Skiing Snow Creek — Page 8

Avalanche Debris


When we eventually reach the piles of debris at the bottom of the slide path we've been following, we discover that the avalanche was indeed a big one.

This last thousand vertical feet of snow is comprised almost entirely of avalanche debris. Embedded rocks, branches, and stumps of broken trees make the snow almost unrecognizable. Looking at this epic spectacle of destruction, it's hard not to feel humble—and suddenly very mortal.

Smooth Snow Dave and Snow Bridge Dave Atop the Chockstone The Bitter End

On this scale, even slower wet snow slides can pose a dire threat. This is especially true for climbers, as they lack a skier's speedy mobility.

Speaking of climbers, as we round a corner, we run into a weary group making their way slowly upward. We stop to say hello, and ask a few questions about the route below.

Turns out they've taken the east ridge traverse to avoid crossing DWA land. Their endorsement of the bypass is hardly enthusiastic, however: in addition to a lot of extra vertical, it has added a solid three hours to their already lengthy day.

But at least we now know for certain that the route is doable.

Dave and I thank the trio of climbers for the information and resume our descent around and through giant debris piles.

As we near the Chockstone, and the snow grows softer, I start worrying about a new potential threat—snow bridges.

Beneath us, I know, running water is slowly eroding the snowpack, creating pockets of empty space in the depths below.

As the day lengthens and the sun warms the snow, it weakens the roofs of these caverns. Collapse through a hidden snow bridge, and you may well plunge into rushing water and be swept away beneath the snow. Only the sunniest of optimists would consider that a survivable event.

So at the very same moment that I'm contemplating such a terrible possibility, what should I see but the dark shadows of several collapsed snow bridges just to my left. I peer into these de facto crevasses with the utmost caution, trying to see how far down they go. Answer: far enough that I sure don't want to fall in.

I find myself wondering if the climbers above were aware of how dangerous this section presently is. On skis, at least, my odds of collapsing through a bridge of snow are a little less, but I'm still spooked by the sight of them. As I back carefully away from the area, I hear the sound of Dave skiing toward me—and the snow caves. I do my best to wave him in the opposite direction, but he doesn't understand what I'm pointing at and skis right through the middle of the mess.

A close call? Yes. I don't think anything particularly puts the terror in me as much as the thought of falling through a bottomless snow bridge. And the depth of the snow here is hammered home when we reach the completely buried Chockstone, implying there's at least fifty feet of piled snow and avalanche debris beneath us. We pass the Chockstone without further incident, and the snow at last comes to an end.

next: Boulders and Brush

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.