Friday, February 8, 2013

Tour de Darwin, Ski Touring in the High Sierra

It is snowing in Mammoth right now, but for the past few days the sun has been shining hard all day long, making an excellent window of opportunity to get out and tour in the High Sierra.  My good friend and partner in crime Geoff Schellens is in town to do some ice climbing and ski touring, and we decided that a trip up and over Paiute Pass, Alpine Col and Lamarck Col would make a great trip with some amazing scenery, especially for Geoff who has never been to this part of the range.

We left from Aspendell on patchy covered road, passed North Lake and made it just past Paiute Lake before finding a good spot to dig in for the night.  A bit chilly and windy, though 2 full flasks of 10 year scotch made it go by a little easier.

The morning came none too soon, windless and sunny, and we jammed out before heading out on the long leg of the tour, over Paiute, into the Goethe Cirque, up the windboard guarding Alpine Col and down into Darwin Canyon.  The ski down into Darwin was pretty nice, with some good corn turns even.  

Once we hit Darwin Canyon we decided to make a break for Lamarck Col, even though we were already pretty gassed.  Cruising over bare frozen lakes below Mt. Mendel was very cool, until we had to take a big breath and skin up 2,000 ft to the col.  NOW we were gassed.  

We knew the wind was going to get gnarly, so we made it down as far as we could before keeling over, about 700 vertical feet below the pass.  We set up camp here, getting great sunset views over towards Mt. Emerson and the Paiute Crags we skinned up 2 days prior.  The night was long and the wind threatened to destroy our flimsy Firstlight tent, but before too long we got up early and skied down past North Lake and to my truck to fill up on greasy treats at the Bishop Burger Barn.


This is one of the classic short tours in the area, and should be on everyone's short list!  

Crystal Crag West Couloir

A couple weeks ago I got to guide a really cool trip for SMC- the West Couloir to the South Ridge of Crystal Crag.  I climbed with Alex Caillat, who I have done a bunch of stuff with over the past year (Mountain Madness in the Palisades!) and Nayan Savla, his friend from Santa Barbara.  Both are keen to get into ice and mixed climbing so we first spent 2 days working on ice skills in Lee Vining Canyon.

Crystal Crag is a great climb, summer or winter; the only catch when you climb it in winter is that you need to ski approx. 10 miles round trip to make it happen!

So we got Alex and Nayan set up with AT gear and got skiing out of Twin Lakes by 6:30am.  
The day was a perfect warm and sunny day, so in no time were we booting up to begin the climbing below the West Couloir.  The snow conditions were less than ideal, with 16" of loose sugary facets sitting on top of the older crust.  This made for slow going and interesting mixed climbing through the narrow chokes up higher, but Alex and Nayan both cruised through once I got the rope up there.
After we hit the ridge the climbing became much more like the classic Sierra 4th class ridges we all love, and we hung out on the summit for a bit before picking our way down the West Face, which unfortunately also was a bit hairy with all the loose unconsolidated snow.  
A little bit of survival skiing down to Crystal Lake and then through the Lake George Gully got us back to the cars by 7pm, leaving the crux of the day for Alex and Nayan, who still had to drive back to SB!  
Enjoy the pics, courtesy Nayan Savla.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Skiing Under the Eiger of the Sierra- A Tour to Ski Mount Morrison's North Col

Hope everyone is enjoying winter, here in the Sierra we are getting a healthy dose of sunshine, which has turned the BC skiing into something bit more interactive than we are used to, but the scenery is unbeatable. Bust out the t-shirts and come on out for a tour!