After our first night at the hut, which was filled with great food and fun, we awoke to clear skied and bright sunshine. We were psyched to have a day with good visibility near the beginning of our stay at Fairy Meadows. That way we could see what the place had to offer and get a feel for the routes and ski tours. The plan today was to head up towards an area called the Houdini Needles, which holds a number of fun couloirs, faces and ramps. It’s kind of mini-golf terrain, but it still has the ability to add some spice to your day….which it did for us on this day.
The Fairy Meadows Hut sits on top of a ridge, far below the ridges and peaks to the south, so it really feels good when you finally climb up out of the shady darkness and pop into the sunshine. I had a lot of pent up energy stored up from the long car ride north and once we veered off the skin track from the afternoon before, I moved in front and didn’t look back until we were at the top of a ramp that lead to a small col. The snowpack was feeling pretty good, but there were definitely some hollow spots where the snow cover was thin and I tried to block them out of my mind when the track moved over some larger cliffs.
When we got to the col, we switched to booting and made our way up a ridgeline to the summit. Our group totaled about 9 on this day and I was determined to have first tracks in the first line we had decided to ski (which is half the reason I wanted break trail on the way up), an S-shaped couloir on the lookers right side of the Needles zone. After shooting some pics, we all transitioned to downhill mode and moved into position for the descent.
I dropped in first and into a high entrance to the skier’s right of the couloir. I made a ski-cut and few turns before getting into position in a safe zone to watch Reed open up the main entrance. Since a few of the others in our group had also decided to ski the same line, I wanted to keep things moving and I continued downward, passing Reed who was tucked in below a outcropping and around a corner to the skier’s left. Commenting that I wanted to get the hell out of here before the others continued downward, I told Reed I would meet him down on the flats. This is when things got interesting.
I was now in the heart of the couloir, which funneled down to a section that was a bit steeper and I continued linking turns. I could hear Reed talking to some of the others making their way into the couloir as well. But then his voice got louder, and I could tell he was yelling towards me now…saying “move…move…move.” Still skiing, I glanced upward over my right shoulder and saw a mass of snow tumbling and charging quickly down the slope…directly at me. Instinct took over at this point and luckily I was making a right turn at the time, which allowed me to navigate quickly to an island of safely below some rocks. I pressed my body as close to the rocks as I could as I could see the avalanche grow and still hear voices from above.
Soon it all ended and all I could hear was my heart thumping, before breathing deeply and relaying that I was okay to the group above. Turns out one of the other skiers had triggered a 10-12” slab that cracked the width of the couloir and about 80-100′ long. The slab fractured above him and pulled him downward about 40-50 feet. Lucky for him, he stayed upright and was able to dig his edges into the bed surface as the slab broke apart, and move out of the moving body of snow. Two close calls for the price of one…what a deal!!!
Eventually we all made it safely into the flats, recounted the events, split up into smaller groups and soon began moving back up the skin track on the ramp. I had enough of the tight terrain for the day and I wanted to let the Justices run, so I chose to ski the ramp while the rest of my party hit another couloir to the skier’s right of the one that just ripped. Slow learners I guess. The powder was holding up well in the sunshine and it was relieving to charge down the slope, unhindered by the walls of a couloir and non-stop all the way flats. I had some personal time as I waited for the others to meet back up, thinking deeply about how much I was going to be willing to push things on this trip. My decision was…not very much.
Luckily there is a lot of pretty safe stuff to ski, without too much consequence, around the Fairy Meadows Hut and we decided to wrap up the afternoon with a tour up to Friendship Col and Sentinel Peak. The visibility was much better than the day before and we could now see across the Gothic Glacier to the peaks to the south as we continued skiing vast, open expanses of white towards Sentinel. A ramp turned into a rocky ridge and although there looked to be a spicy line off the summit and onto a steep face, visions of the previous incident forced us to leave our skis behind as we made the scramble to the top.
The views of the main, highly glaciated massif of the Adamant group was amazing and we could see other peaks like Colossal, Enterprise and Sir William off in the distance. Peaks we would hope to summit on later days. The descents and glacial terrain of this area were much more wide open, which is the reason I chose the skis I did for this trip and I was looking forward to letting them run on later in the week.
Heading back to the hut, we proceeded back to Friendship Col and skied through a notch above the Gog and Magog rock formations to a zone we saw some others in our group open up while we were on the ascent. A big, steep snowfield that narrowed before eventually dumping out onto the lower sections of the Shoestring Glacier. It was a sweet run and the snow felt much more stable…at least that’s what I kept telling myself.
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