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After getting down from Pt 13,374 and driving to BV, Zach and I had a long discussion on what do do. We had been planning to drive to Flagstaff to ski Humphreys Peak, but our chosen route needed a backcountry permit. Downside: FS permits are not issued on weekends, we would have to go to the resort and get them after 9am. 9am!!! That was really really late to start a 3K ascent and ski a peak, even if the slope is west facing. So we thought about other, longer approaches. Bailing on AZ all together, ski in CO. Ski in CO then go to Utah to ski La Sals. Eventually I said F it! I want to ski AZ, let's go have an adventure and make due with the resort start.
So Zach met up earlyish at our car drop off spot, and loaded up my Subi with a lot of gear. Then we headed south and west, directly towards the 4 corners area. Having never been there, I thought why not right? I know it's not the exact 4 corners, but close enough for a very non descript spot. We then continued all the way to Flagstaff to eat dinner at a great brewery with virtually GF beer, that was awesome, and then on to our campsite off some FS road.
We got up at a leisurely hour and drove up to the resort and found the Agassiz lodge at the end of the road. It wasn't very clear where to get permits, as the ticket office was closed. So eventually, while Zach watched all our gear, I went upstairs and asked someone where. Then the "fun" began".
humanist rant warning
Sorry, I have to do this. I'm not some extreme feminist who sees micro aggression in every action of others. But my interaction with an older male and female giving out permits was beyond unacceptable.
Me: Hi I'd like a permit
Them: We're trying to discourage people going up the mountain today
Them: The trail is icy.
Me: I have skied over 190 peaks in Colorado and the west
Them: Some spots may require crampons
Me: We have crampons, ice axes and whippets (do you even know what that last item is?)
Them: Also the trail is very difficult to follow, due to all the various tracks
Me: I work for a GPS company (holding up my fancy GPS unit), navigation is my thing
-- dialogue about me being a seismologist/geodesist and how the lady worked in GPS technology back in the day herself --
Them: Here you should probably read all the legalese on the back of the permit
Me: No summit is worth my life, I know when to turn around if I have to
Them: (Still not filling out my parking permit slip)
Another woman enters, asks for permit, gets same initial response
Her: I summitted Humphreys yesterday by another route. I just don't know about avalanche concerns
Me: (cutting off the older guy from what he was going to say) So your main concerns today will be wet avalanches on slopes over 30 degrees. When the snow becomes unsupportive and you start to sink, you should turn around. You can also tell if the snow starts roller balling and if you pick up snow and you can squeeze water out of it. So you can test the snow as you go, and decide if you need to turn around.... blah blah blah lots more blah blah blah
(Zach downstairs wondering what is taking so long)
Me: So am I done here? Can I go get my partner down stairs? HE'S watching the gear, His name is Zach.
Them: I think you're one of the most experienced people we've had on the mountain
Me: (No shit!) Grabs permit after 20 minutes and walks back downstairs
Zach walks upstairs
Them: Are you with Otina? Good. (Phew a strong young man to take care of her)
OK, I get that being at a ski resort they need to deter gapers (Guaranteed Accident Prone Every Run), from trying to hike this peak. Yes the "trail" was difficult to follow because of all the tracks everywhere. But at what point in time does it become ridiculous to question an individual? I realize there are few female ski mountaineers that likely get the permit first/alone. What if Zach wasn't with me? Would they have given me a permit? I don't know. The level of questioning was becoming obscene! What did I need to do? Whip my metaphorical mountaineering P#^*$ out and let them examine my length and girth, just because I'm a female? While there are plenty of egotistical mountaineers that would love to expound on their skills and experience, I do at least try to follow the humble path, and not blather on an on about myself. The level to which I was trying to explain away my gender was stupid. I personally feel that where my body bumps makes no difference to my ski mountaineering ability. Discussion SHOULD have ended after my initial experience and gear was explained. I'm guessing when Zach Taylor came to get a permit, he didn't have to give a life history!
Now that we got our gear, and permit is in the car (to avoid towing after 6pm), where to start "up"? Thankfully ski patrol was there to answer the question, and to point out Zach should get some goggles, since he didn't have glacier glasses like me. Haha! Turns out we had to skin across a green run below the Agassiz lodge, and above a lift to enter the forest and find the "trail". Amusingly, as I'm trying to skin across AND take a photo at the same time, I trip on my tips and fall. On a GREEN run. Ha! Lovely. Gaper move on a gaper run!
Once in the woods, we followed an up and left track of least resistance until we found the beaten down trail. We sometimes followed the track, or went back to just moving uphill as we didn't see a need to go downhill, just to follow the path. Higher up, the track became more interesting, as we saw lots of downhill ski tracks. We ended up not doing the last set of switchbacks, as it was more solar and the snow was a lot more bumpy. So we went straight up the shadier slope until we finally got out of the trees and saw the ridge. Then we beelined it across the slope to gain the ridge. Tough as Colorado skiers, to be stuck in the trees for that long! We're used to seeing our destination for a long time coming!
