From dusk till dawn, bent poles and battered wings.

Posted: November 15, 2011 by bcbuzzards in Uncategorized

Dusk on the Wasatch

What a combo Fri/Sat/Sun for the buzzards, and the tri-canyons. Tris and I ventured up into the higher reaches of Ballroom at Alta Friday afternoon sans Arthur. Racing up with the sun was lowering down was a great way to start the weekend. The snow in the upper Ballroom area below Little Baldy Chute was rot and garbage. Growing up in Eastern Montana, I’m well used to seeking this snow there, but know in areas like the Wasatch, where big storms can roll in over night, I know this to be very, very problematic.

Tris's coat doubles as a sun on cloudy days

The discussion of Saturday’s tour resulted in an immediate roll back. Arthur had sights set on Room Of Doom, an exposed, steep, wide-open face in upper Cardiff. Reports of lingering instability, with the prospects of 6-9” overnight helped all of us reel in those ambitions. A tour up Days Fork, however, wouldn’t prove much better.

The climb up about 2 plus miles from Big Cottonwood Canyon was down right miserable. Blowing wind with sleet and grapple, and more wind pounded us whole way. A brief discussion on how to gain an East running, North facing ridge resulted in the decision to try and move up a steeper, low hill unto a bench which would then provide a more direct route up. This was opposed to the prospect of touring further up into the Days Fork upper bowl and looping back at the ridge. 2 to 1 was the final count. I’ll abstain from point fingers (*sheepish grin*).


I pushed the skin-track up onto the face. 60 feet high, with an angle of about 35 degrees, and little snow created spicy, agonizing conditions. As I moved over a group of snow covered bushes, with Arthur about 20-30 feet behind me I saw the slope propagate about 6” deep, and begin to pull out 60’ or so feet, running mostly behind me. The loose soft slab ran over Arthurs boots and missed my entirely. Tris, making a kick turn behind us was right in a terrain trap. He was swept off his feet and about 20 feet down slope, bending his pole in the process.

After poking around the crown we all agreed the slide had broken on a long ridge of exposed rock, which had been covered, and was retaining no snow at all, filling in again as we stood there, re-setting the mousetrap for the next party of travelers. Evidence of a previous break and slide could be seen about 3 feet above this crown, indicating this is a frequent problem on this slope. This was a first hand look at our own personal glide crack. Taking this as a clear indication of what the snowpack held, the buzzards pulled back for the day, rolling back out to the car, and the warm embrace of SLC.

This skin track brought to you by

Sunday found the crowds returning to Alta. An early start left us alone with first tracks down to the Collins Mid-Mountain station. From there, the Chilkoot Trail had formed. I kicked myself for commenting at the noticeable lack of crowds as we dropped down. Hordes of powder hungry locals were crawling up the hill in a relentless line. Armed with the common sense God gave Lemmings, they skied down on top of each other all day. Injuries off Gunsight from a previous rider being swept down in a slide weren’t enough to give people cause to pause for rescue work. Riders contented to descend, and send down slides onto rescue parties. While skiing a black, heavily treed slope off the Collins lift our group was interrupted by 3 skiers, running a train right down the slope, splitting our group in half, and placing all of their party onto a slope already occupied by one of ours. The Was-Angles was in full effect, all that needed to be add to the mix of un-prepared, un-educated, inconsiderate backcountry riders is a few helicopters rallying touristas to easily accessible backcountry lines and the season would have been in full swing.

Philth and the worm turns

The sad passing of Jamie Pierre serves as a distant trumpet call over a long forgotten battlefield, a call reminding all of us as to what this season holds. Amidst the joys of our turns, frustration, sadness, and harms awaits all of us. People will continue to push the envelope. People will continue to ride terrain they should not be riding, and will often come home with nothing more than an uber-rad story about how sick the snow is. Slope testers will center punch lines all over the Wasatch and beyond, doing so with little more than a cliff bar and some cold green tea in their packs. Even for the pious, well educated, errors in judgment will result in close calls, sobering reminders, and worse.

Winter is calling; as we awaken from our warm summer slumbers, take care to shake the cobwebs out early. The mountains have no respect for your knowledge, ability, sponsorships… Move cautiously, carefully and diligently. Take your time, and choose your actions wisely. Better to come home with no epic story than to not come home at all.


The Great Gig in the Sky...RIP Jamie Pierre


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