September 22, 2010


The South Ridge of Mt. Superior, 11,050', is a classic, mixed alpine route. It starts with a low-angle "apron" leading to a 45-degree Couloir. This connects to the knife-edged rock and snow "arete." After a spectacular summit the route descends the easier East Ridge.

Crunch, crunch, crunch...up the solid spring snow of Suicide Chute. Zigging back and forth with cross-over steps we move efficiently keeping the feet flat and crampon points in the snow. This "French Technique" propels us far up the Couloir in the early morning hours. Sherman keeps his Ice Axe pick facing forward as he belays himself for security on the firm, steep slope.

Ahhh...Sunrise...and we're nearing the col. The snow climbing is just about over.

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.

Although most of the terrain is moderate, we start to "feel the air under our feet."

Sherman collects slings, stoppers, and cams as he "seconds" the route and "cleans" the "pro."

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.

We use a "short-rope" and downclimb carefully on the tricky, rocky upper sections of the East Ridge. Then, in places where a safe runout exists and the "corn" snow has softened into perfect slush for glissading, we opt for the easy way down. A cool reward for our strenuous ascent, and a relaxing finish to a great day in the Wasatch Mountains!


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.

Donning the skins again, the party traverses down-canyon for another long run down to the finish at Reynolds Flat in BCC, 7300 feet. Here another UTA bus will return us to the bottom of the canyon.

Cardiac Bowl, on the north side of Mount Superior, can be skied if conditions are right.

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.

Mid-altitude evergreen glades offer wind-sheltered powder on the edges of the more open terrain.

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.