Waking up at 2am is never easy. But knowing that with some effort you'll be dropping in a few hours makes it all ok. In my case, I faced a bit of drive as the first approach segment. After 5 or 6 hours I finally got my first site of the Elkhorns. I still had to drive around the entire range but the view got me excited.
I thought I'd packed my gear to be ready at the trailhead but for some sleepy reason it took me an hour to get my shit together. No one was waiting on me and I was too tired to really notice until I actually started skinning to camp.
Of course I'd been monitoring NOAA and everything looked lined up for excellent conditions. Thursday's Wallowa avalanche bulletin was mostly positive. I found the conditions in the bulletin to accurate in the zone I was touring. The only thing that surprised me was how much it was still snowing. The temps were still cold as forecasted and the pow was blower.
While the flurries were heavy and over the course of the day built up several inches of smoke, there were breaks and even sun breaks! Classic spring. Along the approach, I took a hasty snapshot of day 1's objective, Angell Peak.
Stormy view from the ridge
While the 9" new snow was for the most part bonding well to a very hard crust, it was still very light and unconsolidated. This was in the avy bulletin. Dropping in on Angell, sluff became an issue about 100 meters below the summit where the pitch approached 40 degrees. At one point I moved to a little spot and waited for the sluff to go around me. There was enough snow moving to take a person into the trees. While I was anticipating sluff, it turned out to be more than I expected. I think part of the problem was I moved too slowly mid-run as I began dealing with sluff and hazards like trees and rocks.
This photo shows my exit from that first run. Since I can't take a photo of myself in action I can only describe what a sicko powder wheelie that last arc was! The sluff was heaviest on the steep section looker's right in the photo.
After that I headed back to my sled and found a place to set up camp. After doing that and eating some dinner I took some pictures of the peaks above camp. I couldn't resist Lee's north ridge looker's left so I dropped it at last light.
Zooming on the saddle between Lee's peak and Lakes Lookout.
Zooming on Lee's north ridge.
Friday was cold, Friday night was brutal in that high basin. I was testing my swanky Western Mountaineering 5 degree bag and test it I did. I think I'm generally a warm sleeper but my metabolism had to step up a bit. In one waking moment I joked, "So this is what hypothermia feels like?" I chuckled but I wasn't really sure if I was joking at the time.
The forecast called for clearing and rising temps on Saturday so I wanted to get in some east aspects early. I found the clearing to be true but temps stayed low all morning. The wind also picked up but didn't appear to be moving much snow. I noticed a few isolated small windslabs in areas that weren't very appealing. Mostly the wind just seemed to be filling in the previous days tracks.
I headed straight for Lee's peak east bowls. The first run I dropped below the steep ridgeline, slashing small cornices until that emptied into massive wide open turns. I knocked a bit of sluff loose in the steepest sections but the snow was better consolidated on this aspect than the previous day's NW face.
Since the temps were still holding and the wind didn't seem to be having drastic effects, I climbed Lee's again.
There's a tree under that cornice!
Looking at Angell from Lee's. Van Patten is in the background.
This line was a bit mellower with some bigger turns toward the bottom.
In the meantime, I'd watched the shadows move across Angell all morning. Sluff and trees were on the brain but so was the prospect of consolidation. At around 1 pm I dropped Angell again. This time I scoped my line a little more carefully from the approach and was able to get a cleaner, faster descent. And the sluff was significantly less!
Stoked on that run, I spotted a steep chute above the previous days exit. I skinned up again with the intention of getting that chute. I spaced out for a second and missed my route down. I ended up taking an alternate which was ok but not the chute I was after. I headed back to camp for lunch and to consider the remainder of the afternoon. There were tempting lines to be had in any direction but the NW aspects were banging. I almost headed for a line on Lee's but on the approach decided to give Angell another go.
I gained the summit ridge illuminated by the last sunlight. Strapping in, I felt slightly nervous but ready. I shadowed my previous run's arcs at the very top. This time, my full focus was on routefinding. I spotted the marks I set from the approach and made entered the chute I was after. Once in, I let gravity have it's way with me, and that folks, was the run of weekend for me.
Last line on Angell got close to the first one.
Now to get the sled out. My choices are an icy, off-camber skin track, and unknown snowshoe trail, or a little bit of a climb to the corner of the ski area. I opt for the third as it'll give me a chance to get in a line on Poster Ridge on the way out. I snapped one more shot of Angell before dropping the ridge.
Snowboarding in the ski area with my sled was interesting. I'm sure patrol wouldn't be thrilled with my technique if they caught me, but then again, I have a hard time making a good impression with those guys.
_________________ "For future reference, the time is now."
The sled is an old mountainsmith expedition sled I picked up at a gear swap. Basically two collapsible steel poles connected to the sled on one end and have a waist belt attached on the other.
I chose to use the sled mainly because I had it. It would have been difficult for me to pack my tent along with riding gear in my backpack. It also turned out more comfortable and easier to handle than a large pack. Certain trips I think will be better with a pack but for those with moderate approaches the sled's nice.
The awkward part for me was descending. For small hills along the trail I was fine skiing down them but once I got to the resort, I switched to snowboard. I didn't feel comfortable wearing the waist belt so I held the braces in my back hand. It was trippy riding like that. Felt like something bad could happen, like maybe a trainwreck. kinda fun though too
_________________ "For future reference, the time is now."