January 11, 2012
November 29, 2011
September 22, 2010
Keeping the crampons on for the occasional snow step, we find the points work fine even on dry Quartzite. Using the rope for added security we employ "running and fixed belays" on the more difficult and exposed sections.
With a snug belay from above, he gets ready to pull through the 5.6 "crux", where a finger-lock move on steep ground is required.
On the upper ridge the angle softens, but hand holds are often scarce on the "slabs" of smooth rock.
The Quartzite soon gives way to darker Slate / Shale, and we can cruise unroped for the final 300 feet to the narrow summit. Behind is Monte Cristo, 11,126.
Cardiff Fork is home to the universally acclaimed Cardiac Bowl (left with shadow) and Cardiac Ridge (far right), two of the finest backcountry runs in the USA. The fall-lines are long and wide enough for dozens of runs, side-by-side; they get snow early and share the Northeast Aspect, where the more snow falls, less wind blows and the sun is rarely strong enough to crust the surface.
Many touring parties stay in Lodges at Alta or Snowbird and can basically cross the street (Little Cottonwood Canyon Road), slap on climbing skins, and start touring. At the end of the day, they will catch a Utah Transit Authority bus in Big Cottonwood Canyon and ride back up to Alta.
Parties staying in Salt Lake, Park City or such can meet at a bus stop and take public transit to the trailhead.
Before entering avalanche terrain the guide checks everyone for beacon compatibility and range.
After 1400' of skinning the party reaches Powerline Pass on the divide between Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons. Powdery ski runs abound north of this pass.
Just above the pass the guide sets a traverse out to the untracked terrain in Cardiff Bowl and everyone enjoys a spectacular first backcountry run. Since the plan is to return to the top and ski out to Big Cottonwood, lunches and extra water are cached above the run, allowing for unencumbered skiing and climbing.
Heading down the north side into BCC, Rick is reminded of what Utah is famous for.
Lower down the snow is light enough to enjoy low-angle wiggling through acres of sparkling fluff. An avalanche fracture on the steep, shady slope behind reminds us of why we can't safely ski the big lines every day we visit Cardiff Fork.
September 21, 2010
White Pine Parking Lot, 7,700', one mile below Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon, is THE trailhead for a mega-zone of backcountry ski terrain. White Pine itself is the eastern-most of the 5 skiable gulches that drain into LCC. The forested terrain down low is great for safe, peaceful, and scenic skinning.
Skins come off at the top for blissful wiggling through the fluffy meadows.
Before venturing onto more committing lines, avalanche danger must be carefully assessed. The guide performs a Compression Test in a snowpit
and decides to open up this tasty poke underneath a rocky point called The Spire.
If the snow and weather are both stable, the bigger lines on Red Baldy (in background between skiers) and Lake Peak become great options.
Below, a skier reaps the reward of his labors with untracked powder on the broad Northwest Face of Red Baldy, 11,170'. Another set of tracks is just visible on the East Chute of Lake Peak in the central background. The shadowy north aspect of this 10,700' summit is usually the prime line. Further back, on the left, is the triangular Pfeifferhorn, centerpiece of the rugged and beautiful Lone Peak Wilderness. It is a common mountaineering objective, requiring an overnight snow-camp.
As the sun drops to the west, a final untouched shot begins the "home run" to Little Cottonwood Road, 2,000' below.
November 18, 2009
Eric, Matthias and I skinned at a bristling pace from the S-turns in Big Cottonwood Canyon through fir, aspen, and on up the immense, northeast-facing slide path known as Bonkers. 4500 feet of ascent in three hours enabled lunch in unbelievable calm on the tippy-top of Stairs and Bonkers. On this tiny knob high in the sky, the awe-inspiring view of Salt Lake Twins and Lone Peak is unmatched.
Laughing all the way, we arced one by one down the wide, powdery avenue that is Bonkers. When Mother Nature designed a ski run, this was it. Lined by cliffs, but wide enough for 40 sets of tracks, its rolls and gullies and all of it faces NE, the magic aspect. It's 40-degrees at the top, gradually moderating, like a parabola, to 10-degrees as you milk the last turn to the beaver pond, 2500’ below!
One time in the early ‘90s, I counted 375 turns while skiing it continuously. Now I get around one hundred, and new-schoolers shred it in 10. Regardless of personal style, anyone who non-stops it is super fit!
Another form of fitness comes into play when you skin back up the trail for the Stairs. On one marathon tour, Tim and I lapped Bonkers 3 times before the home run! But this time Eric and Matthias actually wanted to save some energy for the Gulch and get home in time for dinner. One-and-a-half hours put us back on top where we dropped into superb pow.
As we navigated the dry reef and endless couloirs of the 5,000’ drop, our snow quality dropped with the altimeter. By the bottom, we were on a rain-smoothed tongue of old avalanche debris littered with tiny bits of shale. Saving some energy had been wise, but it was all part of the epic adventure, and no one had any regrets as we criss-crossed the creek and hiked down the last 300’ past the classic summer rock climbs of lower Stairs Gulch. Molson Canadian never tasted so good!
- Tyson Bradley