#unepicadventures: Decision point on Mt. Arkansas

In this first installment of BCA’s blog series, “#unepicadventures,” BCA athlete Stu Edgerly recounts a nice day of spring corn skiing on Colorado’s Mt. Arkansas—and a key decision made along the way.

Decision point on Mt. Arkansas: Plan B yields primo late season corn.

By Stuart Edgerly

I’m pretty happy with a decision we made this last May on one of the first hot days of the spring. After returning home to Colorado from our freshman year at Montana State (Bozeman), were were anxious to score a few more turns before summer. Due to a late start, we decided to take a different route than the couloir we originally planned to ski. By doing this, we avoided a pretty big cornice fall that happened right around the time we would have been in that couloir. Instead, we skied a different line with a less sun-exposed aspect — and scored some nice corn. It turned out to be the perfect way to wrap up a great ski season!

The day started at 4:30 AM, with the obnoxious sound of the “default” tone on my alarm clock (somebody changed the settings while I was away). The plan was to climb and then ski the northeast couloir on 13,795-foot Mt. Arkansas, near Fremont Pass. We had looked at the forecast for the day and it was supposed to get hot, with a high of almost 65 degrees F at 12,000 feet, so we planned for an early start. We got in the car to drive 45 minutes to get to the trailhead, located between Fremont Pass and Copper Mountain. After stopping for a quick grab-and-go breakfast at McDonalds’s, Nick Westfall, Riley Elgerd and I arrived at the trailhead around at 5:30 AM. The temperature was sitting right around 25 degrees at the trailhead. The estimated round trip was about 5 miles and close to 2,500 feet of vertical gain.

After skinning through a mile and half of mostly flat ground, we had made our first checkpoint on schedule.

At this point, we saw another group of 3 or 4 people about 30 minutes ahead of us, making their way toward the couloir we wanted to ski. The snow was starting to heat up as we skinned to our next checkpoint. The top centimeter or two were softening up at this point. After climbing a few steep sections, we made it to our next checkpoint, which sat at the base of the northwest couloir of Mt. Arkansas. Unfortunately we had arrived to our second checkpoint an hour late. This was because one of my bros dropped his phone while taking a picture and he had to scrub at least 150 feet of vertical to go get it. That might have actually been a blessing.

Once we reached our second checkpoint, we noticed that the snow was heating up significantly more then we wanted, with the top four to five inches starting to melt.

As we looked up the couloir, we noticed a large cornice at the very top. This is where we came to our decision point: Do we commit to the original plan and trust that the cornice will stay put–or do we change our line for a more north-facing and smaller couloir to prevent putting ourselves at risk? Even though our original line was really tempting, we came to the conclusion that we had arrived at the base of the couloir too late. As we watched the group in front of us climb up the last half of the couloir, all three of us were full of jealousy.

Since the new line was now in the shade and still frozen, we decided we had time for a little snack. About halfway up the new couloir, we found a safe place out of the way from any hazards. As we threw down some Shot Bloks and started to put on our crampons, we heard something that sounded like a rushing river. We looked back at the original line and saw that part of that cornice was sliding down the couloir. At that instant, we knew we’d made the right call. If we’d decided to stick to our original line, our day probably would have gotten pretty ugly. After we watched the chunks of cornice spread out on the apron below, we decided that we probably didn’t want to be out there for too much longer. We topped out and skied an awesome but shorter line on about three inches of ideal corn.

#unepicadventures: no epic stories to tell.

We didn’t bag the couloir we were hoping for, but the skiing was awesome and our summer was off to a great start. And we didn’t have to go home and tell our parents about some epic adventure gone awry.

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