Black Pine Peak

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A major wind advisory should keep us home next time.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Michael had the weekend off, a rare occurrence. We had slated a climb in Nevada, but the long drive and prediction for gusts over 60mph scared us off. After pretty much every other weather prediction in all directions was bad, we ended up hiking Cervidae on Saturday and then drove down to the Black Pine range early on Sunday. 45 mph gusts expected.

We followed Big Dan's instructions and were soon at the trailhead, walking 3:45 after leaving Boise.

Setting the trench

It wasn't long and we were on snowshoes, following an old road in the the valley bottom.

Copper Mountain

Our original plan was to follow this ridge, but we couldn't see it and the wind was howling. We instead opted to follow the valley and try to enjoy the protection of the trees. (photo taken on our return).

Deep powder

After a while, the valley got too tight, with really steep sidewalls (and lots of timber). So we climbed out and followed a faint ridge shown on the topo that I thought would take us very near the summit.

Red Mountain

As we got higher, the wind increased in ferocity. It was blowing a steady 25-30, and the stronger gusts were flinging ice pellets so hard they hurt. We frequently leaned on our poles to keep from being blown over, and occasionally dropped down onto our knees. We both noted that we had been in similar conditions on Invisible Mountain last fall. Except that on Invisible we could actually see where were were going- not so much today!

Fortunately, the west ridge we climbed brought us out right at the summit. If we had hit the summit ridge anywhere else, we would have had to choose a direction by flipping a quarter-- but the quarter would have ended up in Malta.

Peak 9290

We spent just a few moments on the top (trying unsuccessfully to hide behind that metal structure), enough to decide that the Black Pine benchmark, our second "peak" for the day, would be better left for another day. The wind on top was intense and we couldn't see the ridge to navigate. So down we went. Can you see Michael? Can you tell that it's quite steep here?

Tourist

In the super-strong wind, I decided to stay on the leeward side of the ridge that we had ascended, hoping to gain at least a little protection. Soon, through the murk I saw some trees down slope, with a slight rib leading to them. Off to the right, the slope formed an obvious gully that we wanted to avoid, but it appeared through the fog that my shallow rib would keep me away from that. The rib was quite steep (maybe 35°?), but the poor visibility made it look doable.

As I plunged down the slope (Michael was still in snowshoes, but I had taken mine off) I noticed the snow was not feeling right, it was feeling a little stiff and was getting deeper, maybe mid-calf. I commented to Michael to be careful; this is avy conditions. I made my way down to a tree and stopped. When Michael got there, I told him to wait and go one at a time.

The picture is looking back at the trees that had been down-slope.

Summit

So I started off down toward those next trees. As I moved down, I discovered that there was a very slight roll that I had not been able to see in the white out. At the same time, the 'rib' flattened out and started looking more like a shallow dish. I took a few more steps, then my spidey-sense really started tingling. I stopped and planted both feet to peer through the white-out for more information.

After about four seconds of straining my eyes, I heard a soft 'pop' sound, then saw a thin crack in the snow formed about a foot downhill from my feet. A 6" deep sluff started just downslope, then all hell broke loose: as the weight of the sluff hit the rollover, a crack shot 50' both ways across the slope, and a fracture about 2' deep separated me from the moving blocks of snow. The big, flat slabs started kind of slow, then steadily gained speed as they broke up. When the mass hit the trees below me, I could hear the sound of wood breaking.

I stood there in shock, wondering if I was safe. Would the slab I was still standing on go? I briefly considered walking down the slide path, but in a brief clearing I could now see that it got a lot steeper below the trees. The safest choice was to climb back up to where we had left the old track. I hated to climb back up (I was tired), but started climbing my own tracks. Going up I noticed more cracks emanating from my postholes. Then I noticed that the gully had also slid. Yikes!

I reached Michael, then worked my way farther up the slope until I was once again on hard pack and could safely traverse. Here, the wind had scoured away the snow. When I reached safe ground, I waved Michael up. And as we got nearer to our ascent route on the ridge crest, the snow was just a couple inches deep and the grasses were showing through.

All that missing snow had been blown and deposited into the less-windy area that we had been descending. The cross-loading had created a hazard mid-slope that hadn't existed up high on the ridge. But the most important thing is that I recognized a hazard but had ignored the signals. This is the closest I've ever been to an avalanche and a thrill I hope I don't ever repeat.

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