White Baldy Trip report
Craig and I started at the White Pine trailhead at 5:00 a.m. It was cold, but not too bad for this time of the year and we got our gear ready and were hiking within 15 minutes. We made really good time, but we stopped to take a break shortly after the trail junction, because we both wanted to shed some clothes and re-adjust our gear. It was quite cold outside and the first light from the sun began to emerge as we made our way up the trail. The snow was still quite firm, so there was no worry about post-holing, although that would probably change once the sun baked it for a few hours. The trail was covered in snow and there were several different paths that people had been taking, so we just made our way up to Red Pine Lake and when we arrived the lake was still completely frozen and several feet of snow remained from the long winter that we were just coming out of. We hiked over to the upper lake to check the route and decide which way we wanted to go and the scenery here was just incredible and this lake was also completely frozen. We found a nice rock outcropping and decided to assess the conditions on the mountain, because we wanted something a little more technical, so we spied a few different routes leading to the massive apex that towered above us. We decided that we wanted to go straight up the face, because there is a really nice chute that runs right up the North face. It is long and steep and the snow conditions looked perfect, so we put on our crampons, gaiters and harnesses, so that we could rope up. We decided that we would use Craig’s 90 ft rope, because it is really light and would not add all that much weight.
The couloir is very long and precipitous and the views were just incredible! We were in a nice rhythm with Craig taking the lead and setting a fairly brisk pace and the snow was firm and I was surprised at how icy it was in places and I hesitated a little more than usual making sure that my footing was secure. As the Salt Lake Valley came into view to the west, I started thinking about all of the sorry suckers down there stuck in traffic and had I not been here I would be among them, mindlessly making my way into the office. That always puts a smile on my face and today it was no different, as I took a few moments to survey my surroundings and stare in awe at the incredible landscape that is the Wasatch Mountains. As we ascended higher, the views just got better and the chute became REALLY sheer and the Pfeifferhorm came into view. We stopped to take a few pictures and I had to chop out a ledge with my axe in the slope, because it was very steep and I wanted to rest my legs for a few minutes. Near the top the chute became extremely steep and the snow was hard as a rock. It was even solid ice in places and my legs were just burning. The couloir forks with a rock spine in the middle and allows access up her slope by either going left or right to bypass the pile of rocks. From the west side of the Salt Lake valley below you can see this chute and near the top of it where we now were it looks almost vertical. We decided to take the left side, because it would bring us slightly closer to the summit once we crested the ridge. I was getting a little nervous, because my legs were really tired and we were on the most technical portion of the climb. A slip here could have been deadly, because it would have been very difficult to self-arrest a fall. In fact with the snow conditions, I was almost sure that an arrest would not be possible and that made me even more careful with every step.
I really wanted to take a rest, so I chopped out another ledge with my axe on the face, so I could give my legs some relief. We were about 70 feet from the ridge, so I asked Craig to climb up and set up an anchor for me. He reached the top and got into a really solid position and I felt a lot better about the final push, because the slope only got more precipitous and the snow/ice more solid. The last push was as steep as any slope that I have been on and a fall here would most certainly be deadly, so I was really glad we had the rope. Those last 70 feet were exhilarating and the adrenaline was definite flowing.
After we reached the boulders, it was just a short scramble to the summit and the view from the top was absolutely amazing and I was exhausted, so I took a break to drink some Gatorade and have a snack. The views were just fantastic, probably the best I have ever seen in the Wasatch. We decided that we did not want to descend the same route, but we did not want to scramble all the way to the saddle, so we decided we would try and find a chute that was not quite as steep to slide down. We started heading west towards the saddle between the Pfeiff and White Baldy, looking for a better place to descend and eventually we found a chute that was steep, but looked really good, so we decided to start our glissade. Craig went first and I quickly followed right behind him. We were on our butts and using our axes as a break and we quickly picked up speed and after about 150 feet, the slope became extremely sheer and I had to turnover into a self-arresting position to slow myself down. Craig had also stopped and we were both contemplating what to do next and all of the sudden I began to slide down the slope. I was digging the axe in with all of my strength, but I was not stopping, because the slope was extremely vertical and the snow was very icy. Craig was about 30 feet below me and he could see me sliding down out of control and he tried to grab me as I went flying by, but he could not get a hold of me, but as I was attempting to grab him, I lost my ice axe and I started to spin upside down. I had no idea what was below me and I was racing down the slope totally out of control. Several thoughts went through my mind and I was really worried I was either going to fly off a cliff or slam into a rock. Time seemed to stand still during those moments and it was amazing to me how clear I was thinking and my brain was assessing the situation very quickly and making judgments at an alarmingly quick rate. Luckily, I had my axe on a leash, so I was able to regain control of it and I immediately attempted another arrest, even though I was in a totally awkward position. I used all of my strength and I was able to slow myself down just enough that when I slammed into a HUGE rock, it was not serious. I was lying there next to the rock, totally shaken up and trying to catch my breath and Craig slid down in a self-arrest position right behind me. He was yelling, “That was sooo awesome! Did you see what you just did?” I was still in shock and I was just happy to be alive. Craig stopped and yelled out again “That was awesome!” and I said “Dude, I was so lucky, did you see that?” He yelled out again “whooooooooooaaah” and I just started to feel the pain in my hip and leg from the impact. I clearly was not as excited as Craig about the fall and I said “Dude, I am lucky to be alive” and Craig said, “Did you see what you just did? Doesn’t that give you confidence? You totally stopped that fall.” I contemplated it for a minute and said, “No it just scared the shit out of me.” He just smiled and started laughing.
I was lucky that I had not broken any bones and I took a break to check myself out and look at my gear. Craig was still telling me how awesome the whole thing was and I was not so sure. I was kind of still in shock and a little numb, thinking about how serious the fall could have been and it took me a few minutes to gather my thoughts and realize that everything was going to be alright now and from where we were it was just a quick and easy glissade down to the lake. After a few minutes, we found a really easy chute to slide down and in almost no time we were back to the lake. The hike back down to the trailhead was uneventful and I was just happy to be alive to climb another day. It truly was an EPIC day in the Wasatch.