January 22 – January 25, 2015
A trip with 11 fellow peakers into the Wallowa Moutains of Northeast Oregon through Wing Ridge Ski Tours.
Pre Day 1 – January 21st
We took off after work and headed to Eastern Oregon. On the way we saw a bad ass wolf (maybe a coyote… not as cool) feasting on some kill (maybe scavenging) in the road. Spirit animal or #wolfselfie? We got into our hotel accommodations after midnight and headed to bed for the short amount of rest we could get ourselves.
Day 1 – January 22nd
After signing our waivers in Joseph, OR with a pleasant man working at Wallowa Alpine Huts, we drove into the Salt Creek Snow park, arriving around 11am. We packed up our gear, cracked some champagne and headed out on the skin track.
Conditions were easy on the way up. There was a mellow skin track which must have been set by a guide previously. The track led right to our hut. At the time, only one other had traveled the same track, a good sign in hopes we’d be one group of few on the ridge. We arrived at the Wing Ridge Huts around 12:30pm.
The accommodations were as expected. We had a cooking hut, 2 bunk huts, a toilet area, a wood splitting area and a sauna hut. Each bunk had room for 6. We were stocked with a healthy supply of fire and cooking provisions.
After settling in, the first group of peakers headed up the ridge around 1/1:30pm. We didn’t take the most direct route up, but it was pleasant being in trees without having to bushwhack like we often do in the Cascades.
Shawn pushed the ridge almost to the peak between Salt Creek Bowl and 1st Bowl. David forgot his GPS at the hut, so we didn’t track this mission. We dropped into 1st Bowl on a northern aspect. I got first drop, almost getting taken down by some rocks just below the surface of snow, right near the entrance on the wind-blown ridge. Turns in the bowl were great. Not blower, but deep enough to make us all yell out with stoke. We took the north face of 1st Bowl into the tree line below, and headed back to the hut system. Despite a short day of turns, we were ready to eat.
Dinner followed. Our group had night one of cooking duties. We cooked chicken stir-fry. The crew was greatly satisfied with our meal. We cooked way too many noodles, but hey, we didn’t leave anyone hungry. Washing dishes without a proper wash basin proved to be interesting. The crew wrapped the night up with a game of Oh Hell. We all got a good nights rest in our toasty huts.
Day 2 – January 23rd
I woke up around 7am. The huts had a chill. I went straight to splitting some kindling to get a fire going in the bunk and kitchen huts. As more awoke coffee, oatmeal, bagels, breakfast sandwiches and more were enjoyed.
Some mysterious individual in the group decided to bring up a 12 pack of Smirnoff Ice bottles. Whitney got ‘iced’. Not a great way to start the morning, but at least it was the Screwdriver flavor.
After gearing up with our packs, we headed back up the same ridge from yesterday on a more direct route. We seem to have started on the same trail they take horses up Wing Ridge in the warmer months. It took about 45 minutes to reach a stopping point. We had to boot pack the last 100 yards to reach the top of the ridge. I blazed the trail. Some of it was over brittle basalt rock. It was at least knee to waist deep at the steepest area.
It was a bit of a mental game getting to the top of the ridge, but the views on top were epic. The crew all began to take in the view as each crested the ridge.
I began to set the skin track out to the peak between 1st and 2nd Bowl– Pyramid Peak. The tour was very peaceful and the views were breathtaking. Looking southwest the ranges seemed to go on as far as the eye could see.
Some of the ridge between 1st and 2nd Bowl was pretty wind scorned, but my skins never failed. I got to the top of what I believe is called Pyramid Peak.
I had a good 10 minutes to myself before Bish (Shawn) arrived… just in time for some #wolfselfies. Nothing like howling at the top of a peak and taking some photos.
Stoke was at an all time high for the season (the PNW has had a pretty crappy season). The eastern face of Pyramid Peak was the line I really wanted, steep, but it was sun baked and the northern face of 2nd Bowl was shaded and the definite go. Charlie, Kiker and Tim scoped some drop-ins further into 2nd Bowl. I followed them and geared up for the 1st drop.
The snow on the shaded, northern face made for great turns until about 3/4 the way down. It became a little wind blown, and had a crusty surface to deal with. I hung high at the tree line below while everyone got their turns in, hooting and hollering by the time they reached me.
The group split at this point. I began up the north ridge of 2nd bowl with David, Bish, Tim, Charlie and Whitney. The Sun was blazing. We found some very large wolf/wolverine-like tracks. The creatures claws dragging with each step could clearly be seen. We followed the paw prints up the ridge. We diverged a bit as the creature must have went into 3rd Bowl.
The ridge between 2nd and 3rd Bowl was very sun baked and becoming a sketchy skin. I think we would have been ok turning to boot pack, but the crew decided to drop instead of continuing to push further.
We scored some great turns in sun-baked snow. It was a lot like skiing on a warm, spring day. I pointed it from my change-over location. Bish/Charlie caught some airtime over rock croppings.
