Shady Lady Couloir
Chris worked from home and took some calls with folks from the Access Fund or something while I cooked potatoes and eggs and toasted sourdough with butter. We talked about Trump and all the stupid shit he'd said at his first solo press conference and wondered together about how fucking long this charade would last. We talked about how that's why the mountains were so nice, they don't put up with bullshit. You can't pull some Trump Administration act in the mountains because you just die. You just die, and its not murder. They demand honesty. And so we decided at some point to go be in the mountains and maybe get scared and ski Shady Lady Couloir.
Shady Lady is a couloir that cuts miraculously through the cliffy North aspect of Cardiac Ridge. It is an identical aspect to Horseshoe Couloir, but just at a slightly lower elevation. While Horseshoe runs from 10,000ft to 9,400ft, Shady Lady runs from 9,400ft to 8,600ft. This left the bottom of the shot likely more susceptible to the rain event from the week prior.
After skiing Targhee Woods and skinning up Cardiac Ridge we traversed to the North end and found what we were looking for. The entire skier's-left side of the entrance was guarded by a massive cornice, below which was a huge section of fat wind slab. It didn't look inviting. We both dug some hand shears with differing results. Above the cornice I found a little slab about 5cm down and lower down Chris found one at about 20cm that popped pretty easily, which was expected given the highest wind loading is usually 10-30ft below the cornice. But, all said, this entrance just below the cornice did not look particularly inviting. In all likelihood, given the warm temperatures over the past few days and the recent refreeze the wind slab, which is a storm instability, would likely have held us.
After discussing momentarily, Chris noted that there was another entrance on the skier's-right of the couloir another 100ft down where it seemed another party had skied in. We slid down and found a shallow, lightly loaded entrance that put us 100ft+ below the cornice.
I slid in first. Once in the couloir I notice still a small wind slab, but one that was much less consolidated and with some nice and consistent snow below. A quick hand shear revealed nothing further of concern within the top 40cm. The top little slab was likely due to cross-loading coming ripping over the skier's left wall of the couloir. Chris came in. We both agreed we felt good about the snow, and that the primary concern - given that there is a big cliff at the exit of the shot, something which we didn't really know how big was this year - was sluff management. Chris mentioned that last season he'd been double ejected by a sluff slide up in Alaska in a spot that was pretty low consequence, but I could tell it was on his mind.
What's funky about Shady Lady is that the top section is relatively low angle before the couloir takes a quick turn to the right before becoming doubly as steep and very very tight. Just above the turn is a safe zone on the right that I skied to and waited for Chris. We regrouped and slid together down to the pinch/rollover so that while I skied it Chris could see me. When I hit the roll over I send a little slab off that rolled uncontrollably through the rest of the shot.
I skied the rest of it and near the end hit a bulletproof rain crust that shocked the system. It was a fun section, even given marginal conditions. Chris came flying down after.
Overall I felt very good about how the snowpack had settled over the past week. The high elevation north facing slopes had been warm but not sun affected, and hadn't seen above-freezing temperatures for over 48 hours. The surface wind slab was the biggest concern and our route choice intentionally avoided the section of slope that was most loaded.
Over the past 24 at the summit of Rendezvous we'd had high temps right around freezing with a nightly low of 15F. The wind had been of note with average wind speeds of 20mph and a max of 51mph, but ultimately there was very little snow for transport since we'd gotten nothing for a number of days. At the top of the couloir the ski penetration was literally zero, which is an indicator of how much snow is available for transport under moderate wind conditions.
North facing, mid-to-high elevation, shaded nearly always. It felt good. Shady Lady itself was also well within both Chris and my skill sets.
- Human Factor
The one here was a small time crunch, which happens when you park in 1 Hour Parking...also, Chris was supposed to be working. This was kind of a lunch break line. I felt a bit rushed for sure.
- Avalanche - None on remotely similar aspects in the past 48 hours.
Loading - Yes! But minimal, except at the very top, which we bypassed.
Path - Yes! We were skiing a couloir that gets as tight as 15ft wide.
Terrain Trap - Yes! The slide path exiting Shady Lady is a series of cliffs.
Rating - No, it was "Low" at our elevation.
Unstable snow - No cracking, whumphing, collapsing.
Thaw instability - Not in the Lady.
- Familiarity - Neither of us had skied the Lady before.
Acceptance - Perhaps we were in it for the Instagram, but I don't think so.
Commitment - Not super affective...its such a short tour to Shady.
Expert Halo - Chris had just finished his Avi 2 and I'd just gotten off a NOLS Winter Seminar...I don't think any hierarchical thinking was at play today.
Tracks - It had already been skied, so no.
Social Proof - Perhaps affecting us, but no decision-making made mention of the previous tracks.