Thursday, May 26, 2016

Still Skiing in the Sierra!

 Although the snowline here in the Eastern Sierra is rising fast, there is still a lot of snow in the backcountry, especially once you get up and over the Crest. This has made for great conditions for mountaineering seminars, climbs on Mount Whitney, and our favorite, springtime ski tours.

We have not had a backcountry season like the one we have been enjoying for a number of years now, at least not well into May, so we are happy not to have to put the skis in the garage just yet. The weather has not been a typical spring one, however, with lots of small systems rolling through to keep everyone on their toes. There has not really been a true corn cycle, at least that hasn't lasted more than 10 days.

 So with all these variables, I was really lucky to have such a fun ski tour from Rock Creek to Mammoth with a couple of fit young guests, Charlie and Taylor. We put our skis on right next to the car, and were able to ski the entire route with the exception of a mile of road walking at the very end. Not bad!

The forecast looked kind of grim, but we figured that it might actually mean some good skiing during the trip. Turned out to be better than we expected. We climbed up and over Halfmoon Pass on Day 1, belaying a short downclimb, and then getting nice skiing down the drainage before climbing to our camp in Pioneer Basin. We awoke to 6" of light and dry snow, so packed up camp quickly to get some skiing in before the sun affected it.

We climbed up to Steelhead Pass, a gradual ascent first thing in the morning, and were happy to make fantastic powder turns down the other side. We had so much fun we booted back up for another lap on a steeper shot too.

We still had miles to cover this day, so we kept on climbing up past McGee Lake, under Red and White Mountain and to the spectacular ski pass, Corridor Pass. This has got to be one of my favorite passes to ski up and over- great views, big mountains looming above, and again, a nice long ski down the other side to our camp below Red Slate Mountain near Lake Wit So Nah Pah.

The morning of Day 3 brought the first real funky weather of the trip, with poor visibility as we made our way up to Pretty Pass (thanks to the low vis we also climbed and skied the quite steep "Extra Pass", which does not come highly recommended!). Once over Pretty we skied down into Franklin and Ram Lakes Basin and in increasingly crappy weather took the option to camp early, and hunkered down for tea.

On Day 4 we had blue skies (not for long), a brisk North wind and the guys had their eyes set on burgers and beers. We still had a steep climb up Pika Pass though, and then a really good long ski down to Pika Lake.

The skiing on the North sides of the passes was consistently good, and we had a really enjoyable time making turns- always nice not to have to ski breakable crust carrying a heavy overnight pack!
After we made it over Duck Pass we found a nice entrance to Barney Bowl to ski, and then eeked our way through increasingly sloppy snow until we reached the end of the road.

The Rock Creek to Mammoth Tour is definitely once not to be missed: it features classic touring terrain with options for many fun ski descents, and packs 6 passes into its relatively short 30 mile length.

While I still have some ski plans left for the season, I am transitioning into some mountain programs and alpine rock climbing trips for June. Hope to see you out in the mountains!