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Working for It: Noah Howell Explores the Tushars

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
As the snowflakes finally fly, Noah Howell thinks back to last May when he was cursing the brush and ripping across corn. At the end of it all, he nominates his approach to Utah's Mount Baldy as the Worst Bushwhack Ever.

"I believe any success in life is made by going into an area with a blind, furious optimism."—Sylvester Stallone

In May this year my mother had her retirement party in St. George—a good excuse to get outside of the Wasatch and explore on the way down south. I'd only skied in the Tushar Mountains once, and, if I’m being honest, I’d done more drinking and puking than skiing. I'd been scrolling around on Google Earth looking for obscure spring outings and 12,090-foot Mount Baldy just so happened to be right on the way to the retirement party.

The Tushars have great access to their southern peaks, but the northern zone, which includes Mount Baldy, is a different story. Backcountry Skiing Utah recommends approaching from either Eagle Point Ski Resort, which requires a seven-mile skin, or by driving up to Blue Lake. The resort seemed a bit long with a lot of up and down, and the road to the lake was not yet free of snow. So I did some basic snooping and found that the approach from Manderfield Reservoir seemed pretty straightforward. I didn't really check elevation or mileage. In hindsight, I’ve realized that sometimes it's best to not do too much research or elevation and mileage calculations, lest you talk yourself out of a bad idea before it even begins.

The road to Manderfield Reservoir was nice and dry, and I arrived late, sleeping in the back of my truck. At 6 a.m. I was off, munching on a cinnamon roll and feeling optimistic. That feeling didn’t last long.

I had expected some bushwhacking, but what I found was absurd. So much deadfall and beautiful, rotting burnt-out trees stood in my way. Forcing my way up onto the ridge seemed like the best call.

As I thrashed, I pondered the meaning of the word “Tushar.” My best guess was that it was derived from the word “tush,” as in, it's a real ass kicker. (“Tushar” really comes from the Paiute word “T’shar,” which means "white.")

On the ridge I encountered less deadfall, but it was replaced by thick brush that grabbed tightly at boots, straps, skis and poles, greatly slowing progress and damaging morale. I wasn’t sure what the brush's real name was, but I dubbed it "Bitch Root" because I kept complaining about it.

Finally the summit ridge brought sweet, sweet relief, and I traded shoes for skins. Unfortunately, the north face of Baldy was far less steep than Google Earth had led me to believe. I dropped in from the east peak, enjoying velvety corn for 500 feet before it became breakable and nasty. I pulled the plug and booted back up to the summit.

Next up was the wind effected main north chute, or "Cleaver Couloir" as Tyson Bradley calls it in Backcountry Skiing Utah, which holds friendly terrain starting at close to 40 degrees. As the pitch eased into an apron, I found perfect whipped cream. After a few more runs, I headed out back into the patchy trees. And back into the brushy hell!

This is certainly a candidate for the Worst Bushwhacking I've Ever Done. Still, the skiing was excellent and the dip in the lake afterward made up for the less-than-tolerable approach and hike out. All in all, it was a great day in the mountains, with 8,000 feet of skiing on interesting "new" terrain.

—Noah Howell