Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mammoth Backcountry Weekend

I spent the weekend up in Mammoth where on Friday night we received about 2" of new snow in town. The ski area reported 4" which seemed about right.

The small storm was slow to clear, so we enjoyed intermittent sun, clouds, and light snow.

The light was was nice. This is Lake Mary.
We once again skied in the Mammoth Lakes basin out of Tamarack Lodge. We wound our way above TJ Lake to the glades we skied two weeks ago. The new snow was not quite enough to prevent us from feeling the crust beneath, but the skiing wasn't bad. Further down, in the deeper forest, the skiing was fine. This is Anne skiing the upper glades.
We hopped back on the skin track and headed higher onto the broad slopes above TJ bowl. This is Anne and Stewart breaking trail while I hung back and took pics (someone had to do it!).
We enjoyed fine views, including this one over the Sherwins to the Long Valley Caldera and the Glass Mountains.
The snow was a little deeper up high providing smiles all around.

Here Stewart enters the top of TJ Bowl.
And Anne puts the finishing touches on our work.
We were all pleasantly surprised the small amount of new snow provided such enjoyable skiing. It was great to catch up with my old friend Stewart too.

Sunday Anne and I figured we may as well use the skin track we worked so hard to put in the day before.

The clear, calm night made for cold cold temps this morning especially on the lakes where I bet it was down close to zero degrees F.

The hoar frost on these willows captivated us for a few minutes.
This time we headed up and lookers left on the broad slopes above TJ Bowl. We found great snow on this narrow little band.
We then jumped over a short ridge into the Hammil Bowl area taking the long upward traverse to Hammil Cirque.
Anne in the Cirque aiming for the short, steep chute in the center.
Skinning was tedious at times when the new snow wasn't deep enough to prevent the skis from sliding out beneath you. The grand scenery helped keep the frustration level low however.
Anne has been nursing an achy lower back, so she wasn't too keen on skiing the steep chute. She WAS keen on making it to the top though and kindly booted up ahead of me.

Anne climbing into the sky!
A whole new view opens up at the windswept crest.
Big kudos to Anne for taking these pics of me entering and skiing the chute. Thanks Anne!
The first couple turns were steep, deep, and fun fun fun!
Looking back at the cirque and the chute.
The skiing was quite enjoyable up high in the cirque, but lower down we again encountered the crust beneath the new snow until we got into the deeper forest.

Another richly satisfying day on the planks!
Thanks for joining me Anne.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hairpin Again

I once again awoke early and headed up the Portal Road to visit the Hairpin Gully. Gearing up in the cold with the headlamp always feels adventurous.

I enjoyed another sunrise over the Owens Valley.
I certainly did not come back for the fine skiing. I figured I'd reap the benefit of yesterday's hard work, and retravel the skin track I put in. There was also a faint hope that the crust I encountered yesterday would be thinner or nonexistent higher up.

Fortunately the crust did disappear higher up and lower down it seemed thinner and/or weaker.

Here's the view of the upper gully with the main stem heading up to the right of the large granite block. I headed up and left of the block in a shallow treed chute.
Across the canyon is an interesting burn area from a lightening strike a few years ago.
The skiing in the upper reaches was surprisingly pleasing.
Persistence (or dumb luck) pays!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hairpin Gully

I woke up very early to ski above Lone Pine off of the Whitney Portal Road. I visited the broad gully system just north of the hairpin turn on the Portal Road that I skied several times year before last.

This is the hairpin turn.
Sunrise looking up the Owens Valley.
Looking east out of the main gully.
It is hard to see, but a small avalanche occurred here recently (click to enlarge). The crown can be seen on the far left, runs along the the horizontal, fish-shaped rock and then to the right, where it reaches it's maximum height of close to two feet.
This is the debris pile below. It appears that melting snow from the cliffs above fell onto the slab and triggered the slide. There were lots of snow snails and snow balls - I guess from Sunday.
There is a persistent 6" to 10" layer of faceted, rotten snow between the ground and the recent snow in this area that is a serious avalanche concern, which is why I stayed in the low angle main gully. I experienced no collapsing or cracking of the snow pack however.

The skiing was fairly poor too, as a melt freeze crust had formed on all aspects. It was a bit thinner higher up and in the shade. Fortunately it was skiable, but it wasn't pretty!

The snow just under the crust was faceted, and this layer may well prove to be a concern with more loading too.

It was great to ski before work, but I wish the snowpack was more stable and skiable.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Death Valley Getaway Day 3

Aaaah! Another beautiful mild morning in Death Valley!

Mary once again started the day off right with a vigorous swim. I got some better pics this time.

Our canyon exploration the previous day was huge fun, so we decided to check out Mosaic Canyon near Stovepipe Wells.
We especially liked the flood polished dolomite.
After about an hour of hiking, with a few short scrambles, we arrived at this impassable waterfall.
On the way back we took a detour up a delightful little side canyon.
Look ma, no hands! What a ham.
More ham.
Back down the main canyon the dolomite continued to please.

During the recent floods this area was a broad river!
Here I am making my way down the one of the final stretches of the canyon while Mary photos from above (double click to enlarge, as with all the photos).
Alas, the trip was over, but we brought with us a sense of joy and contentment that will make the coming "routine" day's trials and tribulations easier to hurdle.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Death Valley Day 2

The second day of our Death Valley getaway dawned clear and mild.

Mary got up early and got in a few laps at the pool.
After a hearty breakfast and a few cups of coffee we headed down to Badwater, the lowest point in North America at 278 feet below sea level.

This is a reflection of Telescope Peak rising over 11,000 feet above us.
Another view of Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range over the playa.
We drove a short while north and went for a hike along the base of the mountains. We explored several short and beautiful canyons along the way.

Here's Mary enjoying the scrambling.

On the way back to Furnace Creek we were attracted to this big wash.
The stark, almost lunar, landscape drew us in.

We greatly enjoyed the sweeping views, the colorful formations, the perfect weather, and the solitude of these hikes.