This weekend I met up with Ann Driggers and Seth Anderson, some new ski buddies I met through SummitPost.org, to ski some lines in the La Sal Mountains in Utah. The La Sals rise 8,700 vertical feet above the city of Moab and all the surrounding canyonlands. I was excited not only to check out a new mountain range, but to snowboard down some of these lofty desert peaks that I’ve gazed up at so many times from the canyonlands far below.
The La Sals were also a good choice for this time of year because the snow there has already settled into a solid springtime snowpack, unlike the snowpack here in the San Juans, which is still transitioning from winter.
DAY ONE: TUKLEAR REACTION
Our first objective was Mount Tukuhnikivatz, or “Tuk” for short. This pyramid-shaped peak is one of the most notable mountains in the La Sals, easily visible for hundreds of miles from the south side of the range.
With crampons on our feet and skis/board strapped on our backs, we hiked on the solidly frozen snow pretty much straight up one of the ridgelines for 3200 vertical feet or so to the summit. It felt so strange to peer down at vast red rock canyonlands while we were hiking on snow. The mountain is so much higher than the surrounding deserts that you almost feel like you’re looking out from an airplane.
Who said it was spring? Winter has come back with a vengeance in April. Just like last season, March and April have switched places… March was dry, April has brought the snow. Today it felt like mid winter, with 16ºF temperatures, deep powder, and mayhem on the pass. Here’s some pictures from our morning line.
When I first stumbled across Kevin Thurner’s website, I was completely amazed and inspired by his collection of photos from the North Cascades and beyond. I recently emailed Kevin some questions to learn more about his photography.
You have an extensive portfolio of photos from the Washington Cascades. What is it about these mountains that draw you so?
This goes right to the point I suppose, but is tougher to answer than you might expect. I’ve sometimes thought of my time in these mountains as a kind of relationship. It’s been a progression of sorts as most things are.
Not being a native of the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t know much about the Cascades for quite some time. I gradually became aware of their alpine reputation in a very general way, mostly through news accounts of the Himalayan feats of various Northwest climbers. I remember at one point coming across a few small photos of the North Cascades in an outdoor magazine that tantalized me, but offered little more to go on. They remained in the back of my mind as a kind of mysteriously veiled mountain kingdom.
In the early 80’s I hitchhiked through parts of Washington State more than once and glimpsed Mt Rainier for the first time. Then a few years later, I saw a copy of the Beckey Guides in a climbing store in Boulder, Colorado. The pictures in those books confirmed to me that these were mountains of an altogether different character than the ranges I’d explored. They even intimidated me a little and I began to think of them as mountains of a different caliber.
My first year in the North Cascades was punctuated by many memorable mountain sojourns, but none as remarkable as the four days I spent over Labor Day weekend approaching and climbing Luna Pk. It was my first view of the Picket Range, and man was I hooked. It became clear to me on that trip that these awesome mountains were within my grasp. What I lacked in technical ability I could make up for with stamina, good route-finding and perseverance. These mountains exuded a different kind of wildness, and their northern, alpine character appealed to me immensely.
My time in the North Cascades has often been tremendously satisfying; and now I have been around them long enough to have built up a rather strong affection. It is still very much a Mountain Kingdom to me.
Another great line! I’ll call this one “Chimichanga” (*name changed to protect the innocent). The weather turned nasty today as a storm rolled in; nevertheless, the same powder from our last little storm was still well preserved on this long north face. Like yesterday’s line, this route was also a new one for me. It’s so great to keep exploring and riding all these sweet lines that I’ve had my eyes on all season. Click each photo to see it bigger.
Here I am laying out a high speed carve. Photo by Parker McAbery.
This morning some friends and I rode a nice big line which I’ll call “Champignon” (*name changed to protect the innocent). 4-6″ of fresh powder, perhaps more blown in, on top of a soft base provided perfect conditions for hauling some serious ass. Here’s some photos (click each photo to see it bigger).
Skinning up, almost to the top. In the background you can see more of our playground.
Here’s a shot of me dropping in; photo by Jon Neau. Look at all the terrain in front of me!
It’s April, it’s snowing, and we still have two more months of snowboarding ahead (this is a good thing). But as each day passes I’ve been thinking more and more about summertime. Here’s a few photos from a backpacking trip I did last summer in the San Juan Mountains near Durango, Colorado.
Lily on the lookout for marmots. Lilly carries all her own stuff, and even some of my stuff too! What a team player.
Anybody who does not believe that the North Cascades are the most bad-ass mountains in the lower 48 should take a look at John Scurlock’s online gallery of aerial photographs of that rugged mountain range. Flying low circuitous routes in his homebuilt airplane and shooting though a plexiglas canopy, John has amassed an amazing collection of photos of the mountains of the Northwest. In the spirit of Bradford Washburn, John’s photos are both documentary and flat out stunning at the same time.
Check out his article “Flight to Desolation”, published in the NorthWest Mountaineering Journal (which by the way is great website). Also be sure to browse through John’s own online gallery.
Here’s how it works: If I had an accident that left me unable to walk out of the wilderness, I extend the antenna and press the button to activate the help signal. An internal GPS receiver acquires my GPS coordinates and the PLB transmits them along with my personal identification code through satellites to an NOAA station (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The NOAA station then calls my emergency contacts (friends and family phone numbers that I’ve registered beforehand) to ensure that I am indeed out in the wilderness and it’s not a false alarm. They then contact the local Search and Rescue team, which would initiate a rescue operation – knowing my exact location.