Sunday, January 10, 2010

Early January Ski Touring Conditions at Mores Creek Summit

The snow conditions at Mores Creek Summit are very favorable for touring and skiing. Depending on the elevation the "ski" snowdepth varies from mid boot to boot high. The snow at NW, N, and NE aspects is soft but creamy in texture, and yesterday it skied very nicely. The snow consistency allowed "bouncy" short turns. The day started with a very light drizzle, that transition into very light snow precipitation for most of the morning, not totaling more than 1-2 centimeters.Winds were calm during the whole day.

You can still find plenty of brush below the 6500 feet elevation, but it is manageable with some extra attention. As the early winter snowpack commences to consolidate trail breaking is becoming easier, and longer tours will be more attractive.

We saw few parties skiing at Freeman and Pilot, but they hardly made a dent on the available skiing. There are plenty of slopes covered with last week snow re-fresh, and waiting to be tilled!

During Saturday, temperatures rose to the the freezing level by mid-afternoon, but the cloud cover and cold snow (from the previous clear and cold nights) remained unaffected, and skiing/riding conditions did not change at all. We noticed significant pockets of surface hoar (SH) and "near surface faceting" (NSF) on the N and NW aspects we toured. But it remains to be seen if the warmer temps and moderate winds forecasted for the first part of this week might destroy the new SH layer.

The snowpack assessment continues to suggest that conservative decision making must be exercised at slopes steeper than 35 degrees. Such slopes exists in the Mores Creek Summit. Not surprisingly, the basal layer and buried SH layer continue to be a concern. During yesterday tour we did not triggered any "Whumpf". A good sign since last Sunday we had a festival of whumpfs.

Testing of the basal layer continues to show propagation potential and moderate CT scores with sudden collapses. Meanwhile, compression test results for the buried SH were troubling with clean shears (Q1) at slope angles ranging from 28 to 40 degrees. A Rutchblock test scoring 4 and Q1 shear quality failed to build our confidence to ski steep slopes, thus we managed our travel and skiing to terrain below 32 degrees. Yesterday snowpack assessment was confined to N and NW aspects and elevations in the 6-7200 feet.

These complex snowpack is unusual for Mores Creek Summit area, and "deep instability" is very concerning due to its unpredictability nature. And we are left with the MOST important technique to manage avalanche danger: SLOPE STEEPNESS! This is a good year to practice and develop slope angle estimation. Most inclinometers market for Backcountry skiers are hard to use to estimate slope wise angles. Please consider making the investment (yes it is an investment - is your life!) and acquire a "sigh-through" clinometer such as Brunton or Suunto. Below an image of a Brunton clinometer. Search the web for good deals - keywords: climometer, brunton.

Early this week I spent time touring the Red Mountain/Norway complex in the southern region of the Wallowa Mountains. It was disconcerting to find the same "regional" deep instabilities found in the Payette, Boise and Sun Valley areas. And as the snowpack builds the buried surface hoar (SH) needs to remain in our mind. At Mores Creek Summit the SH is buried 40-60 cm below the surface. And a snowpack failure will results in a significant avalanche. We need to remember that we are at the mercy of the WIDE spatial variability of the surface hoar distribution before it was buried by the December 28th light snow and subsequent "New Year" higher density snow. Slope angles is the most effective tool to deal with this instability.

Mores Creek Summit is such an amazing gift for all of us. Even on a day like yesterday, with occluded skies for most of the day, there is so much beauty in the forest! And it is so fulfilling to the spirit to pause and observe your party having such a good time within the quiet and serenity of the forest. And it is this simple reality, that drive many of us to extend a hand to those that want to experience Mores Creek Summit wonders. This is the reason this blog exist!