Saturday, March 22, 2014

in which we conquer east castle

We checked out the Alta forecast Friday night as we sat at the bar at the Cotton Bottom (mmmmmmm garlic cheeseburgers) and were less than thrilled with its partly cloudy, blustery, snow showers before noon, high of 30F.  With just over a month left in the season, we want spring conditions (unless it's going to snow like a sonofabitch and then we want that) and it just didn't sound that pleasant.  The alarm went off at 7 a.m. Saturday morning and we both rolled over, not excited to spring out of bed for cloudy/blustery/etc.  When we finally did get up to take the dog out, however, it was evident that the cold front had moved through faster than expected.  It was sunny up Alta-way.  Time to stop lollygagging and go skiing!

That's where we're headed

The cold front had left chillier temperatures behind, sunshine notwithstanding, and I was a little cold for our first ride up Collins and two runs off Sugarloaf.  The snow was fairly good on the groomers but was more dust-on-crust on the off-piste areas that had gotten sun-baked the day before.  As Sugarloaf started to get crowded (not terribly so, compared to Christmas week), we moved over to Supreme and as we buckled our boots at the top, H suggested that we take a hike into East Castle.  I've wanted to get in there ever since we started skiing Alta so I said yes.

Early in the hike

East Castle is rarely open.  The avalanche danger is often high there and so the conditions must be just right for ski patrol to open it.  This is our fourth season pass season at Alta and if East Castle has been open ten days in those four seasons, I'd be surprised - some years they don't open it at all, if there's too much snow or not enough snow.  They had opened it on Wednesday and so it was all tracked out but we didn't care: it was open and that meant we could get in there.

At the top

That also meant that the traverse would be well-established.  The hike up into East Castle is the longest in-bounds traverse at Alta, starting off the cat track from the top of Supreme and following the cliff line up.  I was worried that it would be a side-step all the way up (which would be brutal) but luckily folks had established it as a boot-pack instead.  It took us 35 minutes to hike all the way up.  We kept our heads down and our feet moving and ended up passing eight people on the way up, most of them younger than us.  At one point we climbed by four 30-something guys who were resting by a rock.  I grinned at them and asked if they were going to let a girl beat them to the top.  "YES!" exclaimed one of them, clearly feeling the elevation.  I laughed and kept on going.

Mount Timpanogos, looming large

It felt like we were on the top of the world when we finally got up there, as far as we could go.  The summit is at 10,900 feet (although the Supreme lift lets you off at 10,450, we lost some elevation getting to the entry gate so we figure we climbed about 600 feet) and the views are absolutely spectacular.  We were WAY up there.  After some picture taking, we put our skis back on and peeked over the edge.  We were at the top of 1st Chute; there are other named areas in East Castle, lower down on the hike, like 2nd Chute, Hi Heathers and the Eagle Peak Chutes, all of which bring you down the open face, exiting across Evergreen or the Lo Heather apron to Rock-n-Roll.  Most everyone else had skied down earlier, leaving the 1st Chute all for us.  H went first, reporting that skier's left was softer, with less avalanche debris.  I dropped in and after three turns realized that although I hadn't thought the hike up was that difficult, my legs were definitely fatigued.

Um, I gotta ski down that now?

The top of 1st Chute is dang steep but there was plenty of snow so it was only a little intimidating.  I didn't ski it that well, turning cautiously and stopping to rest (it is the longest run at Alta, top to bottom).  I wished my legs weren't so tired because I would have liked to have skied it better - but still, it was pretty awesome.  I joined H at the bottom and we looked back up at what we'd just skied.  That was a bad-ass run for sure.

Tiny speck = me

Our legs were pretty well wrecked for the rest of the day, however, so we cruised groomers and some easy trees.  Each ride up the Supreme lift I couldn't keep from staring at East Castle, giddily grinning like a fool: I just skied that!  Despite our tired legs, we managed to keep going until 2:30 p.m., taking one run into Catherine's Area before skiing out.  We had a celebratory beer on the sun-soaked Goldminer's Daughter patio: the toast was to East Castle, of course.  I can't wait to ski it again.

View of 1st Chute from the bottom

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