March 6-9, 2008, Wallowas, Norway Basin

Posted by lowrider on 3/14/08 3:48am
I  had a terrific trip to the Norway basin in the Wallowas. This new Yurt camp is run by Wallowa Alpine Huts that has had a presence in the northern McCully Basin near Joseph for 25 years. This access is from Halway. Drive time from LaGrande is maybe 10 minutes longer to the new camp.

The trip starts with a snowmobile tow 6 miles into the former mining town of Cornucopia which is now a winter snowmobile camp and in summer rental cabins. We  skinned up 2200 feet over about three miles with a short descent into the Yurt camp. For those that have been to McCully, the yurt arrangement is a little different. Our group of eight guests and 2 guides all stayed in one 20 foot yurt. There are plywood bunks with therma-rests and sleeping bags. The accommodations were surprisingly spacious and more functional than I had imagined. The food was as outstanding and with the attention to detail provided at the McCully camp. Alas. No Sauna. Maybe next season.

Our first day had the requisite beacon drill, snowpit analysis and shoveling practice (there are things to learn. We had a decent powder descent in some North facing glades near camp. The area has not been one of much ski exploration. The camp is actually on the edge of the wilderness, unlike McCully where the yurts are in the Eagle Cap. This is snowmobile country and our group was greeted stonily by the employees of the Cornucopia Inn. This has also made it not readily explored ski terrain. Our group had some of the more stable snow conditions this year and there were good possibilities for some steeper first descents.

I had been pretty concerned about the snow pack. There had been three weeks of high pressure followed by one weak system that dropped about 6-8 inches followed by more warm weather. But like my 6 other trips to the Wallowas, the mountains stay cold and nurture powder for weeks. The guides have never failed to find great snow when it seems like there should be nothing but mank We found many lines of old but very soft and skiable powder in northwest to northeast exposures.

Day 2 we headed for 8500 Clipper pass, adjacent to the 9500 foot Red Mt. This was a pretty long ski out of camp. We ascended on the other side of the pass in the Fly Creek drainage (which ultimately joins the Imnaha) topping out close to 9000 feet down a yet to be named chute. We ascended up to another pass and into the head walls of the Blue Creek drainage which also leads to the Imnaha. Our guides, Joel Williams and Chago Rodriguez (Chago€™s Videos from McCully: ) had scoped out the potential traverse in previous outings. The descent lines from the pass were intimidating. One of our crew had  asked the guides for a first descent with some €œpucker factor€. They delivered. This had a very sketchy steep chute. Everyone thought 40 plus degrees but it measured mid 30€™s. There was also a nasty cornice to maneuver around. After Chago jumped down into the chute and dug a quick pit with very reassuring compression and sheer testing, the group regained their cajones and everyone had a screaming descent. The bottom of the blue creek drainage had low angle nicely spaced trees for another 1000 feet. We ascended to Blue Creek pass and the ridge above camp with a gnarly death-crust descent on shallow south facing slopes. Brush up that power wedge! This route had the elegant traverse of three drainages like the Birthday Tour. It should become a classic for this camp.

Day 3 had us heading back to Blue creek Basin to €œmine some turns€. The snow was good and the basin wide enough that a group of 10 could find fresh tracks for days. After such a big day, a mellower, self-paced day in gentle terrain seemed reasonable. On our first ascent, though, every one noticed the big steep lines in the sharp ridge above. Pretty soon we were there and hiking up steep couloirs (Seemed like 45, measured high 30€™s). The group nailed another three first descents on the sharp north facing ridge above blue creek. There are dozens more.

Day 4 had half of the group skiing out. We got a good start and headed to the Norway basin proper for yet another steep north facing chute and another first descent. The group split and we had a good ski back to camp. The ski out of camp to the TH actually allows for some turns. There are a number of skiable open  and lightly gladed areas. At this point I regretted all the unnecessary gear in my pack. The ski out of the road  was slow in the mashed potatoes condition. It would definitely be faster frozen.

This new camp is in an amazing locale,  and with the same attentive service from the guides that has become the hallmark of Wallowa Alpine Huts.  I would highly recommend this trip. Of the 7 times I have been to the Wallowas, this may have been the best. The best snow was a surreal day in 2001 where 15 inches of ororaphic showers fell with no wind and at 0-5 degrees. It was ethereal cold smoke and ranks as one of my top ski days ever. But the adventure in this new location may trump conditions.

Here are my pics. After an hour of sizing and resizing still can't figure how to post here.

Here are some pics from the trip before ours that had some better lighting, not being in the north.

That was a very great report.  The video was therapy!  Especially liked the pics framed by gnarly wood.  Thanks.

Excellent tr and vidieo!!!

Wallowas are bodacious.  CB was showing us some of the terrain a McCully-to-Norway tour might
cover, and it is worthy.  Nice TR.

We scoped the route from the South. Aneroid remained obscured by a peak in the direct line of sight. It looks like you would head down the Fly creek drainage and stay high so as not to descend to the Imnaha. I'm ready to do that traverse, but I suspect it will be a few years of exploration to get that dialed in as an offering to guests. Something that also crossed my mind about a traverse and a night out: Megamid and Mountain House vs yurt, draft beer, little smokies and salmon? Hmmmmmmm......

Awesome trip.  I'm heading there next week for four days with WAH.  Snowpack permitting, some steep lines sound great.  It seems most ascents are ski/bootable -- any reason for crampons/whippet?  Thanks.

We had one firm steep section where I used a ski crampon because I brought them, but booting the 200 feet might have been easier. I'd leave the crampons.

I posted the movie for this trip this morning. Thanks for your patience!



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2008-03-14 10:48:05