Interesting field study follow-up to Luke’s pit study in Benchmark. Headed up on Wednesday afternoon in the blustery end of storm weather to check out the coverage in EV and see if I could sneak in to Old Man’s for a look. Skinned up in a fine winter storm day for a solo jaunt into EV. Put the skins on at Two Elk( they leave the back door open sometimes to the overflow seating area, a great place to put skins on skis on cold day, thanks for the tip Jeremy) and trekked up from there. There were a few tracks in front of me, but the wind had already blown them in, so I figured they were probably from earlier in the day. I was sure that I was going to be alone on this one.
The pros and cons of solo missions can be debated endlessly. It is a higher risk situation logistically, and the benefits are something that can’t be measured or quantified, is simply the feeling of enlightenment that comes from being alone in the backcountry, relying on one’s self. It is truly a special feeling. Would I ever recommend to anyone to head out solo on a storm day to a notoriously slide prone area during a wind snow event one oPf the worst snow packs in recent history? Not ever.
Windloading was a given in EV as the west northwesterly winds were surging up over thirty miles and hour at times transporting the relatively dense new storm snow directly into the north facing areas such as Old Man’s. I knew that it would take some doing to stay safe and get er done.The two tracks veered off to Joint Point area and I was left following the half blown in tracks of two/three others up to the top of Benchie. The two tracks headed out to and down the Tele line off Joint Point, and looked solid. No movement on the east facing run. The bare spots on the West Wall were filled in, and finally EV looked a little better. I took a moment, then headed off down the ridge.
All the other tracks headed into Tweeners and I was left to my own devices, the wind-scalloped ridge to CDC/Ol Man’s area a blank canvas. I left the tracks behind and headed to the slot in Ol Man’s, where last year we were chiseling cornice. No cornice there yet, just a mound of snow that signifies the endless windload and snow transport of this part of the ridge, even in a low tide year. I encountered a loud whoomph as I passed by the CDC entrance, and felt settlement. Big.
I arrived at the slot. I readied my gear, took out the pull handle of Little Pepe(my nickname for my Float 30 pack) and slowly inched down towards the fine line that divides ridge and rollover. As I hit the apex the snow deepened dramatically. Boot penetration was mid-thigh on the roll, my pole easily went past the 100 cm mark. The sheer depth of the windload took me by surprise. Although it’s a given that EV gets much more snow than the mountain, this differential was huge. I stomped around the edge, always checking with my pole to verify being on the edge and not even slightly on the down edge of the roll. I knew from my run the other day that underneath the new snow was a rock hard layer on the upper section beneath this snow. Seriously sketch. I got a little cracking propagating on the bulge but nothing significant.
All the weather, snow and wind signs were pointing to the undeniable fact that if indeed I decided to drop in there was a good chance something was gonna go and I had to plan accordingly. I made the decision to go and use the opportunity to do a ski cut , basically a descending traverse, to trees no more than twenty-five yards away. I knew if I dropped and b-lined it right to the dense trees on the ridge between King Tut’s and Reagge Rolls that I would be in an island of safety. Relative island of safety anyway, away from the treacherous middle and behind some old growth tree on the low angle shoulder.
I practiced the pull motion on my handle and dropped, straightlining in knee/ thigh deep powder and made it to the trees. I turned back to see everything from the snow bulge west moving in slow motion and staring to gradually pick up speed. A thirty foot cloud billowed out in front of the moving landscape, I realized that most of the entire bowl was sliding. My ski cut evidently triggered the slab at the base of the first steep entrance pitch in the run where it flattens and the snow changes density and depth dramatically. It is unreal to see up close the power of a good size slide.
My spot was solid, the stacuhwall(side flank) of the slide was fifteen yards from my tree of hugging. The far skier’s right of Old Man’s tree line laid intact, anchored by the larger evergreens clustered there near the tree line and I skied my way down in knee to thigh deep pow to the flats and the debris pile. The slide itself ran into the small evergreens past the flats, taking everything in the middle of the bowl to the ground. The debris piles weren’t immense for the width of the slide, but large enough to carry you through a nightmarish cheese grater of rocks and stumps.
I spent some time poking around the debris, which was covered in a dust of facets from the base layer churning. Looked up at the crown and saw it was eighteen inches to two feet thick, two three hundred feet wide and ran on, no surprise, the basal near ground facets. Having not given the new snow any time to settle, the weight of my ski cut was enough to push the slab over critical sheer strength. Took some crappy photos of the debris and shoved off. The rest of the run was an arduous combo ski traverse hike and avoid the buried punji spikes in the trees. Honestly, it sucks getting out.
I was happy to have flushed Old Man’s. My opinion is that these open areas we want to eventually ski need to slide and be reset with new snow, rather than have these weak layers persist and bury. My methodology is up for discussion, and no avi class is going to promote solo backcountry control work, but I like to be on the sharp end and I take a personal interest in what is happening in EV. Long and short of folks, from snow science angle or practical field study, this is one shitty snow pack. Be extremely careful out there everyone.