Cold Fusion on Mt. Timpanogos "Recon" Mission
Base Elevation: 6,400
Total Ascent: 3,492
Distance: 10.78 to the turn around point (we didn't make it to the summit)
Crew: Sean, Lukas and CJ
Date: April 18, 2020
Wow- this line is no joke. No wonder it is considered one of the “50 Classic Ski Descents in North America”. One of the things that makes it so challenging is that it simply takes a lot of time to complete the journey (8+ hours). The skin distance just to get the base of the couloir is 4.5 miles and then the real work begins once you enter the couloir. Unfortunately, our group didn’t make it to the summit so here are the three things I will do differently next time (and there will be a next time):
Start early: I highly recommend starting before 6 AM. There was another group that we passed on our way up and they were exiting the couloir around 12:30 and they started at 5:30 AM. The snow conditions are dependent on the time of year, weather and recent snowfall but on this day, the snow was softening up for them around 12. So if you are doing a spring ascent, you will most likely want to be skiing between 11-12. We learned the hard way that you don’t want to be in the couloir when things start heating up. We experienced falling rocks and very faceted snow. Cold Fusion is a major slide path and when you are in this avalanche chute- you can imagine the velocity and power of a slide.
Time of year: 2020 was a slightly below average snow pack and by mid-April the first half a mile of the trail was dirt and on the way down we had to stop skiing about a mile from the trailhead as the snow patches got to thin. Therefore I would recommend skiing before the end of March or be prepared to do some hiking on the dirt.
Equipment: if you are doing this summit in the spring and therefore most likely skiing corn- you will need crampons and an ice axe because the snow will be frozen in the morning and the 40-50 degree pitch at the top would be too steep climb without the right gear. We had both but by the time we got to the steeps- the snow was granular quicksand.
Our group consisted of Sean and Lukas Steffel and I.
We were supposed to meet at the trailhead by 7 AM, which again was too late for a start ascent, but my companions were running about 45 min late. Then to add insult to injury, we drove up highway 92 from the Sundance Resort side and we quickly found out the gate to get to Mutual Dell was still closed for the winter (that was my bad). We debated calling it quits given that it was getting late but we were awake and committed. So we drove the 50 minutes around Mt. Timp to the western side of highway 92 and we reached the Mutual Dell parking lot by 9:00. By the time we geared up and hit the trail it was 9:30. We anticipated that our journey would take us about 9 hours so I was concerned with the wet slap avalanche risk as the daytime temps were expected to climb into the high 40s.
The Bear Canyon trailhead is located at the end of the parking lot near a pavilion. There is another trailhead next to it called the Nature Trail so make sure you take the right trail (Bear Canyon). You take the Bear Canyon trail for 2 miles to Timpooneke Road. Bear Canyon is modestly steep gaining about 1,400 vertical feet. The first half a mile was dirt and walking in your snow boats and carrying your skis isn’t a lot of fun.
It is very obvious when you hit Timpooneke Road because it is a wide fire road. Take a right on Timpooneke Road and you will stay on this road for 2.5 miles until you reach the base of the Cold Fusion couloir. This section is rather demoralizing because there is a fairly long downhill section and going downhill on an ascent is one of my biggest pet peeves. In total, you only gain about 400 vertical feet during this 2.5 mile stretch.
There are two options to enter the couloir and I highly recommend the second option:
The first one is to go up the narrow tail end of the couloir. We looked at this option and it seemed like an unnecessarily technical section to skin. The first entrance coordinates are latitude 40.25692, longitude -111.40921.
The second option is to continue on Timpoooneke Road for about another 300-400 yards. You will turn the corner and once you see the massive couloir come into view on your left - you will turn off and head through the small sage brush. There will most likely be a skin track here so keep an eye out for it. The GPS coordinates are: latitude 40.42714, longitude -111.68420. This section through the trees is very manageable and low angle. You will gain about 400 vertical feet before you drop into the couloir which is where you will meet up with option 1.
The Couloir: Let The Fun Begin
The bottom section of the couloir is relatively flat with about a 20-25 degree pitch. About a third of the way up it starts getting steeper (30-35 degrees) so skinning becomes more of an effort but doable. Many other blog post that I read said they were able to skin about 80% of the couloir. Given our late start, it was 2:30 by the time we reached the half way point and skinning was becoming very challenging due to the sugary, faceted snow. It was very challenging to hold an edge and I was sinking and sliding off my line quite often. At this point, we would have transitioned to our crampons but given that we had about 1,500 more vertical feet to climb and the snow conditions were deteriorating fast thus increasing the risk of a wet slid- we made the prudent but difficult decision to turn around. I think this is the first time that I pulled the ripcord on a tour but if you are not feeling confident then it is always the right decision. Mt Timp isn’t going anywhere and we learned a lot on this trip about what is required to summit & ski this peak.
I have to say that this is one of the worst exits of any tour that I have done. The majority of tours permit you to ski to the car or do a little bushwacking but that isn’t the case with Cold Fusion. As I mentioned earlier, the 2.5 miles on Timponeeke Road has a long uphill. Even though the uphill isn’t that steep- it is frustrating to climb on an exit after a long day. And when you aren’t climbing on this section, you are poling because it is so flat. Then when we got to Bear Canyon, we were relegated to staying on the tight single track because the snowpack off the trail was too thin to ski. The first mile required a slow snowplow with many side exits to scrub your speed. Then the last mile consisted of a thin strip of snow that was too narrow to ski followed by pure dirt thus requiring us to hike the last mile.
This line is definitely a big boy line. Not only do you need to be physically fit to skin, bootpack and ski 11 miles over 8-10 hours but you need to have the mental stamina as well. Be prepared and be conditioned.