“Look, I blew you off the other day because I’m terrible at mornings man.”
“Don’t sweat it. You got the goods, I had to be chained to a desk, so good call.”
“Where can we go that’s close?”
“I know a good avy chute with a cornice hanging above it. Excellent line if it holds. I think it will.”
Next morning it’s me making the call five minutes late to admit I’m running late. “I’m on the road, be there in five,” I say.
We met at The Back Country, Truckee’s local backcountry action spot. Tim transferred his gear to the van, and we headed down the road. 15 minutes later we were putting skins on and clambering up the wall of snow marking the edge of the street.
After meandering through the woods a few minutes we came to a break in the trees and spotted our destination. A 400-foot open face spilled beneath a forest of hemlocks, a clear sign of a regular scouring with water — the frozen and liquid varieties. It’s the kind of slope I’m ever drawn to.
As we looked up, obviously, so had two others before us. Not to worry, there was plenty of canvas left to paint our signatures on and who knew, we might make some new friends, or have the whole place to ourselves. Good fortune delivered the latter.
The snow that had come in recently came in wet, so it probably bonded well. It left cold, and had remained cold since the morning after. More snow was on the way. It was most definitely going to be a powder day. With luck, the biggest objective hazard we would face today would be crossing the train tracks.
And so it was. When we arrived at the tracks a freight train was thundering by. In a normal year the snow rolls up from below to about the level of the tracks, with maybe a three or four foot berm to scramble over. Today we looked down a fourteen foot sheer wall of packed snow while the train shook the ground from about as far away as where your head would land if you fell off. We kept our distance until the the last car, a push engine, disappeared in the tunnel.
After the train rolled by we found a ramp down and back up the other side and continued winding our way up the rolls, contours and openings in the trees until just before the top of the ridge.
“What are we stopping here for?”
“We’re going to go do a lap on that open face.”
“Yeah. We go down now and enjoy this pitch and then take advantage of setting an easy up track before continuing on. This is the best pitch and it gives the option to ski it twice, aaannd we don’t blow a valve trying to trench all the way to the top in one push. We only trench the first 500 now, then do the next 500 after a run and a relaxing climb.”
So we did. Then on to the summit and a nice overhanging cornice with a fresh avalanche down one of the avy grooves through the trees below that was the result of part of the cornice breaking off. A substantial portion too. The wind was howling and imperceptibly the cornice was growing back.
Tim did a quick hand sheer pit in the snow on the lee side of the ridge, but beyond the cornice. He thought it was slabby and let go pretty easily. Too easily.
So we headed further east in the shadow of the wind where the snow softened, wasn’t slabby, felt deeper and dropped steeper and steeper through the trees. It rolled over smooth and easy letting us gain speed and rhythm before the hemlocks stood, setting an unshakeable slalom course whose lefts and rights we wove in the spaces between them.
Down and down we dropped. Down and up and over the banks of snow around the tracks, then moving with speed and confidence through the trees as the shoulders of the mountain subsided in the final turns to the van. It was good to be on dawn patrol today. It always is.