Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Nokhu Crags Powder Day

We went to Cameron Pass this past weekend to get some couloir skiing before the big day. We're busy for the next few weekends and so figured this would be the last chance to ski Nokhu Crags. I've got my eyes on these two parallel couloirs on the west slope of the crags and so I hoped to ski at least the lookers right one on Sunday. On Saturday we figured to ski the classics, Nokhuloir and Grand Central Couloir.
I also had my eyes on possibly skiing Rock for Brains but figured that would not likely have enough snow.
We stayed in the truck Friday night and got up early Saturday. It was quick getting to the campground and we found a great spot on a dry patch. We set up the tent and went off to the east face of the crags. It was an easy approach and there was flurries and clouds keeping the day chilly. Good for us, since we had not gotten the earliest start. We were also surprised to find a good bit of fresh snow on the approach. We were socked in and did not see the crags well until we hit the moraine. It was amazing to me how aesthetic it is in there!




We skied Nokhuloir first, setting a boot pack along the left edge of it to start, planning on using the same steps when we skied Grand Central next. The snow was great, 2-6 inches of wind drifted powder on top of firm but not icy(in most spots) spring snow underneath. Very easy to kick good side steps securely and it took our mountaineering axes very securely. When we got to the top of Nokhuloir it was still socked in so we couldn't see down into Agnes Lake basin, but I could see that the top of Rock for Brains was bare, just loose scree. The snow down Nokhuloir was amazing, just enough powder and a very fun pitch where we could link turns. Kate did some great teles down this pitch.








We got to the bottom and the wind was blowing hard and Kate was hungry. In order to get a bit of shelter from the wind we ended up skiing down another 150 feet or so, to a patch of rocks at the bottom. Of course shortly after we settled in the sun came out for what looked like it would last. I was worried about the snow conditions and rock stability, so after lunch we decided to do Grand Central next as it was being affected most by the sun currently. On the way up there were numerous small rocks falling down off the walls. This was a bit more a difficult boot pack, there was an old line going straight up, but I found it easier to cut switchbacks. Eventually I was able to use the established line and we got to the top. The top bit was pretty steep, but only for 10 feet or so.




Now we finally got our view, amazing! I was bursting with awe and admiration for the area. The line down was much more jump turns and less linked, but fun nonetheless.







When we got down we decided to go for one more, the line to the left of Nokhuloir. I don't know of a name or previous trip reports for this line, but it seems like other people must have skied it. The snow was even deeper in this line so we started out skinning. We used the ski crampons, turned out to be very helpful on the steep kick turns. The kick turns were more difficult for Kate on her Black Diamond O1 bindings, they don't seem to have as much motion in the free pivot as the Dynafit tech bindings, or even my G3 Targa Ascent tele bindings. As such she had to coax her ski across the slope while I can pull my ski back, let it settle with the tip up and place it alongside my lower ski. Anyway, this cut our skinning short and we transitioned to booting again.






This was another very aesthetic couloir, branching at the top. On the left hand line there was a large cornice and rocks blocking the col, so we opted for the right line. I'm glad we did since we were surprised by our view from the top. Instead of again looking into Agnes Lake basin we were presented by a completely different drainage. I hadn't expected this at all, but looking at the map we realized we were looking at the Snow Lake basin. Across the way we saw two more couloirs and there was plenty of skiing off the ridge to the right. The clouds moved back in quickly so I didn't get any good pictures of it, but we will definitely be back to explore this basin.
The snow on the descent of this couloir was so deep that when making turns it could stop you in your tracks. We were lucky to have booted up hanging to the climbers right of the couloir as the snow was much deeper on climbers left.





To top it off the ski back to the tent was all downhill, easy and fun. This was our best day all season!

We woke up Sunday morning to 6-8 inches new snow around the tent and decided to do some tree skiing around the Agnes Lake cabins. Kate had trouble with her skins again in the first mile, so she used the rest of our tape to keep them on. I guess even if we wanted more we'd just have one lap. The snow was deep but the base was compromised and I hit rocks a few times, and the trees are pretty tight. It was nice to do it as a token, but nothing compared to Saturday's skiing. On the way out we saw a skin track heading up the northern ridge of the crags that looked much better, we'll have to try that run next time.