The goal was to ski a little known chute known as Lake Chute. Tucked away below the summit of Thunder Mountain, in the Cirque that contains both White Baldy and Red Baldy, is a wide chute. So steep at some points, you wish you brought your ice axe. But of course, not everything works out according to plan.
A group of 5 of us, Pete, Kyle, Mike, Brett, and myself, all met up at the White Pine Trailhead to go over our plan for the day. Once the route and backup ski plans were set, we performed our safety checks, and then headed up the trail.
The plan was to leave the trailhead and then head up White Pine Fork. As we gained elevation and got out of the trees, we planned to reassess the game-plan. See it was pretty warm out, and even though the sun was tucked behind clouds for most of the day, we could start seeing the effects of sunbaked south-facing slopes above us. By that I mean, the faces were getting shiny from melting due to the strong Utah sun.
After communicating our observations with the crew, we decided to press on with our objective, Lake Chute, in hopes that it was sheltered from the sun and was still skiable. As we approached Thunder Mountain (Lake Peak), we could see tracks all over the North East face, near Boulder Basin. From our position, we could not see Lake Chute yet, so we still had hopes.
After cruising around the rocky, east shoulder of the peak, just above white pine lake, we finally caught a glimpse of Lake Chute. First thoughts…. steep! Second thoughts, damn that boot pack is steep!
The 5 of us reached the traversing skin track and transitioned to the boot pack. Right away I was on edge, quite literally. If you stepped out of the bootpack or off the skin track, you sank up to your waist. This was a pretty unsettling feeling to start, but as I started to climb, well it didn’t feel any better.
I’ll be honest, I did not feel comfortable bootpacking up such a steep slope without an ice axe or my whippet (which was in my pack). I constantly feared I’d loose my balance and tip backwards downhill. Luckily I did bring my climbing helmet which helped calm some nerves since most backcountry outings I don’t wear my ski helmet going uphill (I know, it’s a bad habit). But step by step, I made my way up the boot pack, and it was beyond tough. I felt like I could only get a few steps in at a time before I was out of breath. I guess hanging out above 10K feet of elevation will do that to you.
After a grueling stretch, we finally gained the ridge! The entire Wasatch felt like it was at our finger tips. That was also the point at which I found out we weren’t skiing Lake Chute after all, which was kind of a bummer. But the views of Pfeifferhorn and Hypodermic Needle were still worth it.
From there, the plan was to descend off the peak, down the eastern face of the mountain we saw on our approach in hopes that it was sheltered from the sun. The first turns off the summit were spicy looking, with a huge no fall zone below. Rather than risk it, in some sun crusted, variable snow, I decided to take the down climbing route around. After scrambling down a few sets of boulders, I met up with the squad after the entry onto the face. And there only began some of the worsts turns we had all year. Heavy, sun crusted snow that constantly kept us guessing if we should lean back or lean forward into our skis. It was tough.
Luckily we made it out unscathed, and lived to ski another day. We descended from there, all the way down the drainage. To be honest, the best part of the day was ripping through the trees, constantly bouncing in and around each other as fast as our skis would take us. Of course, this also led to us missing our turn and ending up too low in the drainage to make it back to the trailhead. Eventually we popped out about a mile below on the road and had to walk back up.
All in all, an absolute adventure, and wouldn’t trade it for the world. 7 miles, 3,700 vertical feet, in just over 4.5hrs. What a day!
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.