Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shangri La Ski Mountaineering

Last weekend my friend and client Carlos and I spent three days ski mountaineering in the Shangri La valley of the Sawtooths. I have been trying to put this trip together now for several years, and Carlos has been committed since day one. For one reason or another, the trips have always fallen through, and this year was almost the same. But after overcoming a few hurdles, Carlos and I found ourselves snowmobiling across Redfish Lake at first light.

Conditions were firm and we saw no instabilities on the ice. In fact the snowmobile overheated due to the lack of loose snow lubricating the track and cooling the engine.

The skin up Redfish Canyon to the turn off to the Elelphant's Perch went fast in the firm conditions and old tracks left by friends weeks before. Soon as we left the old skin track and began touring through the trees up the shady aspect the snow quickly turned to a breakable temperature crust and I began to wonder if the previous warming had foiled our plans to ski cold snow.

Once up in the Shangri La basin, it was apparent that mid to upper elevation conditions were going to be dry and chalky on shady aspects. We found a bit of wind effect, but the sastrugi skied great and windslabs were obvious. After establishing a basecamp we set work picking out and assessing some of the couloirs in the area.
On day two we toured across the lakes and picked out this beautiful line by process of elimination... it was the only one that went all the way that was not rimmed with enormous cornices ready to squash us flat. A 600' skin up the apron brought us to the rock walls and another 600' of booting brought us to the rocky summit.

Camp Life.

On our last day we skied the couloir that's formed between the Goat's Perch and the Eagle's Perch. I've looked at this line for years and in fact you can see it on the banner to this blog. Again we found boot top stale powder in the bowl below the couloir and slightly firmer snow due to the constant sloughing in the couloir itself. We booted until the snow ran out about 15' below the ridge. Above us lay steep rock and the remnants of a cornice I wanted nothing to do with. The couloir averaged about 48*-50* and steepened to 55* for the top third. It was basically a ski width wide at the top, gradually widening and then pinching off again to another ski width near the bottom. Carlos dropped in and skied the first pitch, making it look easy.
Here's Carlos laying some fine tracks below the couloir.

I have a feeling we'll be back... there were just too many lines to ski and not enough time in this special place. Thanks Carlos for making it happen!

Look for more pics and video to come...


  1. Nice Job! Seems like youcould spend a week up there and not get board.

  2. Thanks you guys. Yea, you could definitely spend a week there and not get bored! I've got some ideas for next year!

  3. You guys are dope! Thanks for the motivation. When I get skills I'll have to come over.

  4. Wow again! Makes me want to move a little closer to the STV. you guys are knocking down some big stuff over there. Great photos!

  5. Great photos, nicely done. Looks like a great trip, sorry to miss it.

  6. James- we missed you for sure! I'll send you some more pics. Get well and keep healing!!!
    Wes- Come on over anytime! Although it seems like you might be the one Idaho skier to be accessing the Big Lost, White Knobs and eastern Pios regularly. Keep it up!
    Matt- anytime... you know that!