July skiing?To say the truth, the summer of 2007 in Utah is about as far from a nice snow season as possible. Meager winter snowfall, hot spring, 100+ degrees temps for like over a week in a row now. That's despite one feak snowstorm in June which made good skiing possible for a few days. Why then to go skiing in July? Maybe precisely for this reason, that it is hot everywhere and the snowfields shrink - and get badly suncupped - so fast that it may be a great idea to enjoy them now.
I was afraid of steamy slog to the snow, and the slushy ride, so much that I decided to go skiing Timp at dawn. Wrong assumption, as it turned out.
A couple more people were interested but dropped out. The pooches were too tired after a major ridge run in the Uintas the previous afternoon. So I was alone and free to choose, and with the full Moon shining all night through, I decided to start from Aspen Grove TH before 3 am. The Moon as it turned out was simply not high enough in the sky to penetrate the depth of Primrose Cirque. The only few minutes we saw it clear were near the hairpin turn of the "2-mile switchback".
The breeze barely stirred, and the sweat soaked my headlamp band, shorts-and-short-sleeves nonwithstanding. It was a bit slower going than I hoped, but having logged a dozen challenging miles just the previous afternoon, I wasn't really surprised. Still I planned to be up by the snowfields in time to catch the dawn alpenglow!
As the trail zigzagged up to the ever-elusive Primrose Rim, North-East started to glow with the hues of daybreak. The stars faded one after another. Finally the wall of Razorback rose ahead. The Cirque at last! And time to switch on the headlamp. I just passed Emerald Lake and started up the gentler lower part of the "glacier" snowfield when the first rays of Sun touched the summits of distant Bullion Divide. In another minute, the dawn set the face of Timp aglow. The snowfield remained submerged in the shadows.
Did I really want it icy?
The problem is, the snowfield refroze all too perfectly well overnight. Even Emerald Lake had some fresh ice shimmering around the old floes! My trusted trail sneakers barely had a grip. Before the slope steepened, I changed into tele boots, all the while thinking how a couple years back, I was struggling up this same slope in crampons and with an ice ax. Back then, even my little pooch's claws didn't grip at the last 50-footer section. Today, I teetered from one poothole to another, but sure enough, just under the saddle the color of the snowpack changed into ominous waterlogged-frozen grey. A step... another step ... and I was no longer thinking about reaching the ridge. Rather, let me backtrack these steps please. The oldtimers believed that this is a glacier here for a reason all these years!
A traverse to the left got me around steep ice. Against a better judgement, I still hoped that after I finish a summit detour, the heat of the day may soften the snowfield at least a bit. It was actually not hot up here at all. The usual Timp ridge wind was even more chilly than usual, and I am sure I looked weird in a never-seasonable combination of shorts, short sleeves, tele boots, and mittens. Up in the summit shelter, I may be protected against the wind just enough to enjoy breakfast :)
Rounding the corner of the ridge, I came within 10 feet from a mother-kid pair of goats. The rest of the flock were retreating to the lower slopes, but these two got caught between my path and the cliff edge. A couple of pictures and I was on my way, but on descent back to Glacier Saddle, I was surprised to bump into the same mother-kid pair again.
The kid was in a very familiar place actually, where a footpath leads unaware hikers to the point of a 25-footer cliff, and they need to backtrack in search of a missed junction. Mother goat was already below the cliff, but the kid couldn't get down and cried in desperation. Sure enough, the mountain smarts told the kid what to do. In another minute I saw it heading back up the trail, towards that same missed footpath junction which often leaves humans exasperated.
By this time I was about to cry out in exasperation too, for exactly the same reason. How I am going to descend? Am I really going to make turns on this rutted steep ice? The answer was generally yes, but for one wipeout which would have been OK if I weren't in short sleevs. After a few tense minutes, I reached the sunlit runout zone and got better. Traversed the lakeshore strip of snow just out of curiousity what is down below in the water. Maybe I shouldn't have looked. It was a precipitous drop to the depth of at least a dozen ft. Better not slip there!
All right, the July skiing season is open. Another 5 miles down the trail and the adventure is over :) (this actually makes my first descent of all the switchbacks as far as I remember ... maybe almost all, I skied another minor splotch of snow under Roberts' Horn to cut a few equally minor switchbacks ... but in a better year usually there are more options to glissade down here or there)