Gear Mishaps on Bullion Peak

Words by: Kat Parks

Photos by: Cayman Waughtel and Kat Parks

This week has felt like a full transition to Spring weather for even when it’s been rainy, the temps have been warm and the sun is sitting higher and higher in the sky. We’ve toured a number of times in the Crystal Backcountry this season and each time we did, I told Cayman that I’d like to get up to Bullion Peak before the season’s end. The weather was slated to be warm up high so we made for an early start to beat the heat and potential for wet loose problems. In the days leading up to our tour, I spent time looking at the slope angles on Caltopo and I had a beautiful moment of satisfaction looking at the aspects with 35-45° shading and feeling confident in my ability to navigate my way down regardless of the snow conditions. 

Our skin in was uneventful as we’ve skinned the first couple miles of this particular approach many times this season. As we started up to the base of Bullion Peak, we stopped before the steepest part of the approach and put on our ski crampons for yet another time this season. Making a few kick-turns through the shaded, icy snow, we popped out on the sunny side of the ridge to skin the rest of the way up through already wet snow. The surrounding aspects and ridges that were sun baked had started shedding snow but our pitch off of Bullion was solid ice. The choice at the top was to either wait it out and let the snow soften but maybe only get one run in or go for the icy turns and get back up for another lap. Two laps are always better than one so we opted for the second choice.

Cayman dropped in first and all I could hear before he stopped was the scraping that metal edges make across icy slopes. There was no going back so I trepidatiously dropped in and surveyed the spot for my potential next turn. My skis scraped loudly across smooth ice that was peppered with unmoving ice chunks. As I picked my way down, I finally got to a smoother section and was able to put in some fun turns. 

As Cayman and I transitioned to head back up, I heard him exclaim, “Fuck!” as he was trying to click into his toe pieces. At some point between the top and the bottom, one of his toe piece pins popped out and looking for it seemed impossible. We wanted another run so we turned on our radios to stay in contact with one another as he a-framed his board and booted his way up and I used our skin track.

Our second run wasn’t much softer than the previous but I used Cayman’s beta of staying further skiers right and although the turns were still icy, they were much smoother and I could link them all the way down. It also became ever more apparent to me that the next skill I need to master are jump turns. This type of terrain was no place to practice them but I did baby jump turns on my way down because the terrain required them. 

At the bottom, we started making our way out through surfy snow, which is where gear mishap number 2 happened. My left ski caught an icy edge from someone’s run the previous day, ejected of my foot, and down I went. When I looked down around my foot, my ski was no longer attached to me (I run leashes) and as I pivoted around, I saw my ski zoom past me and disappear into some trees. I radioed Cayman to stop and told him that I lost a ski to which he replied, nonchalantly, “Ok, well should I wait here or come up?” I clarified, “No, like I lost my ski. My ski is gone.” “OH, ok. I can head up.”

I one-skied my way to my other ski’s track and found that it had (thankfully) lodged itself in a tree hole. The eyelet from my boot had ripped off and my leash was dangling from my toe piece like nothing had happened. I clicked back in and we finished our descent back to Upper C just as the warm sun was heating up the winter’s worth of stale parking lot fluids. The smell was pungent and we packed up our gear as quickly as we could to make our way home. 

A new tradition for us is stopping at Wapiti in Green Water and treating ourselves to something yummy. As some know, my favorite food is ice cream and I couldn’t resist a scoop of Huckleberry in a waffle cone. 

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