It’s déjà vu all over again. – Yogi Berra
The ski days of late keep requiring a PROBAR breakfast – in my case, usually one PROBAR and one or two Fruition bars tossed down the hatch while driving to the mountains. Today’s feast included the new double chocolate flavor, as well as lemon. Both are flavorful! It’s a fast breakfast of choice when time is at a premium. And, of late, spare time has been a little spare. Not unlike the direction the snowpack is heading.
But, duty called. A page out of last season’s playbook apparently got mixed in with this year’s edition. The situation was virtually identical, leading to the need for the opening quote. Just as happened with last year’s Hellgate Couloir outing and subsequent solo return visit two days later, I needed to return to the Monte Cristo Direct to retrieve a stuck rope.
Joy of joys. Anticipating another 3,000 feet of frozen mank occasionally interspersed with avy debris, I decided to show up a bit later to allow the sun to thaw the snow a bit before making turns. This was a luxury not afforded the previous day, since we were then against an airplane departure time. However, I forgot to inform the Sun of my choice. This was my mistake; it was partly cloudy as I approached the line, and as I dropped in, the majority of the upper half of the line was just as frozen and manky as on the prior day. Subtract one point. Fortunately the real estate was now improved with two sets of frozen, choppy tracks adding that certain something to the otherwise smooth breakable crust. Add two points back on? What can I say? These things happen.
One of the more important lessons I gleaned from my Hellgate experience last year is that conditions change rapidly here in Utah during Spring. It took just two days for the Spring heat to radically melt out substantial portions of the line, even in a massive snow year. Or, more accurately, solar heating causes a lot of snow to heat up and slide down, whether in snow form or water form. Either way, the idea is the same: there’s less snow by the hour.
Since the 2011/2012 ski season has now been confirmed as the least snowy year in Utah in over 70 years, I wasn’t about to wait two days to retrieve the stuck rope this time. Next day service for me! And it worked out fine, but with a slight ‘wow’ included.
It really is déjà vu all over again: Just as in my last pass through Hellgate last year, the Monte Cristo Directissimo is probably finished for the season unless we get a cold spell and some snow. A tight section that we skied through with a well placed turn and a straightline yesterday was simply flowing water today. The lower waterfall is rapidly eating up the surrounding snow. The downclimb to the first rappel is quickly becoming more dicey – or, more rocky, less snowy. (Some might think that’s an improvement, not I.)
All of these are reminders of just how quickly south facing lines can change here in Utah. As I frequently retell myself, Utah may boast the Greatest Snow on Earth, but the land surrounding the mountains is desert. The near tropical heat coupled with the dry air of this area just eats up the south facing snow when it’s that time. And today told the story many are already clued in on (my winter brain is slow to adapt) – it’s that time.