Saturday’s tour was a classic. The “greatest snow on earth” term was referred to as an example of how wrong it can be in reality. There were all the classic ingredients one might expect for an urban tour in the Wasangles range, easy access but lacking the wildness of a true wilderness. Salt Lake City was hidden beneath an acrid cloud of smog but the hum of more than a million people going to and fro made an ironic background noise.
Dog poop littered the trail in descending frequency as we skinned up. It disappeared when we veered off the main path towards the ravine where Neffs cave is hidden. Tele Mark’s baritone boomed out with a steady stream of gear babble on the climb up. Howie held down the procession as trail sweep while I got into my usual diatribe on skin track angles. Inevitably this led to issuing Mark a citation for setting a steep skin track. The way I figure it, every degree over 15° demands a stiff $10 reprimand. His citation was for $100.
His excuse boiled down to “everybody else is doing it.” Howie chimed in that his rationale didn’t cut it and he was found guilty as charged. If I were a betting man I could net a tidy profit by issuing a class action citation to all the AMGA guides in America for $30 bucks apiece and I’m confident 80% would be found guilty on evidence. Of course, 80% would also get off scot free because the jury would be laced with folks like Bob Athey, my cousin Jeff Dostie, a local Tahoe charger, and Andrew McLean, steep skin track proponent who would be the jury foreman. In the guides defense they might feel like they’re ascending at 10° or even 12°, but almost all of them use a climbing post which increases the actual, measured angle to at least 18°, thus making them liable for a ticket from the USFS (Universal Skintrack Fine System). After we’d climbed 2500 vert the snow went from wet mashed potatoes to crunchy mashed potates with a few inches of dry snow on top. I had considered waxing my skins at the trailhead but now we were all regretting not doing so. All our skins were clumping with snow. It didn’t matter what brand, if you didn’t wax your skins in those conditions, you were hosed.
Thankfully I was carrying a small bar of wax and a spare skin so I replaced the Colltex with them. My Ascensions were as bad as the Colltex, but the Colltex were the first to ice up. They’re 70% mohair, so that does make sense. The Gecko’s are 100% mohair but at this point we all took the time to wax our skins. The difference was clearly worth the time lost to waxing, and I broke trail until the next fork in the terrain required a decision I didn’t have the answer to. It sure was easier to move with waterproofed skins.Mark led the final pitch to the summit, we ripped the hide, took a slash of water, and pointed ‘em down. For the first third of the descent it was smooth like whipped cream cheese but sprinkled with a dusting of powder. It was soft and consistent with occasional tracks adding texture to the surface. Aside from a few encounters with hidden rocks it was a fun descent through openings in the trees, gully crossings, and in the second third of the descent, full on combat skiing in tight trees and narrow creek beds. The final run out was on a boot packed trail best done in a basic pizza formation with random speed scrubbing turns.
We didn’t solve any of the worlds problems on the ascent, but we did discuss a few solutions while ridding our bodies of toxins gained from walking the aisles at the Outdoor Retailer Show and too much beer. Time to get back home and deal with reality.