After gaining the ridge, there wasn't enough snow to skin that first section, so we just switched to booting. It was 0.6mi to the summit along the ridge, and it was getting past noon already. So close! Snow on the ridge was getting very soft in spots, so I was glad when I saw that our main descent option was still mostly out of the sun. I had slim hopes of a better more continuous line on the opposite side of the summit, but the traverse back to the resort would be heinous!
We took a nice, but short break on the summit. Took a bunch of photos and pointed out the Grand Canyon north rim was visible. Zach hasn't been there yet! Soon it was time to go down. We'd have to traverse a rock strewn section, and with the volcanic rock, it could get nasty since it's very abrasive!
Skiing off the summit the snow was corning but still good. The traverse went easier than expected, even though I'll need a full tune to get a couple scratches out.
After the high traverse, it was go time! The snow quality was quite excellent. Firm and smooth like a groomer, so I skied it fast like a groomer! The lower we got, the more corn like the smooth snow got. Gave myself a couple snow facials on the descent!
Once we hit the tight trees in our chosen avy gully, we decided that it would be best if we did a hard traverse over to the next one. No need to try and "ski" tight trees. Here Zach learned I'm the master of traversing. Most guys won't follow me into the trees at resorts, since I typically go into full tuck to duck under tree branches to be able to cut harder. He was happy when we reached the next gully. I think this is the one Zach Taylor snowboarded a month earlier, based on his photo
Once done with this last avy chute, all we could do now was traverse back to the resort. Since I was parked midway up, I wanted to make sure I skied DOWN to my car, and didn't have to hike back up to it. So I went hard on the traverse. As hard as I could. When we had a stream in the way, Zach ended up skiing down into it, instead of following my contour path, so we were on our own for the last few hundred feet.
When I got back to the resort, I was happy! So happy, as I was skiing down to the groomed run, I tripped and summersaulted over a downed tree. Oooops!
Back on a groomed run, I wasn't sure if it connected, so I traversed through another woods to get to a run I knew went down to the car. Here, I had a bunch of boarders and skiers turn around and stare at me. Guess they don't see many women skiing in full gear at the resort! They looked like they were having a great time. In fact, the hometown style resort looked like a great time. Right down to its old rickety, tiny, no safety anything chairlifts. Now that's terrifying!
After a great Arizona ski, we went back to the same brewery (as so many places are closed on Sundays, and most breweries don't have food). After, we drove all the way to the eastern access point I knew for the La Sals. I had been thinking either South Peak or Mt Peale. At the turn off for the road up the pass, the snow began almost immediately. I got maybe a mile up the road before I called it. It was 7 miles to the pass from the turn off. We camped at 0.5 up the road. It was 2am. Time to sleep. After a good 6 hours I woke up to find 51 degrees on my car thermometer. I got outside to beta test. Yup - warm. Too warm. We were 5-6 miles away from the base of the climb up Mt Peale. The lines that are skiable got a morning sun hit (it was a nice sunrise and the photo likely would have been awesome - but I couldn't tear myself out of my sleeping bag to see it).
When Zach got up, we discussed options. Even if we found supportive enough snow to the base and climbed it, there were no guarantees we'd summit in time, or have safe enough snow. It was clouding up, but that would only help so much. Just attempting would be a lot of work. The return on the road would be post hole with skis on kind of nightmarish. Uggg done. Put a fork in it.
Then a guy in a rental economy car drives past and up the road. Zach mentions that I'm about to make a new friend. Sure enough, he comes back to ask about the peaks and the approach. He doesn't even know the peak names or the rough distances. Wow, just wow! We don't deter him, so he geared up and walked off with his skis. Hope he got out all right!
So after a stop in Moab, where I tried to find the Utah BC skiing book, we ended up at Deadhorse State Park for some sight seeing and a nice walk. Note: Moab has maybe 1 BC skier, that goes out very rarely. At least that was the impression I got from a rock climbing woman at one of the gear shops. So don't expect any help in town.
After the park, we headed back into Colorado to ski Clover Mountain and end a pretty fun adventurous 6 day road trip. Which technically after 1 day at work, I was then back on the road for another 2 days... Woohoo spring break!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
It looks like you had a nice day skiing the AZ high point. I'm glad to see that Humphreys and the Snow Bowl have received a decent amount of snow this year.
FWIW - Moab has way more than one back country skier - the lady you talked to at Pagan doesn't know what she's talking about There are many of us out there in the La Sals every week, snowshoeing, fat biking, winter mountaineering, or back country skiing. There are also several yurts that you can rent and ski to to use as a base camp https://talkingmountainyurts.com/. For avalanche conditions in the La Sals visit https://utahavalanchecenter.org/advisory/moab This site is updated a few times a week by Eric Trenbeath a AIARE instructor and Moab local.
Mtn_hub - if I knew where to send the TR, maybe ;) Something tells me it would be lost in translation. At first I didn't think much of the grilling, but as it went on, I got annoyed!
Kaiman - Thanks for the info! I only get out to Utah to ski every couple years or so, but there is something fun about skiing, surrounded by desert! I also went to the other gear store too, but pagan was very much climber central!
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