14er Ski Descents – Wetterhorn Peak – May 18, 2005
Route: East Face
Team: Ted, Sean Shean
Coming off Longs we felt like we had some momentum. Feeling strong, the weather was clear and sunny and the spring melt/freeze cycle was in full swing which would mean the East Face of Wetterhorn Peak could be a great call.
The road to the trailhead was dry and we camped at the truck. The next morning we were up early, or so it seemed, and skinning soon after. Just like the day before, it was hot out, even for May. We were in short sleeves almost from the car. The ski line on Wetterhorn is due east so at first light the snow sees the sun— that makes it a great spring ski when timed right, which in this case is pretty early. In retrospect, arriving at the base of the 1000 foot high east face around 8:30 could only be considered late. We acknowledged the late hour by picking up our pace. As we approached the top of the East Face, moving near any heat collecting rock outcropping would result in a fall into waist deep holes of overheated rotten spring snow.
By the time we left our skis and climbed the rocky finish to the summit and back, it was so late and so warm I’m ashamed to say what time my watch read. After openly discussing the high likelihood, if not certainty of a wet slide, we still decided not to choose a different way down, but to outsmart it and make some ski cuts. We thought we could intentionally trigger a wet avalanche from above, which would leave us with more solid snow of the bed surface to ski down. Sometimes that actually works.
Two turns into executing our Darwinian strategy the slope broke, and Sean went for a ride. I watched in disbelief as he rode on top of the snow like some water park ride. Part way down the face his skis were ejected and he did a cartwheel, eventually coming to a stop at the bottom of the face. I then skied the bed surface, noticing a one foot crown connecting rock outcroppings like a connect-the-dots. I picked up a lost ski pole and quickly arrived to a shaken up, although physically OK Sean. We skied the easy terrain back to the truck.
On the way out, the conversation at times sounded like a post traumatic stress debrief, we both knew it might not sink in for a while. Sean insisted he was just fine though, he wanted to get right back on the horse, so we headed to Creede, to try for San Luis Peak tomorrow.
We got lucky. Several different more dramatic scenarios could have unfolded, most of them worse than what happened. The fact that we knew it would slide yet we still dropped in is a decision that I’m not too proud of but that’s part of the learning process. I honestly thought we could just ski cut it. I think it’s better to talk about it than not.
On the lighter side, one question remains. Does Sean count this as a ski descent?