Charleston NV by Big Falls, Winter

pics by Harlan W. S.
Jan. 10, 2009


This is a tough route in the winter; when snow conditions are good, as in spring of a heavy-snow year, it can be relatively safe.  For this trip, the snow conditions were pretty sketchy




Nick heads S to Big Falls ~7:30 AM.


View up the steep gulley on NE side of

Charleston.  Snow was actually better at this time,

 than it would be on our return.





The ridge was blown bare of snow

above 11300’


Winds were fierce – the worst I’ve



Coming down, we stopped at this

copse of bristlecones.  Mummy is in

back, with the mummy head at L.





View back up from rest stop.


Nick relaxes at 11200’.


Panorama ~N and NW.





Lee Peak.


Nick descends with just trekking poles.

This gully rang my alarm bells; the snow was

hard and steep. In the tree shadows, it was icy.

 I was about to get out my ice axe,

when my L crampon rotated off the bottom

of my boot and I lost purchase… more at page bottom.


Looking up as Nick lowers himself down

the last cliffs of Big Falls.





Nick and Ron walk out.

The night before this trip, I adjusted my crampons to fit my new boots, which were oddly shaped in the heels. I had to increase the crampon length to fit the new boots; I walked in the boots with the crampons on.  But about 2 hours into the trip, it was obvious that the rubber spur on the boots had worn off*, and now the crampons were too loose, and could not be tightened.  I re-strapped my crampons 5 times during ascent, and really did the best I could before entering the top of the gully for descent.  When the crampon turned and I fell, I tried to self-arrest by jamming in the trekking pole; this partly worked, but the pole eventually collapsed (the flick-lock didn’t hold).  That remaining section of trekking pole eventually stopped me; I jammed it in hard, and eventually I was able to steer myself into a more benign area and stop.  Before that I had dug in my hands to slow and steer, so hard that a finger was ripped off my glove.  I had steered myself to small bristlecones and grabbed the branches, only to have them break apart.


From GPS records, I dropped 400’ vertical before I finally stopped, at an average linear speed of 12.2 mph. (Obtained by differentiating the elevation-time curve, then applying the sine correction from the x-z profile – i.e. NOT from GPS instantaneous speed.) This speed is really slow compared to downhill skiing; but it’s tough when you are prone.  I kept my speed under control by applying friction any way that I could. Except for the point where I almost self-arrested the 1st time, my speed was remarkably stable.


Lesson: check your equipment again and again, and have a preliminary outdoor run, BEFORE doing anything epic. And if alarm bells go off in your head, listen to them.  I could have skirted the gully and avoided this too-exciting adventure.  When the alarm bells start to ring, get to a safe place and get out the ice axe.  *I was later unable to reproduce the crampon collapse on a 3-hour winter ascent of Mummy… so to this day, I don’t really know the cause.