Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lone Peak: Up Big Willow, NE Couloir, Down Bells

NE Face of Lone Peak, January 2011
I see Lone Peak almost everyday.  From my car and my work at window, it often holds my attention.  What's it doing today?  While it is situated quite closely to the valley, the approach is long by Wasatch standards--you can't drive to its base and start climbing.  And that's one of the characteristics that makes it my one of my favorites.

Friday night, when Lone became the target, good partners were hard to come by.  The Dorais bros were running RAGNAR, Brother Sam had to work, Bart is still out of commission.  So it became a solo mission.  My plan was to drop a bike at the Bell's Canyon trailhead, climb up from the Big Willow trailhead, ski the NE Couloir, ski out Bells Canyon, and ride my bike back to the Big Willow trailhead. 

I've heard different things about Big Willow as a way to get up Lone Peak.  If you look at it from the valley, it is a very direct way to go.  More direct than Bells or Dry Creek (which departs from Alpine).  Fritzrips says Big Willow the way to go.  But I've heard horror stories about Big Willow too, all of which involve epic bushwhacks.  I've never been up Big Willow and approached it with a bit of trepidation.  I figured that at worst I'd get an early morning hike in.  Luckily, my inner homing pigeon was functioning, and after a couple hours, much travail with caterpillars and their silky wisps, I was at the head of Big Willow cirque.  For those who might try Lone Peak via Big Willow, I'll give you a hint: the Sawmill Trail.

My Dynafit boots, MontBell puffy, CAMP nanotech crampons, ski crampons, and a bottle of water fit nicely in my 30L pack.  Besides a few gels, a headlamp, Whippets, and skis that's pretty much all I carried.  From 5500 ft where the trail starts, I fast hiked and sometimes jogged up the trail.  By 9000 feet, I was in the cirque and walking on hard snow.  Travelling conditions were prime, so I kept my running shoes on until the cirque steepened, at which point I switched to my boots, race skis, and ski crampons.  

Big Willow Cirque, June 2011
The other side of the "Notch."
Near the top of the cirque, I gained a ridge, mostly hard snow and a few granite blocks.  I tried to put my crampons on, but realized that they were set to fit a different pair of boots, and didn't fit the ones I had on.  Without tools to fix them, I went without crampons.  (In hindsight, I guess a mini Leatherman doesn't weigh that much.  Maybe I'll carry one from now on.)  Going crampon-less made the the final ascent and traverse to the summit a bit more adventuresome.  

Traverse to the top of Lone Peak.
I topped out on the North Summit in 2 hours and 59 minutes.  And promptly texted this photo to my buddies.

As I was climbing the cirque, I was thrilled that the snow was hard.  But I worried that I was too early for the corn cycle.  As it turned out, the NE face of Lone Peak corns up about 8:00 a.m., which is about the time I skied it.  

As I made turns off the headwall of the NE Couloir, I thought I'd hit the jackpot.  But soon I found myself dodging runnels.  Because of a very deep (like 6 feet) runnel, midway down the chute, I had to ski a contrived line, and eventually had to downclimb into the runnel and then climb out of the runnel to continue my contrived line.

The chute within the chute.
As I neared the bottom of the NE Couloir, I was relieved to discover that the cliff was still sufficiently filled in. While there was a large glide crack--huckable if you were crazy enough--between the cliff and the snow, the crack was skirtable.  As I reached the apron, I breathed a sigh of relief, and arced my turns a bit bigger.  Then, I skied a couple thousand feet of corn, out Bells Canyon.

Eventually though, I ran out of snow.  I think I startled several scouts and families as I ran down and out the Bells Canyon trail with skis on my back, wearing a weird grin on my face.  That didn't deter me much because I was hoping to keep my car-to-car time under 5 hours.  But the inner homing pigeon must have died because at Bells reservoir, I got turned around.  Weird, I know but it happened.  At the exit, my bike was waiting for me.
Bells Canyon.  I started running up this road before I realized I ought to be running down this road.

My waiting bike.  DON'T LAUGH AT MY RIDE!  Yes, it is a women's styled bike.
And yes, I can sit perfectly upright on this bike -- perfect with a ski pack on.
 After a leisurely cruise down Wasatch Blvd, I made it back to my car.  I clocked in at about 5:11 car-to-car.  At the trailhead, I met Chris Cawley who had made an attempt on the Grand Teton earlier this week and was out for a trail run.  He laughed at my ride too.

Mode of Travel: Ski, Run, Bike
Stats:  5:11
Miles: 14.9
Vert: 6528


SLC sherpa said...

Love it! But, that homing pigeon of yours cracks me up. Running back up Bells????

And, I'm gonna have to say in response to your comment about the compression socks the other day that I had the boots first...just saying.

Chris Cawley said...

I laughed out of jealousy.

Ski Bike Junkie said...

When you mentioned inner homing pigeon, I thought WTF? Jared doesn't have that. Then when you mentioned getting turned around in Bell's I realized all was still right with the universe.

dug said...

i have a love/hate fantasy relationship with the northeast couloir of lone peak.

i so want to say i have done it. i am so afraid of doing it.

Nick S. said...

Do you think a summit is possible for 7/16/11?
I want to hike/run for Speedgoat training...I don't know if the snow affects the hike or not...any help would be great so I can come up with something else if it's dangerous...thanks

Anonymous said...

Very cool. The apron in big willow cirque looks pretty cool from the valley.