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  • CJ Wolf

Skiing the Northwest Couloir of Mount Nebo

Fast Facts:

  • Start Elevation: 5,986

  • Peak Elevation: 11,640

  • Vertical: 6,328 (see Strava)

  • Distance: 8.19 miles

  • Elapsed Time: 7:29

  • Date: May 4, 2024

Mount Nebo is the southern most peak in the Wasatch range and it is the highest at 11,933. I hiked this mountain back in 2019 and was in awe of the vertical descent and the ski lines so when my nephew suggested we ski the northwest couloir- I was in. The summer road is closed in the winter/spring due to snow we approached from the west side via Pole Canyon. The Mona Pole Rd is very rocky and despite having a 4x4 with good clearance, we parked in the parking lot just at the mouth at about 6,000. We later realized that another group did drive up about 1.5 miles so it is doable but turning around isn't easy.

Start of ascent from the parking lot

Since it was late in the ski season, we had to start the journey in our hiking shoes and we hiked 1.9 miles and 1,800 vert along the Mona Pole Rd.

Jeep road grinder

At about 7,900 feet, the Jeep road continues to head east (left) but to get to the northwest couloir, we needed to head southeast so we pulled off the road and transition from hiking shoes to ski boots but we were still carrying our ski because the snow was intermittent.

Transition from hiking shoes to ski boots

At around 8,500 we were able to put on our skis which was a welcomed relief to get that extra weight off your shoulders.

At around 8,800, we finally broke through the dense forest and we were at the big, open basin.

At this point, we still couldn't see the entire NW couloir as it was wrapped around a ridge.

At the lower basin, the elevation is ~9,200 so we still had our work cut out with 2,400 more vert to go. We skinned up about 80% of the apron before switching to booting.

It had snowed a few inches the day before and the freeze thaw cycle was only a few days so with temps now climbing into the 40s at this elevation, we were punching through the top layer about 8". About halfway up the couloir, two people in our group elected that it was too risky to continue up. It was around 10 am and there weren't any any signs of roller balls coming down the couloir or shedding so Lukas, I and two girls from another party continued to climb up. The trek up the chute took a long time because we were punching through and climbing at 10,500+ is arduous.

The slope angle at the bottom of the chute is around 35 degrees but it continues to get steeper as you climb. I used my inclinometer app to measure slope angle near the top and it was between 45-50 degrees and as we approached the top and it definitely was over 50 degrees.

Lukas was in the lead and he tried to reach the ridge by climbing just below one of the smaller cornices. He said he was punching through the loose snow and hitting rock so he was concerned that he could trigger a slide. As such, we elected not to try to push through the cornice and settled to transition about 20 feet below the ridge.

Trying to get your skis on while standing on a 50+ degree slope is rather precarious and it is at this point that I realized that having ski brakes and ski leashes wouldn't be a bad idea.

Lukas skied first and the snow was definitely not corn as we had hoped when we were planning the day. It was soft and not fully supportable so we were sinking on each turn. As such, the goal was to ski safe and not to tweak a knee. It wasn't the best skiing but doing a long mission with friends and checking the highest peak in the Wasatch off your list is always worthwhile.

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