Memorial Day weekend skiing?
After two May recon trips to Yellowstone River Basin of Uinta's South slope, it was easy to believe that there isn't any good snow left out there to ski. But of course the things generally get more moist there as you move North and West. There was certainly enough snow to prevent UDOT from opening Mirror Lake Highway by Memorial Day this year, as the local custom demands. But we knew that during the previous weekend, the road has been plowed to MP 21, well within reach of the local high peaks. It sounded like a perfect recipe to get some quality late-spring skiing, if only there is a night refreeze and maybe a tad of fresh accumulation.
A major cold front did hit just before Memorial Day weekend, dumping over a foot of new snow. So at 6:30 on Saturday the 24th, we were at the usual meeting place near Bombay House. Off to the Uintas!
As we approached milepost 21, there was scarcely any continuous snowcover to ski, but the road remained open beyond that spot. The highway kept climbing and climbing, and by the time we reached the dead end just shy of Trial Lake turnoff (MP 25.5, 9700 ft el), it looked like winter! And there was one car with skiers there already, two guys with dogs and heavy tele skis on the way to nearby Mount Watson!
We followed their skintrack to summer Crystal Lake TH and short ways beyond, then left the steep track and cut our own ascent line to beautiful Cliff Lake bench, briefly meeting again and overtaking one of the skiers, and finally reached the overlook above Clyde Lake. It was only 20 minutes past 9.
East Notch Mtn
Possible routes led in all direction from the high pass of Clyde Divide. I tentatively mentioned East Notch and Reids peaks when we were planning the trip, but West and North summits of Notch Mountain, and even East Long, were all possible. The low clouds were saving the snow from sogging up, yet breaks in the clouds let a ray of Sun shine here and there. A beautiful spring weather! We decided that the conditions were perfect for the original plan, and crossed the divide towards East Notch, stopping for breakfast just below Notch Mountain Pass.
Instead of steeply ascending through the cliffbands to the windswept summit plateau, we took a long gradual traverse of the South slopes, emerging to the plateau right next to its high point.
Nice line, but probably too avy-prone on the days when the snow isn't as well bonded as today. The snow did let me down once though, when I fell through into a bottomless hole between the cliff face and the snow. If were on a glacier, that would be a randkluft!
North Cirque of East Notch looked even more rugged now, with cornices and streaks of yesterday's warn sluffs, than it does in summer. Summits of neighboring peaks all disappeared in the low clouds, including Reids, our next goal. It looked like an impenetrable fortress from this direction, but of course our ascent route would be on its opposite, South-Eastern side.
Just like on our ascent, we cut a gradual descending line across South-facing slopes towards SE spur ridge of East Notch. Soon we crossed Dean Lake, and started gaining altitude in the direction of Reids Saddle.
A chain of beautiful little glades stretched at the base of red cliffs of the peak. A couple of switchbacks, and we were on the ridge just North of the low point of Reids Saddle and its humongous cornice.
The ridge thrust up in a series of cliffs straight away, but we were able to gain almost 400 ft more by skinning up to the left of the ridgeline. Then at 11,400 contour the ridge turned right and got appreciably steeper. The cliffs looked nothing but spectacular. We took the skis off and started booting.
Just like before, the most challenging spots could all be bypassed on the left, even though the incline topped 45 degrees in some sections. Soon the angle of the slope started easing again, and there was a wide snow cap of the summit, and a fantastic view in all directions, all the way from the Wasatch to central High Uintas beyond the crest of Hayden Peak.
The Sun was shining now, if intermittently, and the snow surface was softening. Not a super glide, but most importantly, the supporting crust below remain firm. We stopped at the edge of the woods for a lunch break and to wax the skis, and beelined through the beautiful sunlit open forest to Trial Lake.
Rob was able to spot our track on the summit cone from this distance, but I only could see it clearly on a zoomed telephoto!
By 5 pm we were having a sunshine tailgate party, all alone at the trailhead with the snowmobilers gone for the day, and then stopped to watch the runoff rush down Provo River Falls a mile down the road.
Trip Stats courtesy of ZeeJay: 10.35 miles, 3265 ft elevation gain