Tues 5/16/17 Basin Mtn East Couloir
A casual 5:15am wake up at Darryl's place on the Mesa. He's a breakfast guy, so we downed some coffee and eggs and got out the door by 6. Buttermilks road was pretty rugged past the upper lot and Vantonio Vanderas' clearance was tested yet again for several miles of rutted out 4x4 trail. Thanks Pep Boys for that lifetime guarantee on my shocks! At 7:15, we were at the the Horton Lakes summer trailhead around 8000ft at the toe of Basin Mtn.
The forecast had been for overcast skies, and temps in the low to mid 20s with a bit of wind and a few inches of fresh snow the day before, freakishly wintery weather for mid-May. But we were greeted by Spring instead; clear skies, sunshine, and extremely warm temps. I found myself regretting the few extra hours of sleep we'd opted to enjoy with our agreed upon 7am start. If the sun continued this way, I was pretty sure in a few hours we'd be up to our ankles in slop.
But with a mountain in front of us to climb, we saddled up our packs, splitboards on our backs, and made our way up the 200ft or so of vertical to a tongue of snow where we switched to skins. The sun beat down mercilessly as the tongue widened into an open snowfield and the slope angle increased. Skins sticking slightly to the rapidly warming fresh snow, we put risers up and kept pushing. Inline image 10 Skins on
Just as we felt the time was approaching to lather a fresh layer of sunscreen onto our profusely sweating foreheads, the forecasted clouds came to our (and the snow's) rescue. Some of the sticky surface snow firmed up just enough to provide good skinning and the confidence that the rest of the line would go without much wet slide danger.
Cresting the ridge at about 10.5k, I was greeted with excellent views of the main couloir, if it can even be called that. Several hundred feet across, it was wide open with nary a terrain feature to avoid, a mental note I would be glad I made a few hours later. As Darryl joined me, he was greeted by an unpleasant reunion with his Jack in the Box tacos from the night before, and he disappeared promptly to find a private patch of ridge.
One short 50ft downclimb later, we were back on our skins and headed up Basin's main east drainage. The low angle terrain led us efficiently to a steeper ramp, which dropped us onto a bench at the base of the couloir (11.6k). The clouds that we'd earlier counted as a blessing now hung low over our heads, periodically immersing us in fog. We both switched over to crampons, although an ambitious skinner (I challenge Cody!) could probably have ascended the 35 degree terrain without too much trouble.
Occasional snowflakes fell from a mass of white as we ascended into the thickening fog. Unable to see the top of the line, or even gauge my progress from the bench, I focused instead on the fact that the gut of the couloir had 6-8 inches of fresh snow in it, with a very solid spring snow pack underneath. The stoke for the descent was high!
A few minutes later, Darryl's voice came over the walkie letting me know that he needed to save his legs for the way down and would be dropping from where he was, but that he didn't mind if I continued to the top of the line. Snaked! Not that it mattered, this couloir could have had 6 or 7 people drop at the same time without crossing lines.
Half an hour later, I found myself unexpectedly on lower angle terrain. The couloir rolled gradually over onto the summit ridge. My eyes drank in the stunning views, sipping the subtle differences between shades of gray and white. In other words, I couldn't see sh*t. I radioed Darryl to let him know I was going to poke my head around the corner at the last couple hundred feet to the summit. Doing so yielded very little information, only a steep rocky buttress disappearing into a dense cloud of fog. With the wind picking up and Darryl waiting below, I decided that dropping from the top of the couloir would do just fine. Inline image 9 Selfie at the top of the line with the "view" in the background
A quick snack, sip of water (the tallboy would have to wait), and I was strapping in for my first turns of the day. The low angle roll over gave me a pleasant, low consequence introduction to the snow, which was slightly sticky from fog condensing on the surface. But as the slope steepened out, the ride got fast and fun. Even in "ride by feel" conditions with about 15ft of visibility, I felt comfortable hitting the throttle as I knew there were few obstacles to worry about. 1500ft of descent later, I pulled up whooping and hollering to Darryl waiting patiently at the bench.
The rest of the descent had surprisingly good snow as well. The cloud cover had kept it cool enough that it was still in a "hot pow" kind of state. The ramp from the bench at 11.6k and the upper snowfield off the lower ridge from 10.5k both had enough snow and pitch to be extremely fast and fun. As we descended to the tongue of snow back to the car, the large suncups and sticky surface snow tested our ability to ride the snow as far as we could. It finally petered out into a gloppy mess of mud and melt, so with boards on our packs and smiles on our faces, we walked out the last few hundred yards to enjoy a hard earned tallboy at the car.