Trip: Trinity Alps -
I spent April 15-20 in the seldom skied Canyon Creek Drainage of the Trinity Alps exploring and skiing with 4 friends. The crew: Ryan Ghelfi, Ryan Matz, Brian Campbell, Sam Bedell and I, approached the cirque from the Canyon Creek TH outside of Weaverville equipped to spend six nights and seven days in the range skiing in Canyon Creek and neighboring drainages. The approach was entirely dry, making for heinous pack weights (~75lbs) for the duration of the nine mile, 3,500' approach. Our spirits took a continual beating for the first 80% of the trail with it looking unlikely that our efforts would be rewarded. Slopes above the creek, up to 7500ft, appeared to be bare on all aspect, but as we got to the final slabs before the lake, Ullr took pity on us and northern aspects with decent coverage began to appear. This welcome change was quickly followed by more of the same; soon all aspects appeared to hold skiable lines. Relief. It should be noted that the approach, while thoroughly difficult for all five members, was made by Ryan G. <48 hours after completing a 50-mile race (in which he finished 9th in a very competitive field).
The latter half our our slog was accompanied by hail, wind and snow; these delightful hiking conditions resulted in setting camp at the lower lake for the first night, even forgoing dinner in favor of the relative comfort of lumpy, sloping tent sites and sleeping bags. The next morning we awoke to bluebird skies and temps in the twenties; a nice beginning to a full week of splitter State of Jefferson weather. Nervy scrambling over icy ledges, a dicey crossing over a fast flowing creek and some manzanita cursing led us to the snowline and the first time skis had been worth their bulk and weight. A quick skin up to L Lake, to the north of Sawtooth, got the stoke going. Steep, long and narrow couloirs litter the northern side of the cirque; one could easily conceive of a trip to the range with the sole mission of skiing these lines. We chose to ski from a col at the head of the cirque, where we dropped into the Stuart fork (this would be our only foray into this drainage) for some warm-up turns. This mellow line down moraines offered pockets of wind blown pow, but mostly skied like dust on crust with large swaths of ice. Back at the col, we took a few minutes to spy the lines across the canyon. The Stuart Fork is home to the goods. The East side of the canyon (before the drainage turns to run E-W) offers endless couloirs and gullies ranging in length from 1500'-3000'. After snapping some beta photos for later trips, we skied the fall line gully. We considered skiing another line in the cirque, what we would refer to as the "S Couloir," an elegant sweeping couloir that bisects the north face of Sawtooth for ~1,000', and instead decided to descend and move camp a few hundred (vertical) feet up the drainage to make access easier for the remainder of the trip. Despite being about 600m, as the crow flies, from our previous location, it took about 45 minutes to hike up and around the slabs to the east of the Lower Lake and and then those west of the upper lake. Our new location, about 300m upstream of Upper Canyon Lake offered stellar views of the west side of the drainage and quick access to most of the terrain we wanted to explore.
Day three brought our first of many not-so-alpine starts. 9 a.m. quickly became our default starting time, with one exception. We set a skin track up the west side of the cirque to a col via a ridge sandwiched between two fantastic couloirs. Our first lap topped out at the obvious col and we skied fall line through what we called "The Way-Home Gully." Lap two topped out at a rock tower we settled on calling the "Thumb" for it's obvious resemblance. The top 500' offered our first steep turns of the trip, with a pitch around 40 degrees at the top. The top of this line offered stellar views and dizzying vertical drop on some lines that could be skied and others that would make exciting summer scrambles and rock routes. Another fall line ski led us to the "Middle Gully" and a steeper, more interesting descent with delightfully pow-tastic conditions. Brian and I headed back down to camp after these two laps while the others did a lap back up the skin track to the moraines.
Thompson Peak East Face Couloir and the West Face of Ceasar Cap were the objectives for the next day, but warm temps and concerns over loose-wet slides as well as lingering wind-slabs split the group in this terrain. Matz and Brian headed for the Couloir, while Sam, Ghelfi and I skinned off towards the end of the cirque. We found a small notch and scramble to the ridge, that afforded a view of Grizzly lake and the terrain in the surrounding cirque. We made a few turns in perfect corn and traversed several hundred feet over steep terrain to a nice line down a peppered 45 degree slope. At the bottom of the line and in the hottest part of the solar oven, we watched Brian and Matz ski the couloir. With pretty the new snow turning to awful mank and that orb in the sky waging nuclear war on our noses we retreated to a second lap on the skin track up the west side. Sam, stuck around the top of the cirque and topped out on Thompson. His summit was followed by a traverse back to the skin track. While Sam was exploring more stellar terrain, the 4 of us skied our lap and then booted a 200' hill a few times for the first ever Trinity Alps small mountain comp. Ryan Ghelfi took the honors after a stellar link up of three consecutive cliff hits.
After returning to camp, we began a marathon chill session. An afternoon of naps, snacks and sunscreen lathering was capped by an evening of music and rehydrated veggies. What seemed like a good idea: an evening soup with some Winco dehydrated veggies, ended up destroying Matz and me, with the former having to stuff down more parsley and carrots than would be reasonable for a horse. The night was wretched with gaseous expulsions that would make an ogre faint and a few hasty dashes to the trees. Olfactory evidence of the evening remained fresh through the following evening's dinner.
Our only pre-sun-hitting-camp start was inspired by the East Face of Hilton Peak, our day four objective. We arrived at our top floor penthouse after just under three hours of skinning, skiing and even a little bit of dicey scrambling up a thinly covered ridge. This may be our only first descent of the trip, and while I'd love to claim it as such, it is difficult to know if it has been skied before. The top four or five turns were the steepest of the trip, about 50 degrees and were followed by 2700' of the best corn of the trip. This run was easily the most fun of the trip from top to bottom, fun steeps up high followed by moderate angle lines through cliffy terrain and finishing with mellow rollers dotted with small pines and manzanita. Our closest encounter with wildlife came on the skin back up the line; we followed fresh bear tracks for about 200' before diverging back to the east facing terrain above camp. After going on and on and on and on about the gully we could see from camp the Ryans finally appeased me and we went to ski the "Dead-End Gully," which completed the gully-fecta (all three gullies that return to camp through the cliffs on the west). The name, while perfectly suitable this year, would have been very different in any other year as the bottom 100' of slabs.
Our last ski day saw us return to Sawtooth with the hope of skiing the "S Couloir." Our hopes were dashed by the due north aspect of the and our desire to ski Stonehouse Gulch, a southwest facing gully. We climbed up to the top of Stonehouse Gulch and found perfect corn for the top half before hitting lots of avi debris and general chunder for the last 1700'. We followed a faint trail back to the Canyon Creek trail where we dropped our ski gear. A quick hike back to camp sans pack weight and we packed up camp a day early and began the dry slog to the trailhead. Three hours later we made in back to the car, took a celebratory swig off a bottle of Maker's Mark and cracked a beer.