Abe's Armchair


A snowshoe in the southern Sawtooths results in new perspective, exercise, and a wonderful outing.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

We rolled out of town at about 5am. As we headed out on the highway, we could see stars. At the Grandjean turnoff, there was a cloud layer above us but sunshine to the east. Bob hopped out and took a picutre while someone in the car chanted,

"Red sky at morning,
Sailors take warning."


Crossing the highway

After lots of conversation and several short stops, we pulled over and parked at about 8:30. I had scoped out this approach on some other trip through the Stanley valley. Instead of starting at Smiley Creek and trying to figure out how to get through the residences, we parked at the historical marker pullout for Vienna, about 1.5 miles farther south. With a fairly flat approach and snowmo tracks to follow (and even smoothed part way by the groomer), that is Abe's in the background with our route roughly up through the woods to the right of the summit, eventually gaining the NE ridge.

Crossing the highway

It took almost an hour to get to the base of the mountain, but we took a slightly longer route than originally intended. Instead of making a bee-line, we stayed on the snomo tracks to avoid the bottomless sugar snow. There isn't a lot of snow and what snow there is is quite rotten, so at any given point you could shove your ski pole all the way to the ground. By some stroke of luck we turned off the main trail and followed snomo tracks precisely to where an old ski uptrack, half-buried and full of holes (dog? wolf? something with big feet had been walking on it) led us up through the woods on the side of the ridge. But hey- we were moving up.


We climbed and climbed for what seemed an eternity. As long as you stepped on the old track it wasn't bad, but if your foot was even slightly off, your snowshoe would slide sideways and dive into the sugar. Attempting to maintain your balance with your poles was futile, because as mentioned previously they would go right to the ground.

We saw some dirt in tree wells, too. There just isn't a lot of snow. Note the bare hillsides at the base of Horton Peak.

Hard work

As we got onto the upper mountain, the trail ran more onto the ridgetop and we started getting views. Then, looking up, we could see the cornices on the summit ridge. We were getting close!

Uptrack to ridge

The summit ridge from the east is surprisingly mellow. And very scenic. Here Dave works his camera as Bob skins for the top (Michael, Dave, and I were on snowshoes while Bob was on his splitboard hoping for turns).

Summit ridge
Summit. About 12:30 for something close to four hours of hard work. Summit

After some food and a bunch of discussion, us snowshoers decided to go for Vienna Peak (the high point here) while Bob dropped back down the east side of Abe's for turns.

After dropping about 500', we ran into the problem in the foreground. The left side was a sort of blocky cliff that did not look at all practical. I investigated the slope on the right, but right is north, it was about 45°, was at the top of an extended rollover, and the ~8" of loose sugar sat on a hard layer that prevented snowshoe traction.


The avy report:

The avalanche danger is estimated to be MODERATE. Human-triggered avalanches are possible on steep slopes where shallow, recently-formed wind slabs are poorly bonded to the underlying weak snow or lie above weak layers of surface hoar buried one to two feet deep. These conditions are most common near wind-exposed, upper elevation ridgelines, or on steep, open, mid-elevation rollovers.

You can get yourself in trouble today on steep, northerly facing slopes at upper elevations where the top foot or more of the snowpack consists of soft, cohesionless facets. This very weak snow sluffs with little provocation and once moving, gouges deeply into the snow on slopes below, creating large, fast-moving loose snow avalanches that are flowing surprisingly far. The dense snow involved makes these sluffs difficult to escape once you are caught, and the speed and distance they are running makes it very unlikely you will escape without injury. They are not likely to start on their own, nor are they likely to start above you, so they are easily avoided by staying off slopes steeper than 35 degrees.

Time to head home.

Going down the ridge had been fun, if a little drifted and deep at times. Going back up made me feel like I had a cinder block strapped to each foot. It was with relief that we finally saw the narrow top ahead.

We paused briefly for another staring session, re-naming all the peaks we had discussed on our first time on the summit. Then we were off, slipping and sliding our way back down the track.

About 15 minutes back over the east side, we ran into Bob on his way back up for another run. He was happy with the snow so wanted to look for more cover, so we agreed to pick him up at Smiley Creek at 4:30 after we headed east to retrieve the car.

Dave returning to summit

We plunged our way back down the slippery track, trying not to submarine off the side too often. Even being careful, we each did a face plant or two. Adding to our pleasure the encroaching clouds turned into a squall.

It was a relief to finally get onto flat ground and the broad track of the snomo groomer. And then the sun came out, leading to our 153rd clothing change for the day. As we plodded along, I would have sworn we were going the wrong way except that no one had been up the valley, so you could still see our tracks on the groomer treads from this morning.

Peak 9367

When we got out onto the flats near the car, the shadows were getting long. We got to the car right at 4, changed and packed, and met Bob within two or three minutes of exactly as planned. He was a happy boy and after the long march out to Smiley Creek, seemed glad to see us.

At Michael's insistence (he had been talking about it all morning) we drove back through Sun Valley and stopped to reward ourselves with burritos at KBs. Four tired guys, burritos, and a car with the windows rolled up may seem hazardous, but that's how we roll.

SuperDave's trip report


Mr. Natural Home | 2010 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski