Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Whipple Couloir and the Waldo Chute - Forcing a weather window

First of all, congrats to the US Ski Mountaineering team for all their recent success over in France.  Andy wrote about the most the Teams race here. He and parnter Tom Goth were 20th even after a few skin disasters!

New snow is great but it always puts a damper on my skiing plans.  Josh Anderson and I headed towards the Whipple Couloir on Friday under clear skies only to be greeted with 30mph winds and heavy snow an hour into the day.  We pushed on to the entrance but with zero visibility turned back. Since the storm was forecasted to last a few days I thought I'd be relegated to skiing mellow powder runs.  I went to work that night expecting to get off in the morning, sleep a bit and then ski the new, boring, blower powder.

Over Friday night no snow fell.  The storm stalled to the west and as I was driving home at 7:30a the Oquirrhs were drenched in sunlight and, although the Wastach was still in the clouds, it looked like it might clear.  The new forecast predicted the snow to start early in the afternoon.  I figured if I wanted to go ski something interesting I'd have find a partner and go right away.  I called Josh and immediately he said yes.  20 mins later we were heading back up towards the Whipple. 
Josh Anderson looking for the entrance to the Whipple under clearing skies
Thanks to whoever put a skinner in right to the entrance of the Whipple and then decided not to ski it.  They left us with first tracks down the supportable crust and avy debris. Beautiful.  Regardless of how mediocre the snow conditions were, it was worth skipping sleep to be in such an amazing location.
Josh high in the Whipple
Even lower, photo by Josh
As we kept skiing lower, the snow kept getting worse.  Our supportable turned into breakable which turned into bushes.  At that point we looked to the east and started talking about the Banana Couloir (Waldo Chute on   Two days earlier I had been on Kessler with Jared and we chatted about skiing it at some point in the near future.  Josh had also looked at it from Kessler a few weeks earlier and although we weren't sure, thought it might be up and over the east side of the Whipple. 
Jared pointing at the Banana from Kessler
The lack of sleep still hadn't caught up yet and we figured we could climb the 1000 or so feet up to the ridge to look for the Banana and if we couldn't find it, retrace our steps back up the Whipple and out Neff's.  We wallowed, skinned, scrambled our way up to Peak 8775 laughing as we watched the thick clouds slowly roll in.  
Heading up from the Whipple to Peak 8775
Google earthing our location in a whiteout
Once we summited peak 8775 the storm was full on.  We couldn't see more than 50'.  I thought there was no way we would find the Banana and was ready to bail but Josh convinced me to traverse south a bit more and have a look around.  We pulled our phones out and luckily the AT&T signal was great (I get NO signal in my house and have to talk out side!) so we looked at Google earth.  The trees were scattered and as we moved from one to another our blue dot followed. Trusting our location (standing under a lone tree and seeing your dot line up is pretty convincing!), we skied until we were lined directly up with the chute and cautiously dropped into the storm.

Screen shot showing us about to enter the Banana
We saw next to nothing of the Banana but from the few glimpses I happend to get, it was as stunning as expected.  Rock lined and wide enough to make big turns but narrow enough for a little ambiance.  From the base, the bushwhack out was relatively easy.  We skied alongside a stream, crossed it a few times and 30 mins later popped out at the S curves. 

After a hitchhike to the Park and Ride and a shuttle service by Amanda (THANKS!) we were at Lone Star eating some fat burritos.  Given only a couple hours of blue skies I'd say we did pretty well for ourselves.  Also, I'm always bringing a phone from now on!
Josh entering the Banana


  1. Nice use of the phone! Let me know when you use it to find water.

  2. Jason said you've gotten too slow in your old age, Samurai. ;)

  3. I put that skinner in for you Jason. I'll let you repay me by carrying my gear next time we do Twin. I ran out of time and just dropped back into Neffs.