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In Wyoming’s Northern Absarokas, weather comes from the west. All winter long, snow piles on; wind sweeps the west side bare, and loads the east side into ponderous cornices. Traveling along these snowbound ridgelines can be nice and smooth: a ribbon of white that rolls along, indifferent to the obstacles of the steep mountainsides below. It also has its own dangers.

As the wind-deposited snow on the leeward side of the ridge becomes heavier, taking the shape of a breaking wave, it wants to rip free. A crack will form over the apex of the earthen ridge, which is hidden somewhat windward of the top of the cornice. This crack is usually covered with snow, but not enough to hold a person’s weight. It is not uncommon to plunge into one. Fortunately, they are not often very deep.

Other times, the crevasse is exposed.

Large, exposed crevasses are unusual. Usually, if the crack gets this wide, the cornice is breaking off altogether and now trundling down the mountain. The explanation for this extremely large crevasse is anticlimactic. A low-angle shoulder of the ridge caught the cornice before it could roll away.

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four years on the East Fork of the Wind River

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