Best Day Ever: Lone Peak’s NE Couloir

Caroline Gleich’s Chuting Gallery redemption

Caroline Gleich, tasting the Wasatch spices. At the bottom of this line is a 100-foot cliff. PHOTO: Adam O'Keefe

You’ve probably seen Caroline Gleich’s face on a billboard at the foot of Little Cottonwood Canyon or in an ad for Snowbird. She’s literally the poster girl for Utah skiing. But she does more than smile and make pow turns. This spring, she finished a classic Utah ski mountaineering project: ticking off all 12 of the three-star lines in Andrew McLean’s classic guide to Utah’s couloirs, “The Chuting Gallery.” This is her best day of the year.—H.H.

BELOW: As told to Heather Hansman by Caroline Gleich

I had thought about skiing Lone Peak for months because I’d had a failed attempt at it earlier in the season. It became the line of my dreams. It’s so beautiful; it’s like an Alaska style face in Utah. I’ve always wanted to go heli-skiing in Alaska, but that hasn’t happened for me yet, so I thought, “this is my chance to rip an AK-style line.” Visible from downtown, it’s one of the most obvious peaks in the Salt Lake valley and one of the three-star lines in Andrew McLean’s book “The Chuting Gallery.”

At the end of March I made it my goal to ski all of the three-star lines in the book. There are 12 of them and I’d already done half of them so I decided to knock them all off, because the conditions were good.

So, I needed to find someone to do Lone Peak with me, and I couldn’t convince anyone, because it’s a really long, hard approach. I found this guy Adam O’Keefe—on Facebook, I think. He has a blog, and I’d heard of him before. I didn’t actually know what he looked like, and we met in the parking lot at 2 a.m., so I couldn’t even see his face for a while, but I was so excited that someone wanted to do it with me.

Nice day for a stroll in the woods. PHOTO: Adam O'Keefe

We started hiking really early because I wanted to give myself a lot of time. Adam had done it three or four times, and I’d had that failed attempt before so we knew the approach pretty well. There was supposed to be a meteor shower, but I didn’t see a single one.

It’s probably eight or nine miles to the base, which is really far from any help, and then 1,500 vertical feet from there. Total elevation gain on the hike was 6,000 vertical feet. We didn’t know each other before, but you have a lot to talk about on an approach like that. We hiked in tennis shoes on dirt for a while, and then we ditched our sneakers and skinned for a while, then transitioned to boot packing with crampons and ice axes.

Go-go gadget Lil' C. PHOTO: Adam O'Keefe

It was a pretty spicy line. It’s tricky because it’s east facing, so it gets blasted with morning sun and it’s covered with rocks, so it sheds snow. It’s a 45- to 55-degree slope above a 100-foot cliff, so there’s a lot of exposure. I was a slightly worried about the skiing because it had just snowed and it was so cold up there, but the snow ended up being pretty good. It was chalky but firm, which is ideal for that type of skiing. You don’t really want pow. I mean, I always want pow, but for that kind of skiing you want something more stable, more predicable. It was a little grabby and breakable, so you couldn’t totally open it up, but you could turn.

When I reached the cliff, I headed skier’s right to navigate the 15-minute sketchy traverse that runs above a cliff band averaging about 20 feet. I wanted to jump the cliff at one point, but the snow in the run out wasn’t good enough. This was a really low snow year in Utah and I would’ve cheese grater’d myself on rocks if I fell.

Even after the no-fall-zone descent, Caroline still nails the one-turn-wonder shot. PHOTO: Adam O'Keefe

The snow conditions have dictated the kind of skiing I’ve done this year. I’ve always wanted to do projects like that, especially the “Chuting Gallery” lines, but usually we have so much snow and you can’t do those lines when it’s pow. This year has been kind of special, even though it was a low snow year, it’s been stable and there’s been good corn cycle.

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