Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Onion Valley

I was happy to get in another quick ski outing before work. Might have only one or two left this season!

Onion Valley is holding up pretty well with continuous snow to the parking area if you are headed towards the Robinson Lake or Kearsarge Pass drainages. It's a bit of walking if you're heading up Golden Trout Lake way.

The snow is getting sun cupped on the lowest slopes, but is smooth and plentiful above 10,000' or so.

The view up towards University Peak seems to require a photo every time!

Ditto for these stately tree snags.
I got up to the southeast flank of Mt Gould and decided to just head up the slope looker's right of the long, horizontal bare patch. Kearsarge Pass is far left near that notch.
I figured I'd climb as far as I wanted and turn around. The snow had a thin soft layer on it which was perfect for booting until I hit a little roll over where it was soft no more.

With the winds increasing I figured it was time to turn around!

Here's the view from my highpoint with University Peak distant left, and the aptly named Big Pothole Lake front right.
I also enjoyed this distant view of Mt Brewer. Looks like that east ridge could go on skis!
After two or three turns on the firm, but smooth snow, I found just terrific skiing all the way down to the last bench above the trailhead. The lowest slopes were getting pretty soft - even at 10:00 or so.

Nice way to start a work day!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mono Pass Area

This Saturday Anne and I got together for a tour up out of Rock Creek. I was not sure of snow conditions as we've had a fair amount of new snow early in the week followed by a day or two of sunny, warm weather.

I basically decided on Rock Creek more for the great High Sierra scenery than for any specific ski terrain. We decided to head up to Ruby Lake and assess our options from there.

There is a tremendous amount of snow here.
We took an immediate shine to this run off the Sierra Crest just east of Mono Pass that Anne's late husband, Bill, had always wanted to ski.
So we skinned up towards Mono Pass. Here Anne heads for the gully (right) that leads to the pass with the stunning Ruby Wall above and to the left.
Anne exits aforementioned gully onto gentler slopes to the pass.
We arrived at the pass fairly early. Thinking the steep chute we wanted to ski may need more cooking we headed up the big broad slopes west of the pass for a short diversion.

We arrived at a nice peaklet (~12,800') with terrific views.

Bear Creek Spire, Mt. Dade and Mt. Abbot.
Mt. Morgan (South) front left and Mt. Tom back right.
We had decent skiing on the big broad slopes on slightly thick, but enjoyable snow.
We then headed over to our main objective. After a little consternation over the steep, rocky drop in, we slipped in and found the snow soft, but not too soft and it just got better as we descended.
That was a nice run!

Conditions in this area are still transitional with decent corn found on due south facing slopes and likely decent powder skiing on protected, high elevation north facing chutes. There's still about two feet of snow or more at the road end (Pack Station) with the runs off Pointless Peak & Mt Starr looking good and fat. There is a fair amount of slide debris in some of the steeper chutes however. Should be good skiing for quite some time barring a crazy heat spell!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Onion Valley

Since returning from Alaska I've been laid a little low by a cold I picked up on the plane up to Anchorage. I ignored it during our tour, but probably paid later.

I am finally feeling over it and the urge to ski could not be restrained any more!

Winter is hanging on here in a serious way, but a break in the action was forecast for this morning, so I headed up bright and early.

The north side of Independence Peak at first light. The chockstone in the couloir is still nearly buried!
I quickly arrived at Robinson Lake. The scene above towards University Col was not exactly inviting, so I headed south east from the Lake to check out a nice looking ramp.

Looking up towards University Col from Robinson Lake.
This is the view back towards Independence Peak from near my high point.
After some fairly straightforward skinning I found myself at the top of a most beautiful ramp.

It was a great run (click to enlarge).
The skiing was quite good with 6" to 10" of new, light snow over a firm crust. I did hit the crust occasionally up high, but once down in the shade rarely.

