This weekend I met up with Ann Driggers and Seth Anderson, some new ski buddies I met through SummitPost.org, to ski some lines in La Sal Mountains, the prominent range that rises a whopping 8,700 vertical feet above the town of Moab and the surrounding canyonlands of southeast Utah.
Skiing La Sals, Utah
I was excited not only to check out a new mountain range, but to snowboard down some of these lofty desert peaks that I’ve gazed up at so many times from the canyonlands far below.
La Sals were also a good choice for this time of year because the snow there has already settled into a solid springtime snowpack, unlike the snowpack here in the San Juans which is still transitioning from winter.
Day One: Tuklear Reaction
Our first objective was Mount Tukuhnikivatz, or "Tuk" for short. This pyramid-shaped peak is one of the most notable mountains in La Sals, easily visible for hundreds of miles from the southwest side of the range.
With crampons on our feet and skis/board strapped on our backs, we hiked on the solidly frozen snow pretty much straight up one of the ridgelines for 3200 vertical feet or so to the summit. It felt so strange to peer down at vast red rock canyonlands while we were hiking on snow. The mountain is so much higher than the surrounding deserts that you almost feel like you’re looking out from an airplane.
Ann and I skied/rode the southeastern face, known as the "Tuklear Reaction." The snow was nice and soft since the sun had been baking it all morning. After skiing/snowboarding down the upper face and some long mid-section gullies, the skiing became really cruisey through mellow aspen glades. The long run seemed to go on and on!
Day Two: North La Sals Ski Traverse
The second day of our La Sal weekend was the big adventure of the trip: a 12 mile traverse of the northern La Sal mountains, with 6,000 vertical feet of climbing and 7,000 feet of descent, including 4 peaks and 4 descents along the way. I haven’t done any ski traverses of this scale before and I wondered if I could keep up with Ann and Seth, who are both very strong hikers.
We started off at 5:00 am and skiied (me on my splitboard) along a snowpacked road for 3 miles in the dark, and watched a mellow sunrise from some meadows on Geyser Pass.
On the ridgeline to the first highpoint, we got our first taste of the wind – which would prove to be a real bitch later in the day.
After some survival skiing down the crusty frozen snow to Burro Pass, we skinned up to the summit of Manns Peak (12,272 feet) then dropped down the northern bowl into Beaver Basin.
Because the constant wind was keeping the snow from softening up, this run wasn’t as sweet as it could have been… but it was still fun!
Here’s where the trip really got interesting. The wind was raging on the high slopes of Pilot Mountain (12,200 feet). The wind was so strong that it kept knocking me over, at times forcing me to crawl. It got so bad that I started to wonder if the wind would pick me up and blow me over the mountainside.
Ann and Seth practice their synchronized wind-ballet dance on the summit of Green Mountain (12,163 feet), our fourth and final summit of the traverse. Off in the far distance at right is the line we rode down Manns Peak a few hours earlier.
The snow was smooth and soft in a big broad gully into Miners Basin, providing the best turns of the day. With an interesting ninja bushwhack we managed to slide almost all the way out to the road, where our ice-cold beers were waiting to celebrate!
It was a great adventure and a hell of a day, and I was stoked to successfully complete this challenging route with Ann and Seth. I was so worked from these two days that I slept 12 hours when I got home!