Sunday, August 30, 2015

Recon mission: Deseret Peak in the Stansbury Range

Between the Wasatch Range (a western range of the Rocky Mountains in Utah) and the Sierra Nevada (mostly in California) there is the Basin and Range Province (some will argue that that’s what the Wasatch is in). The Basin and Range Province is a vast physiographic region that spans 500 miles from the Wasatch and the Colorado Plateau to the Rio Grande Rift. A peculiarity of this region are the abrupt changes in elevation, alternating between narrow faulted mountain chains (all in a North to South alignment) and desert flats. Edward Dutton, who was a US Geologist in the 19th century, described these as “an army of caterpillars marching toward Mexico". Some of these “caterpillars" are (from East to West):

Oquirrh Mountains, UT, highest elev. 10,620 Flat Top Mountain
Stansbury Range, UT, highest elev. 11,031 Deseret Peak
Snake Range, NV, highest elev. 13,063 Wheeler Peak
Schell Creek Range, NV, highest elev. 11,883 North Shell Peak
Ruby Mountains, NV, highest elev. 11,387 Ruby Dome

There are many more but this is not where I’ll expound on that. The object of yesterday’s hike was Deseret Peak in the Stansbury and the reconnaissance was for ski lines in preparation for a rturn this winter. We were in particular looking for three specific couloirs and a sense of the lay of the land in general. We got a good sense of both. 

The hike

The summer hike is best done through Mill Fork. Past the TH walk past the Wilderness sign, cross the creek (that may be dry) shortly after which you'll be at a trail intersetion. You will Pick Mill Fork to the left. You'll be doing about a mile, maybe a bit less, in the forest before you reach a large meadow. You will cross it and it will take you to a saddle at 10,042 feet. There you'll be at a t in the trail with left being Bear Fork and right being Deseret Peak. Follow the trail to the summit. For the return you can of course just go back the way you came or loop it via Pockets Fork. This second alternative is a bit longer than the out and back alternative.

The whole hike (done as a loop) is about 8.4 miles and a bit over 4,300" elevation gain in all.

NOTE: There is some confusion online and I believe on the ground on some of the signs at the mountain in the naming of South Willow Fork and Dry Lake Fork. In all my posts, when marked, I always go by the USGS names. In this case the USGS name for the fork that constitutes the basin at the north of the peak is Dry Lake Fork.

Ski lines

The couloirs we were looking for are the East Twins and the North couloirs (see below). In terms of what skiers look for these couloirs are not named right. The Esat Twins are north facing and the "North" couloir is Esat facing. These distinctions will matter when time comes to assess snow quality expectations. We noticed quite the uptic in winds around the entrances of these couloirs and since there is no reason that will change in winter, there is a good chance the entrances wil be pretty windloaded.

Our winter ski route up will most probably (depending on conditions) be up Dry Lake Fork and a bootpack up the couloirs. Again, depending on conditions, either Dry Lake Fork or Mill Fork can be good candidates for the ski out.

Driving directions to the trail head (from Salt Lake City)
  • Follow I-80 to (exit 99) named for Tooele/Stansbury
  • Go south on Highway 36 for 3.5 miles
  • Take a right on State Road 138 and follow for 11 miles to Grantsville
  • Take a left on West Street at the end of town, this road will become Mormon Trail Road
  • Drive 5 miles south from Grantsville to a sign for South Willow Canyon (careful here: About two  miles before this sign, there is a sign for North Willow Canyon and I learned the hard way that when it comes to directions 2 out of three correct ain’t good enough…)
  • Take a right and follow this road which becomes gravel near the national forest boundary
  • Go to the end of the road at the Loop Campground and trailhead

The Loop Campground is the one at the trailhead. If you decide to camp it’s a good alternative as you can wake up and start hiking right from it. If however you are pickier and want your campsite on the creek then you’ll have to pick one of the lower ones such as Narrows.

In terms of facilities the Loop campground has a vault toilet and that’s about it but it’s very pleasant. In 2015 the fee is $14/night for a site and one car. You pay cash or by check using envelopes available at the entrance of the camp.

Here are the pictures (click to enlarge):

The trail head at Loop Camground

This is where you get off your ATV...

Getting out of the woods...

