Terminal Cancer Couloir, NV Report: A Close Avalanche Call + a Lesson in the Wind

Miles Clark | BackcountryBackcountry | Conditions ReportConditions Report

Brought to you by 10 Barrel Brewing

Report from February 5th, 2021

Photos in chronological order

Yesterday, I made the pilgrimage to Terminal Cancer Couloir in the remote Ruby Mountains of Nevada.

Terminal Cancer is one of the “50 Classic Ski Descents of North America“.

I arrived a bit before 10am and I was excited as there was a bit of wind up high.

The Ruby Mountains, NV. image: snowbrains

Wind up high refreshes the chute constantly so no matter how many people are in front of you (this thing is busy) you get a fresh track.

I saw 3 people coming down the apron and hoped to chat with them about conditions but our paths didn’t cross.

As I got near the mouth of the couloir the wind picked up and a small sluff of snow rolled down to me and buried my feet up to my ankles.

Entering Lamoille Canyon, NV. image: snowbrains

Right then, I contemplated turning around.

It wasn’t a great sign that sluff was making it this far down – maybe it was coming off the walls above the chute?

I should have turned around.

Winding up to Terminal Cancer Couloir. image: snowbrains

5 minutes later – abruptly – the wind started howling.

It was now gale force.

The wind ripped down the chute, spun snow in barbaric circles, and started hurling snow off the rock walls in torrents.

A litte wind above the chute before my ascent. image: snowbrains

I couldn’t see, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t hear, I could only feel.

Fear.

Fear squeezed my internal organs like vice-grips on a tangerine.

Terminal Cancer Couloir in light winds. image: snowbrains
Terminal Cancer Couloir in moderate winds. image: snowbrains
Terminal Cancer Couloir in heavy winds. image: snowbrains

I transitioned from walking to skiing as fast as I could.

Goggles improved my existence significantly.

I skied down the little bit of the chute that I’d entered in a hurry.

Miles skiing down in the chaos. image: snowbrains
Miles skiing down in the chaos. image: snowbrains

A vicious gust slammed me in the back as I dropped in and made it clear I wasn’t welcome.

Snow poured off the chute walls and was thrown back into the air before it could hit the ground below.

The grinding wind and snow fully blinded me just as I burst out of the couloir onto the apron below.

The burned out branch spears found all over the lower mountain right now. image: snowbrains
Burned out forest slog back to car. image: snowbrains

It all stopped in a flash.

I could see, I could hear, and my being buzzed…

My level of fear immediately dropped.

Small avalanche rumbling down the apron of Terminal Caner Couloir. image: snowbrains
Small avalanche rumbling down the apron of Terminal Caner Couloir. image: snowbrains
Small avalanche rumbling down the apron of Terminal Caner Couloir. image: snowbrains

My consciousness kicked in.

I knew I should still be afraid.

I raced down the apron on an inadequate 8″ snowpack through burned bushes and small trees with branches piercing up through of the snow like spears.

Wind cloud ripping above Terminal Cancer Couloir. image: snowbrains

Out of the path of Terminal Cancer’s wrath, my pulse slackened, my breathing calmed.

I took a deep breath.

Then another.

I laughed.

“That escalated quickly!” I yelled out.

Leaving Lamoille Canyon. image: snowbrains

I relaxed into the short slog across the burned-out forest back to the car along the creekside.

About 25-minutes after being in the chute, I watched a small avalanche rumble down the apron.

Had I been hit by that avalanche, I don’t think it would have been good.

Winding road. image: snowbrains

That apron is full of rocks, dirt, spiky branches, and stumps held within a very thin snowpack.

The wind taught me a ferocious lesson today.

One I won’t forget.

It was so windy on the way to Utah that the Bonneville Salt Flat’s dust, dirt, and salt was lifted into the air, put into the clouds and came down on us as rain. The first every dirt rain of my life. Was very eerie… image: snowbrains

Recent Backcountry Reports:


Related Articles

3 thoughts on “Terminal Cancer Couloir, NV Report: A Close Avalanche Call + a Lesson in the Wind

  1. I was over in that area Friday Saturday and the winds were whipping. Big lenticulars over the east Humboldt to the north tells you the winds are being crazy

Got an opinion? Let us know...