My trip to Mount Moran with Reed started out as planned and we got on the trail towing sleds just before 6 PM. When the weather warms up this time of year, Reed often likes to drive his grandfather’s 1968 Ford Country Squire station wagon…a classic ride to say the least.
The skies got dark quick, but we were able to travel without the headlamps until we had to start breaking trail when we left the park road. We didn’t quite nail the line to Leigh Lake, and the trail breaking was much more difficult than anticipated. The snow was still quite soft and winter-like, and my over-stuffed sled felt like a barge behind me. No-the-less…we made it to the mouth of Leigh Canyon in about 5 hours from Taggart Lake. We quickly set up camp and chowed some food before lying down to sleep after midnight.
We got a leisurely start in the AM after coffee and oatmeal, and skied up Leigh Canyon to recon the line we had come to ski…the Sandinista Couloir. The Sandinista lies on the southwest side of Moran and looks as if to require a rappel to exit. This is our second attempt on the Sandinista. Last year we had just started the climbing into the couloir, when a slough nearly swept us down the slope.
The couloir looked in relatively good shape, a few rockbands near the top that may or may-not go, and the access though the headwall below could be in better shape, but still worth an attempt at least. The sun was blazing and the temps were not doubt soaring on these south facing slopes. On the way back down to the bottom of the canyon, we skied pin-wheeling powder on protected aspects and corn on others. When we got back to camp we found ourselves shedding layers trying to stay cool. The Yagermeitser tasted good as we prepped and rested for the next day’s attempt.
Our early start was tough to adhere to, as the temps dropped to the single digits and a cold haze formed on the lake. We finally got out at about eight and you could feel things heating up quickly as we gained elevation. We followed our track to where we needed to cut to the right to gain the upper slopes towards the Sandinista Couloir. As we got higher we saw some slide debris below. After a few minutes, we realized that the slide had occurred right where we had been the day before…a near miss!
Wanting to continue we thought about the contitions…and really they just weren’t good. Our previous experience on this side of the mountain hasn’t been promising and it seems as thought the snowpack is going through a transitional phase right now. We decided to pull the plug and live to ski another day. These calls are always hard to swallow, but must be made sometimes in order to achieve ones goals in the long run.
Lucky for us, we had some other options to ski the neighborhood. A nice couloir on the north side of Mount Woodring that is not being baked by the sun, offers good, safe skiing with the current conditions. For now we will call it Plan B Couloir. Reed and I skied this couloir together years ago, but is definitely one worth repeating.
The snow was great in Plan B, firm enough for good booting, but soft enough where you knew the skiing would be fun. Reed found the rhythm and broke trail past a cool ice feature on the couloir’s eastern flank. I took over after that and lead to the large col east of Mount Woodring’s summit. The wind was blowing something in, and we transitioned quickly for the descent.
Picking through some thin spots near the top, we eased our way into the gut and the goods in Plan B. We leapfrogged down the couloir, carving ego turns on the way. We skied past the ice formation which added to the aesthetics of the line. The turns just kept coming and coming until we finally made back to Leigh Canyon and the warm sun.
Randosteve skis the upper section of Plan B couloir.
Reed skis the middle of Plan B as Mount Woodring looms above.
Randosteve carves the goods.
Reed skis above some ice in Plan B.
Slashing past the ice.
We took in the huge views of the south side of Moran before gliding and poling our way back to camp. We were bummed to not get to ski our objective, but skiing a nice couloir always raises the spirits just the same. The remaining Yager felt good on my head, and we were back in the sleeping bags not too long after dark.
We awoke to falling snow in the AM, busting plans for a quick corn run on the Drizzlepus before heading out. I stuffed my wet gear on the sled and we put our heads down for the slog out. The first half of the ski out went great, as the snow had firmed up considerably since coming in. The fresh snow globbed up on our skins, but after some quick maintenance, we quickly found some glide and cruised back to the park road. The last two hours weren’t very much fun, and we battled a 30 mph head wind back to the trailhead on the flats. Thankfully my barge was a lot lighter now.