...and into the Mill Fork meadow.

You are out of Mill Fork, you are at 10,042" and you are taking a sharp right...

...up this trail. You have just another 1,000 feet of elevation to go.

At about 10,400" looking South

Our group on the move and closing in on the summit.

Looking down the Eastern most of the twin couloirs.
This is the narrower one of the two.

Looking down the Western most of the twin couloirs. This is one is
wider and both drop you down into Dry Lake Fork .

The entrance to the Northern couloir.

1) Eastern most twin, 2) Western most twin, 3) North couloir

Close-up of the twins.

The Northern couloir as seen from Pockets Fork.

1) Approximate location of the TH, 2) Dry Lake Fork, 3) Mill Fork.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What AT Ski Boot width is right for you?

Maybe because I have fairly wide feet, the one thing that over the years always defined and still defines my choice of AT boot is its width (another criteria is number of buckles, mine are always four buckle boots). Most AT ski boot makers use just the one mold for their AT boots. The one thing you can’t have is boots too narrow for your foot, that’s the best and fastest way to turn a glorious backcountry day into a miserable Guantanamo type experience. Of course you still have to get your size right and for that you’ll need to figure out your mondo size.
The thing I used to struggle with was:

1) How to figure out what width my foot is
2) How to figure out what width the boots are

Came to find out that figuring out the width of my foot is actually simple as 1-2-3: It is the width of your foot at its widest. The experts talk about “metatarsal” width.  To measure it I put down my foot, on a piece of cardboard, parallel to the wall with the outside to the wall and on the inside find the part that protrudes the most and make a notch there, then measure that width.

So what is considered wide vs narrow? As an example, if you are a US men’s size 10, then a foot width of about 3.8" (96.5mm) is considered narrow, 4.0" (100mm) is considered pretty standard and 4.2" (106.6mm) is considered wide. For width on all other US men’s sizes see this table:

When it comes to the “metatarsal width” of your boots, the experts talk about “Last width”. That is the widest they are on the inside. These days that measurement is a lot easier to find than just a few years ago. As an example now lists it as one of its measurements under “Specs”. Once you have a length, a width, then I recommend you take a look at an Intuition liner to improve your fit. Another tool in the bag is the ability to punch out a boot shell. If the boot width is almost there but just tight enough to develop an unbearble pressure point over a few hours of touring, then have them punched out. Any full service sports store in Park City knows how to do that.

Below are a few boots I like from widest to narrowest. Brand, Model, and last width are indicated in the captions. The width you’ll see below is pretty typical of the width of the whole brand at least as far as their AT boots are concerned (click to enlarge):
Scott Cosmos (previously Garmont): 103.5mm - 4.07"

Black Diamond Quadrant: 103mm - 4.05"

La Sportiva Spitfire 102mm - 4"

Scarpa Maestrale: 101mm - 3.95"

Dynafit TLT6: 99mm - 3.9"

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Curiosa at Park City Mountain Resort

This is another one of uncountable hike-to-ski outings to Jupiter Peak. Having nothing better to do, while awaiting the season, I took below pictures. As you can see killing some more summertime while waiting for better is the main reason anyone would bother to take them. Now, if you are reading this then I am pretty sure you are facing the same challenges (click to enlarge).

This odd looking thing has caught my eyes more
 than once and I am sure anyone else's that's been here...

...well, after thorough investgation: Mystery solved!
I am sure you are all excited with this invaluable tidbit!

Here are some remains of the actual Silver King Mine (by the base
of the Bonanza lift).

A Vail resort innovation: All lift stations are now red and grey vs. just
white before. It looks fine but I kinda liked the all white that gave them
a bit of Station Zebra look. 

I have decided to name this one: HOPE

Not really sure as to what the theme may be here. Angry,
mutated pacman-frog? Or maybe just another
disentchanted Trump voter...

I am starting a series on mountain colors, I think I'll call this one Blue...

...and this one Yellow. I promise to stop as soon as we have it all white...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Cardiff Fork – What’s under the snow?

