Wall Peak - a ski destination
Norway Ridge and its high benches
Castle, Duke, or Hoyt peaks, all located on the Westernmost fringes of Lakes Roadless Area, are more or less standart Western Uinta backcountry skiing goals. But ski mountaneering becomes a formidable challenge for the more remote mountains in the heart of the range.
Following the summer trails all the way from the plowed roads, one would have to log upwards of 20 miles roundtrip to complete a ski ascent. The trails wind their way through mid-elevation timberland where the snow consolidates very slowly, making trailbreaking difficult and time-consuming. Over the years, we explored new higher-elevation winter routes above the timberline, where the snow is usually windpacked and the pace of the skiers may be fast - and where one can enjoy the views not seen from the bottom of the valleys.
By spring 2005, we've explored Norway Bench and Shingle Bench routes on skis, and circumnavigated Wall Peak. In the fall, I canvassed the slopes of Wall Peak, looking for the fastest ski routes for the upcoming season. In our two trips in February 2006, the goal has been accomplished.
Norway Ridge traverse - Feb 4th 2006
The Feb 4th ridge run was in many ways a spurious decision. We've planned an ascent of Wall Peak for the following weekend, as an official Wasatch Mountain Club event, but with the heavy snowfalls during the week, we figured it might be worthwhile to check the conditions and break some trail ahead of the final push. I set the goal at the Hill 10,254
at the Southern tip of Norway ridge. Once we get there, we shall see.
Norway Flats road
Norway Flats road was a surprise, all covered with fresh fine powder despite its Southern exposure and a relatively low elevation. There was a track to the TUNA yurt turnoff, but from there on, it was up to Rob and Mike and myself to break it. Some 5 miles into the trip, we stopped for an early lunch at a spot where a summer ATV track splits off the main Norway Fats road towards the high bench
, skinned up, and pushed to my modest goalpost.
The skies were grey ahead of an approaching storm, but it still was an incomparable view from our high perch atop the Wall. (The peak name is actually a designation of a lowly USDA benchmark disk, but what it refers to is indeed a remarkable wall even by Uinta standarts, a two-miler cliff cutting the ridge off Norway Bench to the East).
Norway Ridge and Bench Wall Peak ahead Hayden & Reids North Summit
The ridgetop was fairly wide here, and the snow windpacked but still soft, so skiing was a blast. Soon we were marveling at the three giant pilars of rock midslope to the West, which we dubbed Easter Island Giants on last year's tour around the Wall. Only this time we were looking at the Giants from up above! Once we reached Notch 10,176, skiing along the ridge didn't feel that fun anymore. The winds blew much stronger across this section of Norway ridge, leaving a patchwork of icy crust and exposed rock, with enormous cornices hanging to the East. But after some deliberaton we agreed that it was too early to bail, and pressed on.
Three Pillars Into the Notch ... ... over Easter Island Giants ... ... and along a corniced ridge
Soon we were zigzagging around chest-high fins and ribs of windblown snow, all the time trying to keep off the cornices to the right and to avoid sliding down the icy drops to the left. At one point, as the ends of my skis hang on two spectacular snowfins, and the middle drooped between, I heard a scary CRACK! But the ski looked just fine. Little did I know that it was the plastic base of my NNN bindings cracking, and in a few miles, the thing will break apart for good.
Once we approached the highest point of Norway Ridge, the ridge widened again. There wasn't much snow left by the winds, but enough to ski all the way into the saddle separating it from the main body of Wall Peak. Goodbye windcrust, welcome back pow! Since we approached Big Elk Lake from the SW and the daylight was running short, we felt too lazy to bypass the cliff on the North, the way the summer trail does it. After some chaotic route search were safely on the lake ice, with just 3 more miles of trailbreaking along the beautiful Norway Bench back to our lunch spot. And then a powder run down Norway Flats road - this part has never been in a better condition for the glide down in my memory, and probably will never be.
Big Elk Lake from N Summit Goodbye windcrust! We've just been up there ... and before that, up there!
Summit tour - Feb 12th 2006
Norway Flats Rd First glimpse of Wall Pk
The weather is sunny and there is some morning crust on a few sections Norway Flats road, but it is still in enviably good shape. The powder is still fluffy in the shadow of trees though, and it means that our last week's trailbreaking wasn't all in vain. We leave our old track under the slopes of Hill 10,254, and contour through the woods to the NNW, gaining just a bit of altitude. This part may be tricky since the Southern end of Shingle Bench starts at a bit lower altitude than Norway Flats, and depending on the route choice, one may have to drop down some steeper slopes, or to traverse higher amidst the rocks.
Once we are out of the trees and on the open bench, our destination comes into view. We also have a commanding view of Duke and (looking so small in comparison) Castle, and of the towering Wasatch Range to the Southwest. Around the next corner, we finally see the Easter Island Giants, now lit by sunlight. Instead of droppinng to Lower Shingle Lake, we keep following the bench underneath these three spectacular rocky pillars.
Up the Shingle Bench Rounding the corner towards the pillars ... traversing under them ... ... big ones, huh?
But if we want to follow the SW Ridge of Wall Peak, it's time to leave Single Bench and start traversing to the North. After a lunch break, we head into sparse woods, crossing a series of parallel gullies and finally ascending across two cliffbands to our ridge. Up through two steps, or, rather, enormous fissures of the West Slope, the snow becomes increasingly hardpacked, but it still a fast skiing to the top.
Last switchback to the ridge! Gaping fissure in the West slope Getting close.. Hurray! Norway Ridge from up high Glide down
The clouds now block the Sun, but the view is still breathtaking, with the heart of Western Uintas, from Long to Bald Mountain, ahead of us. We also see our last week's ridgetop route underfoot ... what to say, it looks interesting :)
Back down the ridge now, to a point where the snow is softer, and we leave our track and continue North, towards Erickson Basin and Big Elk Pass. Nice glide! The snow around South Erickson Lake is scoured by the illegal highmarking 'bilers tracks, but at least they are no longer around, and the wind already heals the wounds. It is a gentle ascent to the windswept pass, and the descent could be just as mellow if one follows the summer trail, but we choose to reenact last week's cliffband adventure instead. It isn't nearly as much fun today, with the suncrust instead of powder.
Erickson Basin Big Elk Pass Through the cliffs to Big Elk Lake Norway Bench Last rays of Sun
Only 8 miles separate us from the car now, three of them along the beatiful Norway Bench, lit by the last rays of low Sun. The Wall towers to the right, its cornices glistening, the powder is soft, and the mood is just great. We've done it!
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