SynopsisI've skied multiple lines off Lake Fork Peak (12881') over the years but never the east chute, just never got around to it probably due to the very early start required to ski it just after sunhit (at least in spring). If you have skinned up the SE slopes of Lake Fork Peak, you will likely have passed right beneath the tempting looking east chute on the way to the SE slopes. Due to overcast and snowy conditions, we were able to start skinning from the bottom of Lift 4 (el. ~10160') at Taos Ski Valley at the civilized hour of 8am, reached the summit just after 11am, and skied the chute in very decent spring conditions with a few inches of fresh powder in spots. Here is a Google Earth perspective of our route.
Having Esme (our 16.5 month old daughter), now it's harder for us to get out for days like this, but a good friend generously offered to watch and play with Esme so we could have a backcountry ski day just the two of us (thanks Katie!!). Also, Amy who is 6 months pregnant has what I call the "belly blues." Her belly is getting bigger, and she's sharply lamenting her steadily diminishing physical prowess (good thing it's only temporary). She had the belly blues during her first pregnancy too, but to cure that we did the Ice Cubed route on the "Three Apostles" (N. Apostle, Ice Mtn, and W. Apostle) in the Sawatch Range in CO. This time, a summit and ski descent of Lake Fork Peak proved to be the cure.
The ascentIt was overcast, slightly breezy, and warm enough that I started skinning at 8am in a t-shirt and one capilene layer. I was happy to see that we could skin right from our (so close it should be illegal) parking spot at the Black Diamond espresso shack. The approach is now all-too-familiar, and we made it to the edge of the talus field above and to the SW of Williams Lake in about 1 hour (~2.5 miles, ~1000' climb to this point). It started flurrying shortly after we began skinning, and it became a substantial snowfall soon thereafter. We donned our goggles and I added a jacket when we entered the open expanses of the talus field.
By now there was almost an inch of fresh snow on top of a firm (and safe) spring snow surface. We got the opportunity to practice some advanced skinning technique (using your pole as an anchor to prevent your downhill ski from washing out) on a steep sidehill section below Lake Fork's east buttress. It's always good to practice some skills. Soon we were nearing the bottom of the east chute where we transitioned to snowclimbing/bootpacking.
It's been awhile since I've done a snowclimb, and it reminded me just how much I love snowclimbs: just one step after another while you quickly gain gobs of elevation. Luckily the spring snow surface below the dusting of fresh powder was not bullet-proof, so it was fairly easy-going kicking steps. Crampons would have made the snowclimb go even more quickly, but we were glad not to have carried the extra weight. We had our whippet poles and didn't feel the need to bring axes either. I didn't break out the inclinometer, but the top of the east chute got respectably steep, possibly in the 40 degree range. The chute-proper had ~600' of vertical with maybe another 200' vertical along the east ridge to reach the summit. We reached the summit just after 11am, making for a ~3 hour ascent (not bad for Miss Belly Blues considering my fastest time ever to the summit of Lake Fork was about 2:40). The wind was gusting and the snow was coming down pretty heavily when we reached the summit. We didn't linger long and transitioned to ski mode. Despite the harsh conditions, I was all smiles on the summit.
The descentWe got an exact summit ski descent, skied along the upper east ridge, and then dropped into the top of the east chute. We both agreed that this chute was a very nice line, respectably steep up top, and at least as nice a line as the NE face despite having less vertical of a sustained steepness. There was 1-2" of fresh powder by now on top of "firm slurpee." In short, it was fun to make turns and I felt good even opening it up a little with some GS turns. I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story.
We ran into fellow NNMAE'er MarkM below the east buttress. His gang of 5 was on the way up. We chatted briefly before skiing all the way out to the car, getting there at 12:12pm.
Bye bye belly blues.