Mount Hardy Reloaded - April 24, 2004

Dave getting airborne in Hardy's NE couloir.

It was unclear which unnoteworthy wooded ridge to follow up, and the heavy cloud cover didn't help. Reading the terrain hadn't helped. "Why don't any of the streams coming off Mt Hardy cross the highway?" An odometer reading from Swamp Creek led us to the correct spot though: the most direct way up to a notch to check out a gully that interested us.

The hike up from the road (3800ft) was through crappy post-holing forest, becoming firmer higher up. A few hours later Dave and I were up into the sub alpine. The clouds were beginning to part, and we were trying to figure out how to make it over to the 7400ft notch between the two main peaks of Hardy. The terrain up here isn't terribly steep, but it isn't trivial either, and there are enough rock ribs and drop offs to make route-finding confusing. Luckily we had a polaroid I had taken a few years ago from Easy Pass. Matching features, we found a not-too-up-and-down route over to the notch.

Upper reaches of the west side of Mt Hardy.

I love the anticipation that grows when you approach a ridge top, or some feature that gives you a new view of what lies ahead for the day. Dave reached the notch a few minutes before me, but there seemed to be no reaction.

"How does it look?" I shouted over.

"Good! But there's a gigantic cornice."

Dave approaching the notch.

Finally, I got there, dumped my pack. Walked around a bit trying to peak into the couloir. We couldn't quite see all the way down, but it looked ok. Just the cornice - absolutely no way to get around it.

"We can rap off this tree", said Dave.

Hmm... that would commit us to the couloir. What if conditions in there are horrible or dangerous? No way back out.

"We could probably climb out over there if necessary", said Dave, pointing to some thin-looking snow-covered rock, followed by an overhanging traverse on a precariously-perched cornice-like ramp. Dave had brought 3 chocks. Hmm... I knew if we went in, we'd be going all the way down.

I tried to trundle a fragile-looking 100LB mini-cornice that was at my feet, to get an idea of the conditions down there, but it wouldn't budge. Throwing a large rock down showed that there was some soft snow. Ok, well that's not bad.

Note the wide crack in the cornice behind Dave.

After eating a little food and water, we got ourselves ready. We each fashioned a harness out of webbing, and walked over to the tree. The 100ft rope that Dave brought reached the continuous snow no problem. Here we go!

Dave went down first. We decided to rappel with our skis on, figuring it would be difficult to put them on once in the gully. This made for entertaining rappels.

For an explanation, see here.

Dave finishing the rappel.

My turn. I sat down on the cornice, got my tails underneath, and started to lower myself, scraping against the rock. About 15 feet down, I noticed I had knocked one of my skis off! Yikes! Lucky for them leashes, or that ski would now be 2000ft below.

So that ski dangled while I tried to get the other one to do what I wanted... but the tail kept on digging into the snow behind me, and no matter what I did, I couldn't stand up on it. As I lowered myself, the ski seemed to not budge, and it was putting me upside down. It was one of the more frustrating rappels I've done, but after several minutes (during which Dave was snickering while filming me), I was down next to Dave.

The slope wasn't too bad here... firm - a little icy under the powder, but edgeable. The only concern was a shallow constriction below us that had rocks showing on one side, and a pillowly-looking snow-concavity on the other. I slid down to take a closer look, and began side-stepping down it. It seemed my skis wouldn't really fit unless I pushed them into the snow-concavity, which looked like a loaded pocket of powder. I really didn't want to take my skis off - on the other hand I didn't want to risk setting something off here, so I finally decided to boot it, keeping next to the rocks instead of the pillow.

Dave whippetting down the first constriction.

I took my skis off, but decided against putting on crampons - it would take too long. About 20 steps down, my boots hit firm ice or rock, and I couldn't get any traction. I felt exposed. Hmm... ok. I walked back up, and spent the time to put on my crampons.

Dave decided he would try to side-slip through, and asked if he could have my whippet. I gave it to him, and he continued on down. I was more comfortable with my decision when I heard the sound of skis against ice and rocks as he inched his way down.

He plowed through the dividing rib between us and the other couloir branch, and landed in deep powder.

Mmm, boy, look at those elegant tracks. Looking up through the second constriction.

I waited until he made his way down through the next constriction (a little wider, probably 8 feet, but with rock walls on either side), and turned off to the side. From my vantage, I could look up at the (climber's) left-hand branch of the couloir that joined in here - it looked like good snow, but it also looked like a narrow loaded deep snow deathtrap - good we hadn't landed in there.

With my skis back on, I made my way through this constriction "with great ginger" - the snow was incredible....y variable. Deep powder, mixed in with hard ice ribs underneath. Challenging to say the least.

Ok, this is looking better.

Now the couloir opened up wide, and we could hunt for better snow. We found some here and there, but my legs were so fried from exhausting activities higher up, that I could barely make more than one turn at a time - couldn't get into a rhythm because you never knew what each turn would bring... well it usually brought a rib of hard ice, but at random intervals.

I skied down a few hundred feet, and moved slightly off to the side to take pictures of Dave, ready to move out of the way if he set something off. Sure enough, a few minutes later, I heard him say "avalanche" (he triggered a 3 inch fracture in the deeper snow near the edge of the couloir), and saw a slough coming down. I grabbed my gloves and poles and skied out of the way. It didn't really pick up too much mass though, so no worries.

Dave at the Red Rocks.

The gully was long, or we were really tired or something, but it kept going on and on - felt like more than its "measly" 2000 feet of vertical. Lower down, there were longer sections of deep fresh snow - some linked powder turns were had!

The angle mellowed here and the skiing became actually enjoyable.

Go Dave!

Trying to find some powder in a shaded fan.

A relaxing hour long break in the sun awaited in the valley bottom. Ahhhh....

Ahh, I got a new SLR - depth of field actually means something again! Dave demonstrates its bokeh in front of the couloir.

To get back to the highway, we chose to ascend towards Methow Pass and traverse the east side of Mt Hardy. Unfortunately, to get around melted out gullies on the east slope, this involved at least another 2000ft of climbing.

Looking across Swamp Creek. The camera that is, not Dave.

Dave getting his corn on, on the south face.

Burn baby!

We enjoyed a descent from 7400ft on the south face of Hardy, in refreezing corn (the sun had moved west and was no longer hitting the face), and then into the burn, following the same path as the previous weekend with Vince, Bill and Steph. We skied 75% of last weekend's run, but it was just the tail end of the day to get back to the road. The snow was merely very good, not superb like last weekend.

The skis came off a little earlier, and we hiked down the last thousand feet to the highway, taking a more direct route than last time, which followed an old stream bed for a while.

Time for hiking...

Back on the highway around 7pm, we tried hitchhiking back to the truck. After 10 minutes or so of walking, a couple of cars pulled over to pick us up. It was a group of folks who had just come off Silver Star - none other than Eric Hoffman of ericsbasecamp, JERRY SANCHEZ, Andy (the driver), and I believe Sergio Verdina. Thanks for the ride guys!

Top section of the couloir, with arrows pointing at rappel and 2nd constriction.

Oh... now what's this I see?

Ahh, it's this.