April 5, 2006

Bullion Basin

I went skiing in Bullion Basin, next to Crystal Mountain on Sunday. It was the most back-country that I’ve skied and I found myself at the limit of my abilities and my equipment. The weather was fine, cloudy-foggy, but not windy or snowy. There was a lot of snow and the route-finding was not too bad, considering I hadn’t been there before.

In fact, it’s been decades since I’d been to Crystal. It is a lot fancier than I remember, but not fancy enough to entice me to stick around for long. I strapped on the sticks and started climbing up the far left-hand side of the little chair at the northeast edge of the groomed area. A combination of road and trail took me to the creek in Bullion Basin and a steep climb gained the open slopes above the creek gulley. It was that climb that began the realization that I was in, not over my head, but near enough that I had to look out.

I tried to follow the tracks of some others who joined me on the trail part way up (climbing up from one of the lower parking lots), but I couldn’t climb steeply enough. My fish-scaled, back-country skis just couldn’t point high enough. (Time to shop for some skins, I’m afraid.) So, for every hundred yards of their trail, I walked a couple hundred. Still, I plugged away and, after a couple of hours, reached the basin at about 5600’.

By that time, I was in a groove, so I followed the tracks (the only tracks through the flat basin) toward the south and up the slope. This one was even steeper and the snow was deeper (about 18” of soft, with no discernable base), so the going was slower. After an hour, I came into the bottom of another open slope, at about 6100’, where the terrain gentled some, and by which time I was beat.

I stamped out a platform, pulled on another layer or three, and sat down to lunch. It was then I finally took a look at the map and realized that I’d missed the route to the ridge top (and the continuation toward Norse Peak to the north) when I’d followed the track south across the basin below. Either the others going to the ridge stayed above the basin, to the north of my route (which is likely) or everyone else just went the same way I did (just a lot more directly). Oh, well, it was a good day in the snow, all the same.

The trip down was much quicker, of course, but it still had its lessons for me. The snow was too deep for me to turn much through it, even up high where it was light. In the lower half, it started to get heavy, making controlled turning even more difficult with free heels. I side-slipped down the creek gulley, ran down the upper trails (which hadn’t seen snow machines, fell once and bent my new pole, and slowly worked my way down the lower road, with its wet snow all churned up by a snow cat.

As much as I like being out and moving about in the mountains in the winter, I’d had just about as much as I could handle that day. I’d call that almost perfect.

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