TR: Fairy Meadows Day 7 (2.9.2018)
Our final ski day of the trip dawned bluebird, with a picture-perfect sunrise through the kitchen's picture window.
Zach was stuck in the hut cooking breakfast, but I stepped outside for a few photos in the bitterly cold morning air.
We had experienced surprisingly good stability during the storm, but we had also confined ourselves to small, discontinuous, inconsequential terrain and avoided steep, connected slopes. With 5-10cm during the previous day and another 5cm overnight, we were looking at a storm total of around 57cm in the past 48 hours. The clear skies revealed a large natural cycle in the alpine, and even slides on open terrain below treeline.
The alpine was most certainly off-limits after such a large storm and avalanche cycle, so we headed downhill from the hut to consider our options.
Hut Trees 1 had gotten pretty well skied out the day before, and several groups were headed towards Hut Trees 2. Earlier in the week we had scouted some stuff below the trees - open slopes off the edge of a lateral moraine left behind as the Granite Glacier has receded from climate change. We gained the edge of the moraine and took a look.
What we saw looked incredible. We stood atop open fields of pillows and mushroom-topped boulders. The upper pitches were quite steep, but we could see a perfect lower-angled weakness to put in a return skintrack, as well as a lower angled run to get our feet wet and feel out the snowpack for a first run. Even better, most of the steepest stuff had run naturally at some point during the storm. The low elevations, not exposed to the wind, showed few signs of the slab development evident in the alpine, and we felt confident that any moving snow would be manageable and confined mostly to point-release sloughs.
Chris is excited to ski some terrain that is totally unlike anything we can find in Colorado.
We dropped into a lower angled spot for the first run and found incredible snow and playful features.
The downside to skiing a low elevation, north facing slope was that frigid Arctic air had settled into the bottom of the valley, and the sun would never hit the slopes we were skiing. While it made for some amazing filtered light and great contrast, it was bitterly cold at the bottom of the run. It was possibly as cold as I've ever toured in, and I needed my down vest even while skinning. Breaking trail in deep fresh snow did help though.
With increasing confidence in the snowpack, we dropped into a slightly steeper area.
Ecstatic to find that the snow was behaving as expected - fast moving sluffs that were easy to avoid - we headed back up for another.
By this time one of the other groups figured out what we were up to. They asked how it was, we responded with a gesture.
They were kind enough to wait while we milked our third lap.
I think their ulterior motive to letting us go first was that it allowed us to snap some photos of them.
Between laps it was tough not to stop and admire the view.
The other crew had some other line in mind near the hut, but we were perfectly content to take one last lap off this amazing moraine.
We skinned back to the hut with some amazing low light filtering through the trees.
Back at the hut, we inventoried our remaining booze. It was our last night, and you can't fly booze out, after all. Well, you could, but why would you?
Recognizing the perils posed by a hut full of liquors with ominous names such as "Cock Burns," I mumbled something about wanting to get a few more night shots and took a brief leave of absence to let everyone else get a head start.
I even tried a star trails shot. There were almost too many stars.
I'm improving at night sky photography, but as with all other type of photography, I can't match Zach's skill, timing, and eye for a shot.
The prospect of having to fly out the next morning and return to the real world was a little sad, but really, who could complain about the week we just had? I felt like I had an entire season of amazing ski days packed into a single week.