Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Gravel Again

I took some time off to recover after feeling pretty beat last week. A small storm packing strong winds hit the mountains, so I elected to ride gravel in the valley.

Started off with a nice Bald Eagle sighting just a couple of miles into the ride. No good pictures though.

Black Mountain. 

The storm.

Cruised by the Radio Observatory.

Stopped for a bite at Warm Springs.

The riding was mostly good. A little rocky here and there, but plenty of this.

The Owens River flowing out its banks.

Might've been my last ride on the old gravel bike. Here's my new frame!

Might get a little more saddle time in this week before getting on skis again this weekend.
Felt good to feel good again!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mendenhall Couloir

I scooped up Ben and Ann early for another adventure in the mountains. This time we elected to ski the Mendenhall Couloir on Laurel Mountain above Convict Lake.

Unfortunately I managed to kick off a ski while performing a kick turn high on this slope during the approach. It slowly slid down about 500'. 

I had been feeling unusually tired and slow to begin with, so I downclimbed to the ski and bailed out while Ben and Ann carried on.

Here's the Mendenhall starting in the open bowl top center and funneling into a proper couloir lower.

I took a few pics during the day. Convict Canyon with Red Slate Mountain in the early sun.

The upper couloir.

The view across Convict of Mt Morrison (right) and min Morrison (left).

I returned to the car, changed my clothes, had a nice snack and plenty of water then settled in with the binoculars and watched Ben and Ann ski the couloir. It was a vicarious kind of fun.

The couloir is filled in nicely. B & A reported decent soft snow throughout. They primarily stuck to the northeast aspects which were holding winter snow, but excursions out onto sunnier slopes were ok too.  They did find some punchy snow down low - as did I on my descent.

For sure I was disappointed, but I'll be back to try it again. For now I need some rest and recuperation so I am good to go when the snow flies next week!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mt Williamson Ski

For many years I've wanted to ski Mt Williamson, California's second highest peak at 14,379 feet. The trip is only reasonable in big snow years and even then the rugged approach and shear enormity has always seemed daunting. Fortunately my good friends Ann & Ben had the audacity to give it a go and invited me along.

We parked the truck just a touch below 6,000 feet, near the mouth of the North Fork of Bairs Creek and began to hike a bit after sunrise.

The first, and perhaps most important crux of the day was finding a notch that allows travel into the interior of the North Fork of Bairs Creek whose mouth is very steep and choked with willows.

This is the view of our route from the notch.

The next leg involved a decidedly unpleasant downward traverse on loose slopes to get down to the creek.

Finally down to the creek! We should have traversed higher and entered the canyon bottom another half mile or so upstream, but our route worked ok.

After a little more hiking we were on skis at about 7,400'. Here the creek forks and it's crucial to take the left turn here up the slope and ridge above Ben's head.

At around 9200 feet the valley opened up and travel became easy.

Big country!

After a nice spell of skinning we reached the base of the headwall couloir.

The previous party had put in a good bootpack, but an ice axe and crampons were still handy for piece of mind. Ann boots it!

The second big crux of the day behind us, Ben was all smiles!

Then we headed off for the summit (out of view upper left).

Ann arrives at the summit!

Of course the views were stupendous.

Mt Whitney

The Kaweah Range across the upper Kern River gorge.

Mt Tyndall

The Owens Valley 10,000 feet below.

Ben & Ann. Pretty darn happy.

So was I!

Ann took this nice pic of me leaving the summit.

The ski down was a real smogasbord of snow surfaces providing generally fair to poor skiing with shorter sections of fun powder and horrible punchy snow. 

Ben finds some decent skiing on solid windboard.

This little waterfall slowed our progress a bit.

Ben and I at the notch on the way down. Almost there!

We arrived back at the truck as the day got dark and the moon rose, tired but not shattered. Elated for sure. Thanks so much Ben and Ann!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Norman Clyde Glacier

Ben and I both have been wanting to ski up the South Fork of Big Pine Creek. Figured today would be as good a day as any! We decided to head up to the Norman Clyde Glacier and have a look at the northwest couloir on Norman Clyde Peak or Scimitar Pass.

Just beyond the summer trail the views of the Sierra crest open up. The snowy fin in back is Middle Palisade and the blocky summit to the right is Norman Clyde Peak.

Pretty soon we realized another party of two was ahead of us. Good luck for us since we did not have to break trail, but where were they headed?

Ben and Olive arrive at Willow Lake. The route up to the Middle Palisade glacier was ahead and left and our route was up the valley far right just in view.

Turns out the other party had the same plan as us. Felt a little funny following them up, but that was our original plan. Ben and Olive approach the toe of the glacier.

The couloir on Norman Clyde looked pretty good, but we didn't feel right following those guys up.

So we headed up the glacier to this other smaller but inviting couloir.

The other guys quickly became tiny dots. They're in the shade near far shade/sunlight line.

Ben did an awesome job booting up the couloir. Looks good in this pic, but for the most part we were wallowing in hip deep unconsolidated snow. Slow going and a ton of work!

Topping out was incredible!

Looking south.

and north.

Skiing was fair on a generally supportable, chalky crust. Olive got some face shots!

Pretty cruiser skiing on way out. Windboard was dependable. Found a little powder in the trees. A little manky in the sunny snow, but a surprisingly easy exit.

Spectacular day!

Topped it off with a beer and a burger at the brewery. Who should walk in but the other guys who were ahead of us! Good guys from the Tahoe area. Small world.