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Terminal Cancer Snowboard Descent

To say it’s been a while would be an understatement.  So I am going to beat right around that bush.

As I sit on a flight to Denver to meet with Zach McCarthy for a week of skiing big lines, I figured what better time to write about the last trip and the 50 classic line that I rode with Kellen Busby and Sean Berry; Terminal Cancer

Its 5:45 AM in Sandy Utah, Sean is making coffee and our gear is already loaded up in his car.  We plan to leave at 6 AM for a 4 hour drive from SLC to the Ruby Mountains in Nevada.  We drove thru the not so great, great salt flats and north east Nevada desert passing a prison and a loves rest stop for a bathroom break.

We pulled into the canyon after no sign of snow for hundreds of miles and were happy to find the aspect we were skiing was holding plenty of firm packed snow.  We passed a helicopter landing pad that was operating throughout the entire day and continued up the washboard road hoping the car wouldn’t vibrate off the road into the river below.  10 minutes of curvy, pot holed, snow trenched gravel later, we came around a sharp bend to see the couloir.  10-30 foot wide 2000 foot tall white ribbon inside a deep trench that scared the mountain. 

Minutes later Kellen showed up from his recent trip to Wyoming and Montana.  Sean shuttled Kellen up so his girlfriend Amy could work in his van while we were skiing since it was a weak day after all.  There were several minutes they were gone and I walked up and down the road doing obscure stretches as a way to calm the stoke.  Luckily the other two were not around to watch me pace and attempt to stretch out and prevent myself from starting the boot pack without them.

As soon as they returned we quickly gathered our gear, made the decision skins were not going to help us at all and began a boot pack straight from the road.  Crossed a river and continued up the apron to the couloir. It was mellow but we all were on edge knowing there was rapid warming in our forecast and falling rock was imminent so we moved rapidly.

As we rounded a corner near the base of the line a sudden explosion echoed through the entire canyon.  We all froze in our place and expressed the fact that we were all scared shitless.  The explosion continued and we realized and it was a large snow and rock fall on a cliff on the opposite side of the canyon.  The Cliff was being baked by sun and for that reason we all felt safe continuing knowing our aspect was going to be shaded most of the day.  We quickly scurried up to the tunnel like couloir took a quick break, expressed our levels of stoke and pushed on, hugging the walls of the cliffs to avoid any rocks that might fall into our boot pack.

(Above is a black streak that shows where the rock and ice had fallen from the cliff)

Two other skiers were already booting up in front of us and the speed we were moving we expected to catch them.  That didn’t happen.  Every time we stopped to check where they were it seemed like they were ants in the distance.  This distance never changed until they reached the top of the line.  The boot pack felt endless, it was an endless staircase and the first time I had felt like I was truly enjoying the uphill.  Surrounded by rock walls towering over us and some firm, chalky snow, what was there to not enjoy.  Okay maybe the piles of sweat.

At one point sunlight started streaking into the line.  We thought we needed to move faster since it would start warming rapidly.  That was not the case. We learned pretty quickly, by quickly I mean 15 minutes;  the sun only touches the Terminal Cancer for 15 minutes before it goes back into shade.  This was both relieving and a true show of how cool a line like this can be.

After a fast and steamy boot pack we topped out where we would begin skiing, we met the other 2 skiers.  Two woman from Tahoe who did a similar 4 hour drive to ski this line and drive back.  One of them was from NH and we all talked about our east coast stoke and what was bringing each of us out west long or short term.  After some brief banter we let them have the line to themselves to enjoy the views and we moved up on to a rock platform and ate lunch as well as talked about our plan for the descent.

With the line being bumped out Sean and Kellen expressed they wanted me to go first since the bumps would just be taller after they had passed through.  I’m never going to argue when my team insists I got first because I’m on a splitboard.  I told them I planned to side slip the first 50 feet as there was low snow cover, it was fricken steep and I wasn’t proving anything by jump turning a section that was just wider than 158 cm snowboard.  They agreed and planned on the same. After the first 50 feet I began making turns trying to not swallow my go pro (I use a mouth mount) and continue to focus on breathing and the next turn as I usually do in these type of descents.  I hit a good resting point and pulled out.  I was breathing so heavy the stoke yells barely came out.  I radioed Sean and Kellen and rode on that high the entire line.  Kellen made turns on the first 50 feet I decided to side slip, Sean met us at our first stopping point.  We hooted and hollered the entire way down.  Heavily breathing the entire descent;  Hooting and hollering with whatever breathe was left, leapfrogging our way down the 2000’ couloir.

We got back to the car with plenty of daylight to enjoy a beer, catch up on life, laugh and smile about ticking off such a notable line and after a couple hours we went our separate ways and drove the long slog back to Salt Lake.  This was the perfect way to end my time in Salt Lake visiting Sean.  

If you’ve ever thought about going to the Rubies to ski this line.  Don’t hesitate.  Just go ski it.  You will thank yourself later.

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