"Oyster Pk" - 13,312 feet
"Oyster Pk" - 13,312 feet
|Finding a Pearl Gem|
West Pearl Mountain (Pt 13,312)
Summit Skiers: Darrin (kansas) & me
Ascent Route: East Ridge/face
Start: Green Wilson Hut
Elevation Gain: 2,017'
Vertical Ski: 2,017'
The weather forecast was supposed to be abysmal for today, 80% snow showers and overcast, but hints of blue sky were apparent from the daylight streaming into the hut and onto my sleeping face. We had arrived at the Green Wilson hut around sunset the night before, so when some other friends had to cancel Saturday plans to climb & ski Castle & Conundrum, we decided sleeping in would be much appreciated after lugging heavy packs up the snowy road. All those last minute additions to the pack, and accidentally getting parts of my skins wet in a slush crossing (I swear I packed 5lbs of snow up under my skis), the approach to the hut was slower and more painful than anticipated. So we slowly got ready for the day.
We had 3 teams of two going out, all in different directions. We had radios, so we could keep in contact and let the group know where we were and what we were doing. Turned out to be quite handy. First trip I used radios, bought them on Thursday night. Previously the group always stayed together, so I found them almost silly before. Now I'm hooked.
So a brunch patrol up a local 13er seemed to be in order. The fresh snow that fell the day before and over night was going to make skiing fun, and hopefully not too spicy. We were hoping that the new storm snow would bond well with the old snow. Skinning up from the hut was pleasant in the late morning sun, tracks were already made for us. We saw one of our group's head up to the right, and another group up to the left towards the ridge to Mace Peak. We followed these tracks until it was obvious they were not going in our desired direction, so we broke off south across the basin to check out the Pearl Mountains.
Darrin apparently had too much sunlight glinting off the snow in his eyes, as he planned an ascent on Pearl, then over to West Pearl. With such a late start, and a big day planned for the next, he was only dreaming. But looking at this previously unexplored (by us) basin you can easily dream big, as skiing eye candy surrounds you. Eventually we decide that the east ridge of West Pearl is the best (read safest) ski for today.
Oh the snowy expanse...
We make fast work over to the base of West Pearl, where I dig a snow pit to get an idea of the stability of our ascent & descent route. The wind isn't too strong yet, and the storm snow is not badly wind loaded (on the steepest aspect ~27-30 degrees). I find no indication of strong layers over weak. Above the first ledge, the wind is stronger, but the slope is much lower angle. The snow was still fairly cold and dry for the elevation and time.
We skinned up the ridge quickly, to find more wind above. It should be fast and easy jaunt over to the summit with the majority of the steep now behind us.
Just another view of Castle, on the way up....
We decide to skin to the right above the north couloirs to the summit, but the new snow has all blown away, and the icy hardpack is tough to kick turn on. No false summits in this part of the Elks, so we end up skinning onto the summit before we realize it.
The wind is howling, and we have the choice between braving the wind, or having snow deposited on our face. We chose the former. Snow down the jacket and into ones gloves was not appreciated.
After the usual summit photo rituals, we strip off the skins and click into our skis. We radio to our group that we are skiing down, and hear that others have reached their high point as well. Apparently we were visible to everyone as little black dots on the ridge, the entire way up.
This will be Darrin's first summit ski. After only putting on skis for the first time in November of this season, this is quicker than either of us imagined he would be ready. Glad it will be an easy S4- peak for him. We ski down the ridge proper, and drop in just before a minor cornice, back on to the lower ridge face.
The skiing is pretty good, with areas of softer snow. After skiing sustrugi on so many peaks, this is rather a treat. We hit the peak before the wind had stripped it bare and left the dirty icy surface we know is below, and can see in a few areas.
With the lower angle slope, Darrin is able to get a handle of how to ski the variable snow terrain that is found up on a windy ridge.
We stop above the last steep slope to plan out our attack. We had determined skiers right was the more gentle slope, and we descend one at a time, to practice safe snow travel. Darrin goes down first. Slowly to begin with, then picks up speed as he gets a feel for the slope, making large turns all the way down.
Then it was my turn. With such a gentle run out below, I let my skis rip the rather fluffy snow as fast as I feel comfortable. The smile that awaits me on Darrin's face lets me know he enjoyed the descent as much as I did.
Now we just have the gentle basin to ski, all the way back to the hut. We stop for a bite of lunch at the last slope, and watch as the late afternoon sun cause a couple roller-ball avalanches on the sun baked cliffs across the way.
We could ski directly into the hut if we liked...
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