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| |-+  July-August 2004 Backcountry Trip Reports
| | |-+  August 15, 2004, Heliotrope Ridge
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Author Topic: August 15, 2004, Heliotrope Ridge  (Read 4042 times)

Posts: 623

August 15, 2004, Heliotrope Ridge
« on: 08/15/04, 06:29 PM »

In deference to the drastically-reduced daylight available in late summer, I got an uncharacteristically early start today, leaving the Heliotrope trailhead promptly at high noon.  Before long I met Tony M, on his way down, who tried to convince me that there was no snow to be found, but I refused to fall for this obvious lie.  An hour and a half hiking brought me, in fact, to the "snow" above the hogsback camp at 6000 feet, where I changed running shoes for boots and began skinning up an unappealing mix of quicksand, loose rock, slushy snow and glacial ice.  

Each time I come up this way I'm stunned to notice the speed with which the glaciers are receding.  Vast areas which were ice and snow-covered just a few years ago--particularly the nice, steep pitch directly above the climber's camp--are now mere dirty glacial remnant, split by jumbled crevasses and exposed bedrock ridges piled with unstable till.  Skiers possessed of a minimum of common sense might hike uphill and to the right on relatively dry ground, gaining the glacier as high as possible (thus spending a minimum of time skinning up exposed glacial ice, a practice which is even more unappealing than it sounds).  Stubborn to the core, I began skinning almost right away.  

Once on actual snow around 6400 feet, things went more smoothly.  There are open crevasses scattered here almost randomly, but these are mostly small and easily avoided (note, however, my use of the word mostly, intended to indicate that there are also thin snowbridges over almost-invisible slots, some of which are easily large enough to swallow the unwary).  Suncups are relatively small and soft, mostly about 2-4 inches deep, and runnels are hardly noticeable.  More troublesome are the intermittent patches of old nevé and blue ice which, in combination with some interesting slushy features, provided a few challenging moments during my descents.  I did not travel above 7200 feet, but the route up the glacier looks in very reasonable shape, and if I'd not been alone I would definitely have been tempted to continue climbing as far as the saddle at 9000 feet.  

Skiing was--need I say it?--pretty damn fine once the preliminaries were out of the way. I skied a couple of runs on both the Heliotrope side and into the Grouse drainage before picking my way back down to the climber's camp--turning gloriously through the snow patches, and hanging on for my life on the blue ice sections.  A handful of wands came in handy, and boot crampons might have been helpful, were I not so stubborn about using my skins.  Being alone, I carried no safety gear of any sort, and had only a few occasions to wonder whether this was entirely wise.  The day was gloriously sunny, warm without being hot, relatively free of obnoxious insects, and totally calm.  

One other note:  there were a number of slushy drainage channels on the glacier surface which, probably influenced by the recent Slush Cup video and photographs, I did not go out of my way to avoid.  Just after crossing one of these while skinning uphill, I heard a sudden roaring noise behind me, turned, and saw that my passage had released a miniature jokulhlaup, which was already blasting down the slope, gathering surprising volume almost immediately.  Within about a hundred feet it was already perhaps 20 feet wide and 6 inches deep--this on a slope which had lacked any apparent surface water just a moment before--and still growing.  I immediately began entertaining fantasies about the giant wall of water which would come bursting down upon the climber's camp a thousand feet below....but within a couple of hundred feet this odd little raging torrent found a field of incipient crevasses and vanished completely under the glacier surface.  To say that I was startled would be an understatement.  Of course, I tried from that point on to repeat the experience, without luck.  I can only suppose that I had happened upon a spot where the slush and water had struck a delicate, homeostatic balance; once my presence destroyed this balance, the volume of rushing water proceeded to destroy other balances, fanning out like Dwight D. Eisenhower's Southeast Asian dominoes.  Or something.  I'd be interested to hear whether others have experienced anything similar.  

With our annual, unexpected drought well underway, snowmelt has been ferocious, and it's hard to say what the skiing will be like up there in another couple of weeks (i.e., when it comes time for September turns), but I'm confident that possibilities will present themselves.  


« Last Edit: 08/15/04, 06:46 PM by markharf » Logged
ron j
TAY Moderator

Posts: 2602

Re: August 15, 2004, Heliotrope Ridge
« Reply #1 on: 08/16/04, 01:30 AM »

Nice report, Mark.  
Up to your usual "good read" quality.
I'v come upon water emanating from a hole in the surface of the glacier, but I never been the primary cause of the flow.  That must have been quite a start.
Glad you've still got stuff to ski up there.  We've already downgraded to "recon hikes" 'til the end of September.
Keep up the great work.

"When I stop having fun I'm turnin' around"
"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." - Niels Bohr
"If a given person makes it a priority not to die in an avalanche, he or she stands a very good chance of living a long, happy life in the mountains." - Jill Fredston

Posts: 382

Re: August 15, 2004, Heliotrope Ridge
« Reply #2 on: 08/16/04, 06:29 AM »

Hey Mark - As for September, there's always the Artist Point side...there were a few prominent large snowfields (the usual in the area) in and around the Coleman Pinnacle and to the south.  Then, there is of course the Sholes and Rainbow.  The Rainbow offered a fairly lengthy ski run for us last weekend down to it's toe.   Wink

Posts: 228

Re: August 15, 2004, Heliotrope Ridge
« Reply #3 on: 08/22/04, 04:22 PM »

Mark-  Nice to meet you on the trail that day.  Scott (my 14 year old running ahead of me) and I had a great time.  Have a good one. Tony

mountains will add years to your life, and life to your years
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