April 14, 2007 - North Side Couloir
During the summer, Flattop Mountain holds little allure for me, but come the arrival of spring snow or winter, it has much to offer. During a previous ski tour along Mill Creek's valley, we spotted a wide couloir that lead upward to the prominent rock piles that lie a few hundred vertical feet above the Flattop's tree line. We skinned a few hundred feet up this wide slope late last winter and knew that we would return to this slope, this time from the top.
We arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot at about 7 a.m. and though it was warm, it was also a tad bit windy. We had taken a shot at this slope two weeks before but the wind at tree line was moving along at a cool 80 mph or so. We turned around. Two weeks passed and we were back again to take another shot. We geared up, pulled the skins apart and were soon on our way up a trail that is becomming all too familiar. The still still had a deep covering of snow and better yet . . . there was a group ahead of us, breaking trail. That scenario lasted about one mile, when we passed the lead and had to start breaking trail, though I'll confess that another group had beat a path a few days before, sufficient for us to follow their course. And a nice course it was for whoever had made for the top of the peak a few days before knew the perfect route to tree line.
We broke tree line and made our way across a mix of rock and snow, stepping from snow patch to snow patch and adding miles of wear to our skis with each crossing of a gnarly patch of granite. We crossed the worst of the granite and then were able to regulalry connect snow patches until we broke out onto continuous snow. However, with the continuous snow came the wind that we had seen blowing snow from the adjacent ridgelines. It was not that cold, but it was moving along at a good 50 to 60 miles per hour. Why summit under such conditions?
We cut north to the large rock piles and looked over the edge and down the broad sloping couloir leading to the Mill Creek drainage below. After taking a bite and drink, we tightened the boots and stepped onto the top of the slope. G led off and I followed. The slope was a mix of powder and hard pack with a bit of powder on top. The avalanche conditions were acceptable so we both made good turns mostly where we wanted to go. I managed to take a digger or two and even managed to rotate one fall back to standing after a nice 40 foot back slide. However, all too quickly we bottomed out and hit the trail back toward the Bear Lake parking lot.