For those of you who have never seen what’s under the snowpack, here are a few pictures of the same features/slopes taken in winter and in the summer. The shots are not all taken from rigorously the same angle but you will still be able to figure out what is what. As can be seen, other than the Ivory slabs, it’s mostly grass on the slopes proper and rock above. Here are the pictures (click to enlarge):

Cardiac bowl winter

Cardiac bowl summer. The angle is not the same but you can 
clearly see what the snowpack rests on.

Cardiac bowl winter

Cardiac bowl summer

Hallway Couloir winter

hallway Couloir summer

Holy Toledo winter

Holy Toledo summer

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Pluto has a backcountry!

Well, maybe Pluto is by definition all backcountry but this is not just any backcountry, we're talking BC with snow/ice and peaks up to 11,000 feet (Think Superior or the Pfeiff). Now if that doesn't blow your mind, what would? OK, so its a bit of a treck: about 3,5 billion miles. At 36,000+ mph (or 870,000 miles per day) it took New Horizons 9 years to get there. That would make this quite the comitting trip: 18 years round trip (meaning you are missing 18 earth seasons while travelling...) plus however long you wanna ski. In addition to the time committment you have to consider getting it funded, (unless of course you are the I-am-sooo-rich Donald), custom ski suit, custom ski boots and a gravity so low that the skiing may be a bit average. Weather forcasts are not available and neither are avalanche risk assessments. So maybe this trip is not for the upcoming season but in these days of global warming and shrinking ski seasons it just is comforting to know there are alternatives out there.

Here are the pictures (no these I did not shoot myself);

Looking a lot like Greenland!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dark Ebony 1-21-15

This was a tour with, by Wasatch standards, a longish approach. That’s because we decided to start this tour in Big Cottonwood at the Cardiff Fork trail head. A shorter alternative would be to start at Alta and go either to Holy Toledo or via Cardiff Pass. In any case we picked the scenic “Nordic ski” in.
We skinned up the old mining road a few miles past Montreal Hill and then on to the High Ivory ridgeline. From there we dropped down on the western side into Mineral Fork via “Dark Ebony”. I imagine the name is a play on names to bounce of off the sunny name in Ivory vs the other side that does not get much lite (see pictures below). I like to call that couloir the Sickle, for the reason see the pictures, but that’s just me. We were expecting pretty nice snow as this feature gets hardly any sun at all but the quality could at best b labelled “variable” snow… I guess it must be fairly wind affected, maybe some venture type deal going up that couloir but that’s all just speculation.
After that line we went up Santiago Ridge to the top and had a cool and long ski out. This snow was fantastic. We skied out to the Mineral Fork trailhead where we had cached a car.

Here are the pictures:

Towards High Ivory

Yours truly with with point 10,631 in the background,

The entrance into Dark Ebony is in the trees before you get to the couloir
a bit further down.

Looking up Santiago Ridge.

The line, Dark Ebony aka the Sickle,
 as seen from Santiago Ridge.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cardiff Fork 1-14-15

This classic Wasatch tour took place the 14th in just as classic Wasatch conditions: Bluebird. We were, by our standards, a fairly large group of six (see below). We went up the Power Line trail from our Lady of the Snows at Alta to Cardiff Pass. From there we followed the ridge line going west and dropped in to Cardiff fork a bit before Little Superior. From there it was down to just below Cardiac Ridge for a few laps. The snow went from good to great and the difference hinged on just a hundred feet left or right from the top of Cardiac Ridge. As soon as you went even a tad bit left of the center the snow was more wind affected. If you kept to the “spiritual center” of the slope where it forms a subtle gully (under the lowest spot in the ridge line) the powder was classic "Wasatch Champagne Powder". We exited out via the center Cardiff sub ridge, back to the pass and down to Alta. The snow on the southern aspect was both wind and sun affected but still generally good.

Here are the pictures (click to enlarge):

Left to right: James, Scott, Mike, Eric and Jack

Toiling up to the Pass: James and Eric plus unknown.

At Cardiff Pass looking west and uop the ridge line.

Cardiac Ridge to the left and the Ivory Flakes to the right.

Scott and James in full transition.

Solo tracks.

Scott contemplating the work ahead.

Looking down Cardiff Fork's undisturbed snow.

Mike in action.

Cardiac Bowl.

Cardiff Pass as seen from the "backside" i.e. from within Cardiff Fork.