christian–our resident splitboarder–and I have had our eye on a certain line over in New Hampshire for sometime now. The line is a roadside attraction in one of NH’s mountain passes. We had made many attempts to ski it from the top where a 100 foot rock wall is overhung above the ski line, but we had always been turned around by snow too deep to ascend. We always had to settle for just skiing the bottom portion of the gully. A non-skiing friend (it’s good to keep a few around for stuff like this) who we have had keeping an eye on it for us let us know that it appeared to be skiable from the top after Sunday’s storm. The final rock choke had become covered with snow, and appeared to be ready to accommodate a pair of skis. The problem was that after the avalanches we witnessed on Sunday, we were frightened to get into any committing terrain unless we could make extensive observations of the snowpack ahead of time. We gave the line a few days to bake in the sun, settle, and loose some of its energy, and then headed over. The line is extremely narrow in several places, and a climber up the gully would certainly ruin much of the ski aesthetics of the line if they ascended prior to descent. Here’s a view up the chokes.
In order to not ruin the ski line (since we surely would destroy the snow if we attempted to climb/wallow up it), Christian and I elected to skin around the line, and come in from above; something we had never been willing to risk before. It’s hard to tell from the above picture, but with this line you are either “in it and exposed,” or in the trees up and out of the steep gully. There is no access to the snowpack in the gully unless you are completely on top of the snow and exposed to avalanche risk. In order to assess the snowpack before committing, we planned to ski on belay for the upper section, and do our snow analysis in the actual line on rope. In addition we were also able to apply several mighty ski cuts that would not have been possible without being on rope. If the snow proved too dangerous to descend, we would then be able to prusik or perhaps even “hand-over-hand” back up the rope. I went first and performed said tasks. I had the camera, and hence no pictures. After a few minutes and a few snow pits, I determined the snowpack was quite stable, but would definitely sluff significantly. Remembering the choke that waited below, we debated exiting the gully and waiting another day. We didn’t want to get knocked off our feet and carried by even “just sluff.” Before we bailed however, I rapped a bit lower down and applied several big ski cuts. The snow was sluffing off non-cohesively in chunks about 6″ deep. There was no evidence of avalanche activity however. It seemed manageable. We decided to risk it. I went off rappel, and anchored in as Christian came down.
Next time we’ll ride this… but this time we wanted to remain in one piece rather than get “cheese gratered” by an avalanche through the crux.
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