For many years, I have wanted to complete a trilogy of first ascents and descents in the South Fork Valley of Wyoming and that dream finally came true. I have done numerous first ascent ice climbs and two first descents in my kayak, but a first descent on a pair of skis seemed far fetched to say the least. The South Fork is well known as a high desert oasis of sage brush and cactus but that just happens to host some of the best ice climbing in the world.
The valley has seen an unimaginable amount of snow this season which has provided one of the best ice climbing seasons in 15 years. It has also made ice climbing a bit more dangerous and the approaches more difficult. Temps had been perfect in the valley for some climbs I had my eye on, so I went for a drive Friday evening. While I spotted some amazing looking climbs, after numerous calls to my ice climbing buddies, I couldn’t rally anyone for a mission. I also couldn’t stop thinking about this big slice of snow that I had spotted striking through one of the big walls in the valley. I knew some of my kayak buddies were planning to paddle but most of them also ski, so I decided to shoot them a pic of the couloir and just said simply, “Ski in the morning and kayak in the afternoon. It’s a win-win and a short approach.”
Since it was early in the season for my kayak buddies, it had been months since they had been on a Mulkey mission. The memories of suffering during the summer were long forgotten and I was able to talk them into the mission pretty easily. Despite their grumbling about there being no snow on the South Fork, I had them loaded in the truck. I was even able to talk local skier, Justin Hawkins, into coming though he had never heard of anyone skiing in the South Fork.
I am often amazed by what I am able to talk people into doing, given how bad my idea often sounds at first. Thankfully, some people are just willing to sign up for an adventure and their curiosity gets the best of them. I went from worrying about finding a partner to having an entire crew psyched to get after it.
As soon we got out of the car, a few people instantly threw fits, as usual. “It’s farther than you said it was,” “This is stupid,” and ” I can’t believe I came up here.”
As we got closer, the team’s attitude started to get better and the stoke began to rise.
After a few steps into the couloir, the team was getting super psyched and a few even said “Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea.”
We dug a pit to check the avy concerns and everything checked out really good. We were a bit worried about the upper reaches of the couloir, but the snowpack seemed very stable. We measured the snowpack in the couloir at 114 inches, which is impressive given the elevation of about 7,000′.
We sat for a bit, took in the views and realized it could be many many years before the couloir is ever skied again.
At the bottom, everyone was on a serious high and amazed by the great skiing in an amazing setting. As the group always says, every now and then I have a successful Mulkey Mission. I would like to say my success rate is higher than “Every now and then,” but I suppose as long as these guys keep signing up for missions, I’m not complaining. I think I got some extra credit to start the kayaking season so it’s time to come up with the next big idea.
I am constantly amazed by this impressive valley. It never lets me down. I am stoked for what is next to come in this amazing arena.