We saw a solo skier and chatted with him on the ridge between 1st and 2nd Bowl. He gave us some insight into the naming of the bowls and peaks. We headed back to camp down the ridge line, followed by one-footing through the trees. Always fun, am I right?
Sauna time, scenic view and relaxation followed. While getting situated in my bunk, I was pleasantly surprised by and Ice on my pillow. Damn you Bish!
We had mac and cheese for a group dinner. It was delicious. Everyone had at least 2 helpings. We followed it up by playing Uno and Yahtzee. Tyler won the first round of Yahtzee with over 400 points. Who gets that high of a score in Yahtzee!? As the evening went on, everyone did not hold back on the booze. What I thought would be an early evening turned out to be a late night with much drinking, wine bag slapping, tunes, talks about vaccinations and GMOs. Our hut bros all awoke late in the middle of the night to hydrate.
Day 3 – January 24th
What should have been an early morning turned out to be about an 11am stroll up the ridge. The sun was blazing. I’m glad my water bladder was bulging with 3 liters of water for what was proving to be a warm day, almost 40 degrees I believe.
After sweating most of the alcohol out on the way up, Shawn and I opted for the boot pack again while most took the lower route into the north face of 1st Bowl. Shawn and I headed out the ridge into 1st Bowl, keeping to the shaded, northern face. I found a good dropping point between 2 cornices. I navigated around some rocks in the upper area but was able to rip some big, wide-open turns after about the first 100 ft.
The snowpack in the shade seemed very stable, even in wind loaded areas. At the bottom of the bowl near the skin trail, I cracked an ollie only to break yet another crappy, aluminum Karakoram ankle strap bolt (Karakoram has fixed this on newer models of the Split30s). I really need to get a new steel bolt from them. The 4 aluminum ones I’ve broken are all crap.
I captured video of Shawn as he took some soft, soul turns down a berm of 1st Bowl near a skin track we were about to head up. All of the crew was ripping 1st Bowl in smaller groups at their leisure.
After our 1st drop into 1st Bowl we headed up the skin trail to Pyramid Peak. I had been spotting the line I wanted for the past 2 days and got anxious because I was towards the back of the group, due to my binding breaking. I wanted that line! It was already looking a bit haggard from baking in the sun.
I saw Sam, Tim and Andrew drop the bowl along a mellow spine. The turns looked like great spring conditions, but this was January. When I got to the top of Pyramid Peak I was greeted by the rowdy bunch of peakers, shirts off and sunning. David cracked an ollie off a mellow cornice into a great line down.
At the top of Pyramid I collected my thoughts, scoped my line. All looked good. I could see where I wanted to go and found a clearing in the rocks to get there. I dropped, took a couple mellow turns to get around the small rock cropping and got into the groove. I was riding over rough spots where sluff had collected from the sun heating the surface and a strangers line from the day before. I was able to pop off the 2 rocks I wanted and make great turns all the way to the bottom. When I reached David and gave him a high-five he told me to turn around and look. I had set off a sluff (point-release) slide that was slowly following behind me. The slide was about 10ft wide at the point and 20-25ft wide at the bottom. It pushed for about 500 feet, but was not a surprise based on the heat from the sun and wet/sluff activity we could see throughout the day.
At this point some of the skiers in the group split off. Most of us went back up the same skin track in 1st Bowl. I took a super fun line by Bish’s 1st drop. I wanted this little root booter, as Tyler called it. The snow up top was crunchy due to wind, but the landing after the drop was soft and smooth. I got video of the boys blasting through fun, rolling berms with a couple different hits. It made for some fun video.
We went back up for 1 more turn on the lines we just hit. Sebastian and Tyler boosted over a tree. Sebastian gave the tree a well deserved tap for good measure. I popped a tail grab off a wind cornice, and had some other fun airs over various terrain features.
We headed out 1st Bowl and back up the ridge between 1st and Salt Creek Bowl back to camp. Camp chores, fires, fake showers and sauna time were plenty. The salmon burgers were delicious. Fresh long underwear and socks are amazing!
Day 4 – January 25th
A select few of the crew woke up before dawn on the last morning for a trip back up the ridge; headlamps on. I was not one of them. Who dares disturb my slumber!? I am told the skin track was pretty treacherous and icy most of the way up. The steeper areas became very challenging.
As the sun grew over the ridge of 1st Bowl, the early peakers were rewarded with gorgeous views of Pyramid Peak.
The early-birds got rewarded with mediocre, but enjoyable turns into 1st Bowl. After everyone had their turns, they headed back to camp to pack up.
We finished our chores, packed up our gear and headed back down to the parking lot. The ride out was hard-pack and ice. It made for a challenging ride out with gear flailing about.
Overall Wing Ridge was an amazing hut trip. Trips like these make you never want to visit a resort again. No lift lines. No $100 lift tickets. The only lines are the ones you create!