Pondsy came to town – all the way from Boston – so like any conscientious ski mountaineer, I did not suggest that we ski the foot or so of untracked, buttery soft, light as a feather powder still to be found on certain aspects here in the Wasatch range. No snorkel meter measurements for us. No. Instead, I agreed that it was a fine idea when he suggested the south facing Directissimo. That seemed likely to provide a fine outing on a variable snow surface.
Indeed, the line included all of: bulletproof, flowing water, breakable crust, frozen avy debris, corn, chicken heads, and death cookies. No powder in sight. It was sweet. Some people search high and low for a ski descent that provides smooth consistency in the snow surface from top to bottom. That’s no way to treat an out-of-state guest.
Somewhere in there a solid half dozen turns provided smooth, supportable corn skiing like people search for at this time of the year. Fortunately, we were through that section rapidly. (Too much of a good thing leads one to the dark side.) Of course, a bit of rock scrambling, a few steps of downclimbing, and some mandatory rappelling finish off the goods we found in the Monte Cristo Directissimo.
We got an early start, ending up standing on Superior’s summit at 8 a.m. We arrived on top of the Monte Cristo headwall some minutes later and geared up for the descent. Although the sun was shining, true solar heating was at least an hour or two away, so we dropped onto the frozen crust and got right to work with a ski style best described as slash and burn agriculture. Turn, break deeply through the crust, maintain balance, initiate extraction, plant a pole, prepare to turn the other way, pray, breathe, dream of Jeannie, repeat. Lower down the line, the same theme was present, but with the addition of ‘make turn around frozen block of snow, in a field of frozen blocks of snow.’ This is the stuff of both film and legend.
We worked our way to the crux, which is not (in my opinion) the rappel(s), but the decision of how best to approach the first rappel. Three main options present themselves to anyone dropping into the Directissimo. Ski to the rap station, downclimb to the rap station, or use what I’ll call the ‘Noah Howell tree’ to rap to the first rappel station. (I fully empathize with using a rope to reach the common rap station depending on conditions; in an easy example, I’ve used three separate ‘A OK trees’ to get down to the regular anchors on different trips down the Hellgate Couloir.)
Unlike, for example, the rappel station in the Northwest Couloir of the Pfeifferhorn, whose wad of colorful tat is visible to the discerning eye from the summit, there is no indication from above of where the rap station is located. This, despite being quite aware that you’re approaching a substantial, steep change in elevation as you enter the Directissimo’s choke.
A decent vantage point to scope things out is located beneath the N.H. tree, displaying itself as a prominent rock in the middle of the couloir with a tight squeeze on either side, at least in this snow-starved year. Pondsy was game to scope while I remained above to provide plan B if needed. As it was, we simply downclimbed 30-40 feet to the rap station. From there, one short rap (40-50 feet?) leads to rap station 2, which utilizes the full length of a halved 60 meter rope, which offers about 5 feet of surplus all told.
Beneath the rappel(s), the terrain flattens almost immediately and it’s obvious one is on the quick, smooth, and easy exit. At least until the small, but growing waterfall is encountered. A bit of downclimbing and then one simply checks off the exit gully, which still holds snow all the way to the road. Not for long, though.
All in all, this proved to be a memorable day for two reasons. One, it was a first outing with a new-to-me partner who proved to be competent and solid. Sometimes my first outing with new people is marred by some little factoid that wasn’t mentioned in prior days. In this case, nothing like that popped up, which was quite nice.
And two – almost goes without saying – but this year has been short on interesting ski descents here in the Wasatch. With survival skiing conditions nearly top to bottom, the Monte Cristo Direct provided a dose of what’s been unfamiliar in 2012. Yes, couloirs, I’ve missed you.
As for the ‘just in the nick of time’ details, we were indeed up against the clock, once again with the airport as the destination. Haven’t heard yet if he and the wife made it to the airport on time. But we did our best…