Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Superior: Good morning, bad afternoon

I hopped out of my car at the base of Mount Superior a little after 6 a.m. to check the snow. I expected to feel a hard sun crust when I pushed my hand into the snow but found it to be soft. I couldn't believe it. We suited up and quickly started up the skin track toward Flagstaff. I continued to check the snow as we climbed higher thinking there would be a crust somewhere. The soft snow and stable conditions made us rethink our destination. Josh hadn't bagged Mount Superior yet so we set our sights on the summit.

We found a good rhythm and made Cardiff Pass before the sun was on it. I knew the day was going to warm up fast so we hurried up the ridge to avoid a warming snow pack. We hit the summit a little before 9 a.m., snapped a few photos, and dropped in. We passed up some better snow to hit the summit, but it was worth it. The line was tracked but we found some good turns amongst the tracks. 

Later that day a report came in that the same line had avalanched. The slide carried a skier roughly 1,700 feet. He suffered a dislocated shoulder, bumps and bruises, not to mention lost skis. The avalanche popped around noon. The daytime warming had created instability in the snow and the unlucky skier hit the trigger.

There is always the possibility of something going wrong when you are out in the mountains. The trick to spending time in them is minimizing your risks. I don't doubt that the party that was caught in the avalanche was experienced and that they followed protocol. The problem they encountered was failing to beat the fuse that the sun had lit as soon as it hit that south facing slope. I readily admit that I was lulled into a sense of security with the amount of tracks on the line we skied. The difference for us was that we were on the right side of the clock. The snow was stable and we rode it without incident.  Springtime in the Wasatch is a touchy time. Get up early and get off it early.

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