In the valley the skiing was even better with no crust felt at all until the last exit slope.
Man I needed that!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In and Out of Valdez

We woke up the next morning earlier than even I found comfortable, and headed to the Ferry Terminal only to find out the Ferry was not running due to a Coast Guard inspection. Ugh.

We made the most of the day sightseeing, including a cool visit to the Valdez Fly In.

Gotta love the Super Cub!

The next day we did get onto the Ferry.

Bald Eagle on ice.

I got to thinking it would be very cool to cruise a nice yacht here. Have some fishing rods on board, a couple sea kayaks, along with the skis. Hmmmm. Better work on that retirement plan!
Got to Anchorage that evening and flew out the next morning.
What an amazing adventure!

Alaska, The Tour, Day 5 , Outta Here

We awoke to about 6" of new snow and clearing skies providing more stunning scenery.

It made for real fun skiing on the low angle slopes between benches.

One is definitely not like the others. Halibut Head behind.
Eventually we ended up on a snow machine trail known to us as The Swath.

It was nice not to have to bush whack BUT the cut ends of the small trees and brush were now sticking out of the snow and scared the heck out of us.
Things got even more fun lower down.
We came out of the woods and off the trail at the mouth of Wortmann's Creek and then hiked the cobbled stream beds back towards the highway.
The obligatory stream crossing was no problem.
Twenty minutes or so later we were back to the highway hungry, weary, and happy to be back safe and sound.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Alaska, The Tour, Day 4, The Heiden Glacier

On day 4 the morning weather was a little more clear, which seemed to bode well for a sight seeing day on the Heiden Glacier.
We skied down to the toe of the Heiden on funky wet snow and skinned up the glacier. The clouds briefly descended, but lifted again quickly.
The scenery was unbelievably great.

We skinned up to the head of the glacier and turned around for a fast cruise out.
Then headed up off the glacier.
And found some decent skiing on gentle slopes back to camp - although the clouds returned for some very flat light.

The mountain scenery was certainly some the finest I have ever witnessed!

Alaska, The Tour, Day 3, Moving Day

Day three was moving day and, after a little cogitation, we headed over to near the mouth of the Heiden Glacier.

More gray skies accompanied us this day.
We skied down to the toe of the Deserted Glacier on few inches of damp new snow.
The toe of the Deserted was striking.
Then we traveled up over benches in the clouds. Kudos to Jed for some fine GPS work.
We came across a bare patch of ground which was covered, every inch, by lichen and moss.
We found another nice, level site and set up camp.
A much appreciated relaxing, albeit fairly strenuous, day.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Alaska, The Tour, Day 2, The Valley of the Tusk

The next day dawned completely different from the previous with low, grey skies and intermittent light snow.
A downward traverse brought us to the mouth of the Valley of the Tusk, where we attained the glacier and headed into the magical valley.
The taller mountains played peak-a-boo with us.

We found an amazing, untracked couloir that needed to be skied.
Steve and John head up behind me.
John, Steve, and I take a break from booting to smile for Jed's pic.
Jed got this nice shot of me (my rear more specifically) near our turn around. He measured the slope angle here at 50 degrees.
The couloir kinda doglegged left, but the next section had a more southerly aspect so the snow was crusty and the exposure above cliffs was intimidating. Nevertheless we were looking at about a 1,000' of great skiing below us.

A zoom shot of Jed high in the couloir.
And Jed rips the lower part too.

Looking back & up.
We then left the Valley of the Tusk and headed for a short peak with a beautiful face just above our camp.

We attained the northeast ridge and headed up. We did not make it far as the ridge became too steep and exposed.

On the way back we had a close call when Jed triggered a shallow (12" to 18") slab and went for a short ride that nearly took him over cliffs. Super scary. The slab slid on a buried layer of surface hoar which we simply did not believe could linger on this ridge.

Jed on the way up.
This slope slid and took Jed down and to the right. Thankfully it did not slide while we were booting up (Jed photo).
We were severely sobered by the incident and the stoke from the earlier couloir drop was completely eclipsed.