Saturday, April 17, 2010

WURLOS Post Mortem

Yesterday, I didn't like skiing and I was done for the year. But that's because I was in a bad mood. This morning I woke up after 12.5 hrs of sleep, and began thinking about another attempt at the WURLOS. Mood swings.

As I posted below, we abandoned our attempt at what we have called the "WURLOS" at about 3:00 pm yesterday. By that time, we had been going for 13 hrs, had climbed 12,000 feet, and our travels had taken us from the S Curves in Big Cottonwood, up Broads, to Salt Lake Twin Peaks, to O'Sullivan, to Dromedary, around Sundial, up upper Mill B, to Monte Cristo, to Superior, to Alta, under Devils Castle, to Sugarloaf, across and up Mineral Basin, to Hidden Peak at Snowbird.

The first 8 hrs of our foray went as planned and were "blessed."  We skied from the summits of 6 11k+ peaks on Cottonwood Ridge.  We met our self-imposed time checks.   We were confident.  We had a few good laughs.  At the top of Monte Cristo, I nearly fell off laughing when Andy turned around and looked at me.  One of the lenses on his sunglasses had fallen out or had never been there.  I asked, "what happened to your glasses?"  He said, "huh?"  And took them off and looked at them.  He hadn't even noticed that one lense was missing.

At Alta, we began an unrecoverable tail spin.  Looking back, there were several reasons underlying our abandonment.

  • Conditions.  Good coverage, hard surface/cold temps, and low avalanche danger would make a WURLOS possible.  It's hard to get these kind of conditions simultaneously.  Unfortunately, our travel surface, for the most part, was not ideal.  When we started at Broads at 6500k, I could easily sink my pole down to the ground.  Not good.  At about 9k and higher, the temps cooled down below freezing. However, the new snow that had fallen on Tuesday hadn't baked down yet, forming the dreaded breakable crust.  These conditions on both the ascent and descent slowed us down and sucked precious energy.  
  • Exhaustion.  Exhaustion is a given on a project like the WURLOS.  But I was surprised at how sapped I felt 10 hrs into the tour.  Where could I get the extra energy to go for 20 hours?  I don't know, but I think I could do a few things differently.  First, I wouldn't start at 2 a.m.  My body isn't used to skiing in the middle of the night, and I don't function well on 2.5 hours of sleep.  My partners kept telling me I was in a bad mood.  I wonder why.  It's not good to start a 20 hr push tired.  Second, I would take some planned rest stops.  We were on the march for 8 hours straight until we hit Alta.  Perhaps taking some time to rest and eat would have helped in the long run.  Beyond that, I don't know.  I guess I'll just have to man-up and pray a lot.
  • Gear.  For the most part, our gear choice was spot on.  Our ski and light setups worked perfectly.  I am confident I can ski any part of the WURLOS on race skis in the dark.  However, in our attempts to lighten up, our packs were too heavy.  I carried a lot more food and water than I needed to.   We didn't need crampons.  I think if I were to make another attempt, I would leave my avalanche safety gear at home -- no beacon, probe, or shovel.  
  • ALTA.  Alta doesn't allow any uphill traffic and they are sticklers.  No sweet talking.  No reasoning.  No nuthin.  Including Devils Castle, Sugarloaf, and Baldy in any route is more trouble than it's worth if Alta is open.  I can't say the same thing about Snowbird, because its employees are pretty reasonable when they meet uphillers.  That said, I was irritated when Snowbird wouldn't allow us to ascend the AF Twins.

Here are some pictures from our tour:

My food. I'm taking less next time, or caching it.

From April 17, 2010 (WURLOS)

Salt Lake Valley from Twin Peaks.

From April 17, 2010 (WURLOS)

Ascending O'Sullivan. Twin and an unnamed 11k peak in the background.

From April 17, 2010 (WURLOS)


From April 17, 2010 (WURLOS)

Skiing of O'Sullivan's east ridge down to Tanner's saddle. Bart commented that he would take a steep sideslip over a 100 turn powder run any day any time.

From April 17, 2010 (WURLOS)

View of east ridge of O'Sullivan from Drom south face.

From April 17, 2010 (WURLOS)

Summit of Drom.

From April 17, 2010 (WURLOS)

We descended from Drom (where this photo was taken) to the Sundial (centerish in the photo). Miles of pure breakable crust!

From April 17, 2010 (WURLOS)

Perhaps on the next WURLOS attempt we will follow Cottonwood Ridge a bit further. Monte Cristo and the Heart of Darkness at the end of the ridge.

From April 17, 2010 (WURLOS)

Traversing between Monte Cristo and Superior.

From April 17, 2010 (WURLOS)

Will there be a "next time"? . . . .


dug said...

you are giants among men. even if you do tour in tights.

Grizzly Adam said...

Men in tights.

Well done.

JZ said...

Very nice effort! I would consider caching food next time or maybe even better have some friends at certain points with food/water/gear/EPO.

brian p. harder said...

Great effort, J. The idea of that traverse is compelling indeed. Seems like the conditions plain sucked. You will need better to succeed, IMHO.

A comment on food...leave the fruit, brother! Freaking heavy and calorically worthless. Talk to MFT about it but I think he and I would both lean heavily on gels. I've done the Grand Traverse in the Tetons twice, first time in 16 hours and second time in 11 hours and all on gels. Mark and partners spent over 60 hours on Denali eating mostly gels.

Keep some protein/carb mix in your bladders. You are probably right about the rest stops. Perhaps some real food could go down then. Don't breath too hard on the ups. Caching is one way to do it but changes the game. Your call on that one.

Definitely leave the avy gear in the car. Super light 7mm or Dyneema cord, Dyneema sling Swiss seat and a locker/Munter for raps will drop some more weight if you need that kind of gear. Paper thin pack material. Mylar bivy sack for disasters. Lots of places to cut weight if you haven't made these changes. Some of the fun is getting the gear right. Be willing to be bold but fully aware of the consequences if things go sideways.

Nice to see you putting the race gear to good use. Just like those freaky Frenchman (Italians?) on the Haute Route.