The Back-up Plan

Hannibal from the “A-Team” said it best: “I love it when a plan comes together!” Yet unbeknownst to the viewer, he had multiple back-up plans; thus leaving room for both success and failure. Today we did not have a back-up plan. We only had a plan, and it did not come together.

Plan A: Snowmobile to Baxter Basin, skin up, enjoy great spring snow all the way back down to the sleds.

Plan B: Aw shoot, better think of something quick!

When we approached the creek at the entrance to the basin there was not a safe crossing in site. Eh…”safe” is pushing it, as we were pumped and feeling gutsy. Correction: There wasn’t a feasible crossing anywhere in site. We decided instead to keep heading up-valley and keep our eyes peeled for worthy terrain. Plan A was out, and Plan B was in the works. When we reached Paradise Basin we determined we’d come to the end of the road. The rest of our path ahead would have put us in a steep terrain-trap with high walls on either side. It was almost 9 am and the snow was softening every second, so we didn’t have much time to waste. Temperatures did not drop very low last night, so we didn’t see the early-morning freeze we had anticipated. Things would be soft and forgiving, and we’d have to be cautious.

The new plan was to “Take it easy.” A more mellow slope could still be lots of fun. The sleds were left in the basin as the team began setting a track up the side of Mt. Baldy, working our way alongside a large, open bowl that seemed to be stashing some good snow. Knowing there was only a small window of time between “too hard” and “too soft”, an effort had to be made to get up the mountain relatively fast. Still, at about the halfway point Kyle and I heard a familiar rumbling in the not-so-distant distance. There’s a distinct difference between the sound of a jet engine echoing through the mountains and that of an avalanche. Something massive was sliding on the Southern side of the pass, and from our location it sounded as if the whole mountainside went with it.

For a good while the surface snow was cold and solid, simplifying the trek uphill for us. But after less than an hour of skinning the snow under us began to collapse. When you begin hearing “whoomf” under-foot and the surface pack becomes noticeably heavier than its preceding layers, take it as a sign of instability. Josh led us to a safe-zone next to some trees off to the side of the bowl, where we assembled our splitboards and re-fueled on water and carbs. Within ten minutes turns were being had. The guys pointed out their intended lines so I could create their photographs, and I dropped in first. The snow was awesome! I made some killer turns, then stopped to snag pictures of Kyle and Josh. They slew their turns and I did my best to get a few shots, but the pitch was short and we were being extra-cautious, so only a handful of photos turned out worthy of publication. But that’s quite alright. What really matters is that we got to snowboard and fun was had by all, as well as a safe homecoming.

I wish I could have taken shots during the commute from the trailhead. It was amusing, to say the least. Close to a half-mile of the 5-mile ride was spent avoiding rocks on a dirt road (snow melts fast at 55 degrees), and I got my sled stuck twice and required assistance both times. The group did some seriously technical snowmobiling, and back in the car on the drive home I found myself adjusting my weight from side to side as I took corners with speed. Muscle memory at it’s finest, I guess.

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