Icefall – 4/17

I’ve fallen over a month behind on blog posts and I have several more recent adventures I want to get around to writing about so this post may be shorter and less detailed than usual. But it was a wonderful day checking out a somewhat less traveled corner of the Wasatch so I don’t want to forgo it completely. As usual, hopefully the photos make up for any shortcomings in the writing. Diving in!

Icefall is a difficult line to time right. Spilling down the southeast face of Red Baldy it has the unfortunate characteristics of being a remote, big line that also receives direct early morning sun. It’s hard to find a day with enough stability early in the season and its hard to find a day with good conditions later in the season. On top of that, its 4.5 miles and 3,500 vertical feet just to get to the top of the line, a solid investment to make before you get any real sense of south facing snow conditions.

The week before had brought a solid storm followed by a few days of cool weather. With temperatures forecasted to climb well above freezing Saturday afternoon, it was clear Saturday might be one of the last true powder days of the season in the Wasatch. And so I found myself at the White Pine trailhead at 5:15am, groggily putting on skins with Hunter and Garrett, hoping that the 4:15 wake-up wouldn’t be for nothing.

It was my earliest tour up White Pine and it was definitely a special experience to get to watch the sunrise from high up the fork. In the spring the Cottonwood Ridgeline doesn’t catch as much morning sun as it does in the winter, but the empty skin-track and soft morning colors made for a tranquil approach towards Red Baldy.

Nearing the flanks of Red Baldy, the wind began to pick up but it was made up for by some of the most amazing alpine glow I have ever seen on the face of White Baldy. There is always a moment in a day outdoors where the sleepiness of an early wake-up fades away, replaced by a deep appreciation for the beauty of the day. Seeing White Baldy bathed in a vibrant pink was definitely that moment.

A group of two appeared behind us as we started up Red Baldy and we could feel them hot on our heels. We were happy to find a preexisting skin track for most of the climb which saved us some work, but as we gained the final ridge the track had been filled in and the group caught up to us as we broke trail the final hundred feet to the summit. The group seemed in a rush and tempted to snake us despite our work trail breaking so we quickly transitioned and traversed the ridge and got our first good look at the line.

Icefall starts with a short, steep headwall that opens into a big bowl below. A narrow, couloir-like feature allows safe passage from the bowl down into the valley below. Mount Timpanogos provides a stunning backdrop to the whole thing.

Garrett dropped first and, in his usual form, styled his way down the headwall into the bowl below. I went next and immediately felt my skis clip a rock hiding under the snow but managed to stay on my feet. I tried to stay light on my edges but seemed to hear scrapping every time I attempted to turn so eventually I just pointed it and careened down towards Garrett. By some miracle, I made it to him right side up and found Garrett laughing, “I literally thought you forgot how to ski” he told me. Poor Hunter had to go last, and, with the slope already cut up with two tracks, he stood no chance. We watched him attempt one turn, disappear into a puff of powder, and tumble a couple times before sitting up unharmed, a few of the rocks now poking out of the snow above him.

After Hunter joined us in the bowl we watched the group of two drop above us. They dropped in to skier’s right of where we dropped and it seemed like a good call as they arced down towards us with no rock encounters. Not wanting to delay the group behind us, the three of us took off down the narrower cleft that made up the rest of the line. The snow in here was sheltered and deep and we enjoyed some of the last powder turns of the season as we worked towards the valley floor. This part of the run is fairly narrow and definitely gets tracked out quickly so we let the other group pass us about halfway down so they could enjoy some fresh turns.

Our well calculated altruism paid off, and by the time the three of us regrouped at the bottom the other group was ahead, putting in the skin track back towards White Pine. We followed them slowly, savoring this new part of the Wasatch we had never explored (turns out views are best enjoyed from a nice packed-in skin track).

We regained the ridge between Red Baldy and Red Top and were immediately blasted by the wind. Somehow we had been largely sheltered from the wind, but on the ridge there was nowhere to hide. The blowing ice pellets stung our faces as we burrowed into our hoods as we worked up to the summit of Red Top.

Luckily the north side of Red Top was sheltered and we stopped just below the summit for some lunch. Across the valley we could see multiple groups atop Red Baldy looking into Icefall. In the end, everyone dropped back down the north side of Red Baldy leaving us satisfied we had snagged first tracks on such a cool line.

We ended up descending down Birthday Chutes back towards the car and found a couple more great turns before the snow quality tanked due to the heat of the day and lower elevation.

With a cool 10 miles and 5,500 feet of vert just to access the line and get back out, Icefall certainly charges a high cost of entry. Combine that with a difficult aspect and it not being the biggest, steepest, or scariest line in the Wasatch and it’s easy to see why Icefall often escapes mention. But if you gamble a bit and catch it in the right conditions, 2,000 feet of untracked, sunny Wasatch powder is pretty hard to beat.





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