Rock Face and The Waterfall

There was a question as to why Rock Face and The Waterfall are permanent closures and I thought I would shed some light on the topic.  Anyone who has taken a look at the trail map will see we have some permament closures within our boundaries.  Kemper’s is also now closed and there’s an explanation for that on the website.  We are no longer doing avalanche control there and it is now closed.   

The Waterfall is a nasty drainage off the Gap Road below Right Angle.  There is a ropeline there as well as one on the left hand side separating it from lower Left Angle trees.  Many people often cut the switchbacks on the Gap Road, collecting a few good turns in between.  Above the Waterfall looks deceptively similar.  It seems like you could get a few low angle powder turns and find the cat track below you.  But oh is that wrong.  The drainage gets nastier and nastier with every turn.  Just as it starts to angle in on itself, creating quite a terrain trap, the skiing usually tilts toward the heinous side.   Pucker brush, stumps and sink holes abound and ironically keep pushing you towards the waterfall itself.  If one actually makes it to the top of the waterfall, there is a permanent closure with metal posts and cable strung across it.  You don’t want to ski this one.  Believe me.  No one is going to run their fingers through your chest hair after you land on the rocky apron below.  It’s not pretty.  I actually followed some tracks through there earlier this season.  A snowboarder took one nice turn at the top then had a little mini-epic of his (I am assuming here) own as he post-holed down the steep drainage and then down climbed the far left side of the waterfall.  I could see where he must have done a hail mary grab of a tree trunk after flinging his board down on it’s own.  Then he tarzaned to the bottom and walked out the rest of the way to the Buff Trail.  He was lucky.  Trust me on this one.  Not only is the Waterfall bad skiing, but it is dangerous.  Unless someone notices your track and happens to follow it, there is no way you would be seen from above or below and if you got injured in there or worse, well…..  Besides like any of the permanent closures if you are caught in there the consequences are severe.  We don’t mess around with closure violators.  You are putting yourselves as well as your rescuers in harm’s way.  So don’t even go there.

Rock Face is also a permament closure.  Like the Waterfall it is dangerous skiing.  The difference with Rock Face is that to an untrained eye it might look like a lot of other terrain at Crystal;  Niagaras or the North Face of the King, for example.  However underneath all that snow is a slippery rock face (hence the name).  Snow does not like to stick to slippery rock faces.  Later in the season large glide cracks form there.  These are similar to crevasses and you can look down in there and hear water running.  Just imagine standing on a huge slab of snow which is attached to the ground only by a few trees acting like anchors and knowing there is a river of water below you making the sliding surface that much more slidey.  It’s unnerving.  Also Rock Face hangs above the Kelly’s Gap Road.  Even a small slough caused by a skier could bury a passerby stopping below it.  (This brings up another point, which is a strong suggestion not to stand underneath Rock Face anytime, ever.)  

Several years ago we got some video of Rock Face avalanching.  It was the Spring time when the entire snowpack was isothermal (all one temperature).  It was impressive.  The entire face went as one big slab, hitting the Gap Road as if it were just a blip in the road.  Snow flew off the road and tumbled well down into the Berry Patch area below.  This was done on an avalanche control route and of course no one was in harm’s way.  Rock Face is one of those rare places where even skier compaction might not mitigate the avalanche hazard.  It’s hard to say, but when water runs between the snow pack and the ground that it rests on, that can’t be good.  Again, if you violate this closure you will have your lift skiing privileges revoked.  Skiing it could jeopordize you as well as anyone below you.  Sure, if Rock Face were out in the Southbackcountry without innocent passersby below it, it might be open.  I don’t know.  But I have been around long enough to respect it as a serious closure and so should you. 

The moral of the story is this:  Don’t go into closed areas.  Don’t duck under ropes.  All of the ropes at Crystal designate closures (besides our boundary line with the Mount Rainier National Park, which can be confusing but I know you guys can get it).   Anytime you duck a rope closure you are violating a rule and could get yourself and others into real trouble.  There’s plenty of open terrain at Crystal to enjoy.  Let’s keep doing that. 

5 thoughts on “Rock Face and The Waterfall

  1. Dave (30 Year Crystal Vet)

    I think the true moral of the story is that the gap road should be rerouted so that Rock Face could be opened. Such a waste of incredible terrain.

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  2. Peter

    What is the deal with Lower Northway these days? The new trail map says it is inside the boundary but with no shuttle service, the signs on the mountain at the intersection with Otto Bahn say “Ski Area Boundary.” Is it okay to ski it and get picked up in a private vehicle? If it is truly outside the ski area boundary, shouldn’t you stop counting 3,100 feet as Crystal’s vertical rise? Isn’t 2,612 feet now the actual vertical from the top of the king to the base lodge?

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  3. Vince DeLuca

    Rock Face is closed for a very good reason: it can slide in just about any conditions. Two friends and I were at the very top of Rock Face, maybe fifteen years ago , on a quite cold wintry day and the face looked very inviting and stable. As we were just about to begin the descent , an entire slab , perhaps 12 – 18 inches in front of us , was in motion.The fracture line was perhaps three feet. It was a horrendous slide that took one of my buddies under and nothing short of a miracle saved him. The slide debris covered an area of about two football fields with numerous chunks of ice and snow the size of VW’s.Our pal survived with just a twisted knee.Just witnessing the massive power that the slide precipatated truly put the fear of God in all of us. Something we’ll never forget. After that we knew we would
    Never again ski Rock Face, regardless of it being open or not.Only a person oblivious of the everpresent danger on Rock Face or someone with a death wish would ski it. All of you would be poachers need to think again
    about this one.

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    1. Thanks for the question Chandler. Rock Face is a special problem. Most of our avalanche paths require explosive control and skier compaction in order to mitigate the hazard. With Rock Face, that’s not enough. The rock underneath the snow is very slick. Even with skier compaction (if that were possible) the entire snowpack can and does avalanche to ground (or rock in this case). We mitigate this through avalanche control and even closing the Gap when conditions worsen. During certain conditions, water runs between the snowpack and the rock, loosening the entire snow pack. In addition, Rock Face sits above a cat track. Even a little slough caused by a skier could bury the road. Unfortunately, it is just too dangerous to open. However, Niagras (sic) is similar terrain and managed differently. It is within the Northway area and accessible when gates 8,9, and 10 are open. If you haven’t skied it, I recommend it.

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