Calling up Mike Gambee to join me for either a ‘big day or a small day,’ it didn’t require much persuading to gain his company for a trip into the Devil’s Castle Couloir. We made quick work of the approach – it would almost take effort to do otherwise – and soon found ourselves booting up mixed conditions: powder with supportable snow beneath, then icy, firm conditions, followed by knee to waist deep booting in frozen, unsupportable, sugary snow. Deep holes, hidden from sight by the surface snow, abounded near the rocks, which there are plenty of on this, the Devil’s doorstep. Both Mike and I had our own adventures while we avoided falling into any of the available opportunities, after kicking through the surface.
Despite the holes and the section of bad snow, we soon enough reached the top, stopping just below and off to the side of a solitary cornice. We readied ourselves for rocky, variable conditions, all with six inches of powder on top. Expecting sluffing out of this new round of May snow, Mike did a ski cut and we watched as some snow slid down. The new snow swept easily off the older, harder layer, and we were left with a firm, scratchy surface to descend.
Descend is a good word here, because it was tight and rocky for turns in the very upper section of the route. Much sidestepping occurred as we picked our way one at a time through the rocks. I’d managed only four or five total turns, interspersed with side-slipping, by the time I rejoined Mike, waiting behind a large wall of rock. The next section, where we had wallowed waist deep in snow on the ascent, was no less interesting. It was scratchy, icy, obviously hollow in spots, and entirely located above cliffs of varying height.
Picking our way through this section carefully, we both managed a few turns mixed in with a bit of side slipping, and re-joined forces above one final rock. It was all turns from here, through the wider, less treacherous lower section onto the apron. Snow from Friday night’s storm had pooled from the higher reaches of the slope, and we had our first full on powder turns. May 23rd in the Wasatch with pow! Far from unheard-of, yet enjoyable and rare enough to comment on favorably. We then made our way over perfectly smooth snow, back to the car. It’s not often one can move around in the Alta ski area and have the place to themselves with almost no other tracks in sight. I really enjoy this aspect of spring powder skiing!