According to route descriptions, North Ridge is a seldom used route. It's a choice route for ski mountaneering though, and therefore, I would like to share some impressions and advice about using N ridge route in winter.
1) Creek bed or summer trail?
For skiers, following creek bed is a better route in most of seasons. It has fewer up- and downhill sections, wider turns, and it is less exposed to sunlight, which often turns sections of the summer trail into rock / ice skiing. It is also beatiful.
This year, we last used the creek bed of Henry's in late March, for Kings. The snowpack has been the most stable in years. Much to our surprise, though, a month later, the snow cover over the creek was completely gone! This time, we had to follow summer trail to lower meadows (9,900 ft). (About 1.5 hr from our car park in the Narrows
2) How soon to leave Henrys Fork and to head towards the ridge?
In summer, it is tempting to use the bridge at Elkhorn Xing, although it is also possible to cross about a mile downstream, where North Slope trail leaves Henrys Fork. But on skis, it is much easier to cross at the beginning of lower meadows
and head up the Eastern-most dranage, then gradually ascend through the semi-open pine forest to the base of the cliffs of North Ridge, intersecting the summer trail at 10300-10500 ft elevation
3) Gaining the ridge - use the summer trail, the gully, or the slopes above?
North Slopes trail gains altitude sharply, staying just above the gorge of "West Joulious" creek. It is to steep and rocky to be suitable for skiing. We ascended just North of the trail, along a minor forested spur ridge, and descended in the creekbed
- highly recommended!
4) How far up can one ski?
2005 is a high snow year, but we visited the mountain very late in season, and I think that the snow conditions are fairly representative of a typical year and typical season. We skied easily to the point where the ridge narrows and becomes steeper at about 12,600 ft
,(about 5 hrs from the car), then skinned up and cont'ed to a wide plateau a quarter mile further. Along the way, the terrain becomes too rocky for skiing; one may as well just leave them below this section. Beware of the enormous cornices to the East! They look like a tempting ski path, don't be tricked!
All in all it took us 7 hours to the top, 4 hours back. On the summit
, it was whiteout conditions with very strong wind, continuing snowfall, and 18 degrees F. On the way down, we enjoyed a brief lull of warm sunshine and fresh powder skiing, before the snowclouds closed in again.
From the UINTA team - Mike, Dmitry, Igor, and Sasha the yellow lab.
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