Towering Expectations

The radar towers that sit atop Francis Peak near my home in Farmington, Utah have haunted me for years. I have eyeballed the chutes for years. I started scouting the terrain in my backyard canyon, Bair Creek Canyon, a few years ago. I had done a lot of homework, but still had unanswered questions. The road up Farmington Canyon had finally opened up to vehicle traffic, and I had done some on-snow scouting a few days prior in a separate zone on the area. The time was ripe, and I was ready...

^I rallied together some trusted touring partners for the exploration. As usual my longtime friend, Ben Geiger, was in for the tour. Ben and I go way back and have braved a lot of gnarliness together in the big mountains.

^Paul Wright is a friend and backcountry mentor of both Ben and mine's so when he said he wanted to go I was stoked. Paul grew up in the area and had an intimate knowledge of it. A good crew, a good day, what more could I ask for.

^Ben is pictured here peeking into a sweet east-side bowl from the ridge. We decided to have a run down an east face in the morning for some corn skiing before heading over to the west facing chutes in the afternoon. We were chasing the corn, which is an aspect dependent game of timing. Play the right aspects at the right time and you are rewarded with stable velvety corn skiing. 

^Up, up, and away.

^Paul ascends in this picture with the radar towers lurking in the background. Although I was eager to slay the Francis Peak chutes I was equally as fired up about exploring the eastern side of the ridge as well. Honestly, there is more big terrain on the east faces then there is on the west faces of the main ridge. The peaks and bowls of the eastern slope are money in the bank. I had been drooling over the chutes off Francis for years, but the real gold lies in the eastern slope zones.

^Paul is smashing some east facing velvety corn. We hit it just right. The slopes on the east face were setting up ripe. The morning sun had done some work on them and turned the frozen hard-pack into a blanket of smooth corn.

^Paul was stoked. We hooted, hollered, threw up a few high fives, and then geared up to skin back to the main ridge. Skinning out took us a little over an hour, which put us back on the ridge and heading towards Francis Peak right on time.

^Skinning back to the main ridge gave us a good view of this particular sweet bowl that we peeked into off the ridge. Looking good. I am excited to get back out here again next winter to cash in this bad boy. There are options in this bowl alone that made the hair on my neck stand up just looking at them.

^A rare meeting of the natural and the mechanical at 9,600 feet above sea level.

^The scene feels like something out of a cold war era James Bond movie. Desolate and erie buildings make up the foundation holding up the large radar orbs. The building is loaded with warnings and surveillance cameras that made our minds run with imagination of some guys in a dark office at Hill Airforce Base watching us on the security screens. We conjured conversations and scenarios involving 
Apache helicopters invading our ski tour, but never the less no one came to take us out. We ate our lunch on our very own multi-million dollar radar patio and patiently waited for the afternoon sun to do it's work on the chutes just below our industrial lunch spot.

^The view from the perch on the radar deck is unmatched.

^Drying out skins up against enough technology to run airline traffic for Salt Lake City International Airport seems a bit ironic to me, but what can I say, there is a sweet peak holding up all this infrastructure. I aimed to ski it.

^The sun and temperatures did their work on the snow, and we were primed to get into the chutes. Ben took his place to spot Paul into the first line. We opted to practice a top to bottom strategy to skiing the lines with good line of sight on the skier for the entire descent.  

^As a Delta Airlines jet screamed over our heads Paul dropped into the chutes giving the passengers something different to look at out of the airplane windows. "Ladies and gentleman this is your pilot speaking, if you look out the left-side windows you will see a man ripping the hell out of the Francis Peak chutes just below the radar towers. Drink up that shredding and your inflight beverages and we will be in Chicago O'Hare International Airport in no time."

^I took the second line in, and then Ben finished it up. In the photo above, Ben is about half way through the chute on the looker's left side coming down from the black tower. He is just a small black dot in the middle of the chute, but that gives you some perspective of just how big the chutes are.

^We took the chutes, apron, and gully runout for about 1,700 vertical feet and were all smiles at the end. We gathered up to exchange a few more high fives and hollers. Now came the question mark part of the exploration. I knew the canyon well from summer scouts, but there was one big question about the exit that I could not answer without just getting in it. We decided to take the gamble with the rationalization that the worst case scenario would be creeking all the way out. We basically just walk through the rushing creek bed to avoid the more difficult bush whacking on the banks. I call it "creeking". It sucks, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. 

^Paul is ready for creeking.

^I am stoked for it. It is exploration at it's finest.

^One step, one rock, one branch clearance at a time and we slowly made our way down the springtime runoff. The travel was slow and arduous, but we were still all smiles. In the wilderness with good friends and some great skiing, you can't beat it. The cold creek was relatively easy going compared to some other bush whacks I had encountered in the past and we made decent time. 

^We made it to the summer trail with a little more then an hour of creeking under our belts. I am pretty sure I blew the minds of an unsuspecting father and daughter duo who were hiking the summer trail. Just as they turned a corner of the trail they were encountered by a sweating bearded man crashing through the uncut brush and spilling out onto the trail. I was a drenched bush whacking mess of gear and heavy breathing when I crashed through the scrub oak right in front of them. I proclaimed, "Oh, hi. Bet you didn't expect to see me here?" as I busted out of the shrubs. The father was a nice guy and had all kinds of questions for me while his daughter just starred at me like she was seeing something straight out of the National Geographic Channel. I think I gave them a good story to tell mom when they got home.

^I had to take this photo of Paul trekking up the last small hill out of the creek bed in Bair Creek Canyon. I hike this little stretch with my dog all the time and it was cool to me to be coming through here with ski gear and my ski buddies. I had scouted a long time to get the lay of the land to be able to pull off this mission, which included many treks on this stretch of trail over the last few summers to figure it out.

^We were by no means the first to ski Francis Peak, but I had scouted, studied, and saddled up to this zone all on my own with very little help from others on how to accomplish the mission. My buddies came with me to tackle it, but I had done all the homework on my own. It was a very satisfying feeling to finally put it all together. I will need a snowmobile to spend a lot more time in these zones. However, now that I have gotten this much further in exploring the terrain I might have a better chance at rationalizing the purchase to myself and my wife. I have avoided the expense thus far and was honestly even a bit apprehensive about getting into this zone because I feared that it would force my hand into the lofty mechanical purchase. However, now that I have tasted the fruit from my backyard I may have a hard time not investing in the means to feast on the ripeness on a regular basis. We'll see.

^Back at home tired and happy, and my wife, Christine, and dog, Murphy, were proud. Murphy especially because she helped me scout the zone all those times from the summer trails. Her and I did a lot of hiking to get ready for this mission and I like to think she was stoked that I finally cashed in on it all. Christine maybe not quite as happy as Murphy because she knew my enthusiasm might just lead to a large snowmobile purchase. With all of my traveling and worldly adventures each winter I often overlook all of the great explorations and riding right here in my very own backyard, not anymore. Braap, braap, braap!