Monday, February 24, 2014

Virginia Lakes: Spring Skiing In February

The last series of storms was more generous north of Mammoth into Lake Tahoe than it was south and the word on the net was the Virginia Lakes road was plowed again this year, so Simon and I elected to head up and check it out.

After driving through a lot of depressingly dry scenery we were pleased to arrive at the relatively snowy trail head . Black Mountain rising above Simon at the beginning of the tour. 

While the southeast bowl of Mt. Dunderberg was enticing, it was also well tracked and most likely was going to end up busy, so the default plan was to head up canyon and look around.

After examining the map a bit, the cirque above Moat Lake emerged as our destination. Everything south facing was setting up well with either supportable sun crust/corn or wind board.

We were pretty early, so the first slope we attempted to climb was still pretty firm. To kill a little time we took a short warm up run on some very nice wind board.

Back at Moat Lake.

We then booted up to the ridge.

We were rewarded with spectacular Sierra views of the upper Green Creek drainage.

Impressive terrain at the head of Green Creek. East Lake above the skis.

The sun softened wind board skied like a dream. Smooth, consistent, and just soft enough.

We liked it enough to wanna try another run.

The next line was due south facing and instead of wind board we encountered classic corn snow. Some steep skinning led us to the top of the ridge again.

More dreamy skiing. We timed our descent well as much later it would have been sloppy.

Smiles!! Our first run was diagonally up to the right of the large knob and the second up to the left.

Sure was good to see so much snow up this way. Looking like more on the way too. It's starting to feel like a real ski season for a change.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sylvania Mountains Mountain Bike Adventure

I had been feeling a real need for adventure recently and had been pouring over maps seeking something to spark my interest. I settled on a big mountain bike ride through the Sylvania Mountains. 

Sylvania Mountains? Yes! This is a small range straddling the border of Nevada and California separating Fish Lake Valley to the north and Eureka Valley to the south. Here's the map. Apologies for the mediocre quality. Click on it to enlarge.

I started in Eureka Valley just off the Death Valley Road a mere hour's drive from home.

After climbing five miles or so up the huge alluvial fan I entered Cucomungo Canyon with big granite formations and stately Joshua Trees.

Almost all of the riding was on well graded dirt roads like this one.

Higher up, near the border, the Joshua Trees gave way to Pinyon Pines.

After nearly two and half hours of climbing I reached the first high point with Piper Peak and Palmetto Peak (left and right) in the background.

I rolled down the north slope passing several springs (water available, but would need treating) and mining shacks.

Arriving at Highway 266 and the Pigeon Springs stamp mill.

After a brief roll down 266 I turned back onto dirt to begin the climb into the heart of the Sylvania Mountains.

After starting out in a wide, gravel wash the road began climbing this sweet little mining track up to the pass.

The pass offered fine views deep into Nevada. These are Piper and Palmetto Peaks again.

And to the west I could see the Sierra (white in the distance left), the White Mountains (dark distance right) and Chocolate Peak (middle above the road).

The Sylvania Mine held all sorts of mining junk.

The long descent wound down pretty Sylvania Canyon

 eventually landing me in Fish Lake Valley with the White Mountains towering above it.

Chocolate Peak grew closer.

The left from whence I came, the right the road ahead - back to Eureka Valley.

Big open country here.

After crossing a shallow divide I very much enjoyed the descent through Willow Wash with fantastic, often colorful rock formations.

Then back to the car in Eureka Valley. This was a sight for sore legs!

Fifty miles of truly spectacular, remote riding!

I was fortunate to hit this loop in perfect condition. Several of the roads periodically wash out and would become tedious if not heinous riding - particularly Sylvania Canyon. It appeared much of the route had been graded recently and the high elevation riding (>7,000') did not involve much snow or mud since we have not had much precip this year.

If you like long, remote rides with plenty of climbing through widely varying terrain and vegetation then do this ride!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

South Fork Bishop Creek

Was wondering what the snow situation up South Fork way was, so I put on the XC skis and my old T3s and did a little wandering.

First off, forget about Table Mountain or any of the shots along the way to South Lake. It's patchy at best. In fact the road is driveable past the Tyee trailhead to the base of the grade up to Parcher's Resort. From there the road has good coverage.

It's a bit of a haul up to South Lake where I found this view.  Might be enough snow to ski Treasure Bowls, but might not.

Thrashed and flailed on ice, windboard, sun crust, wind crust, powder, and occasional rot and got up near Lake Marie Louise.

Hurd Peak has a ways to go, but the bowls in front could be ok.

Johnson w/ its couloir looking filled in alright.
 Unskiable Skier's Peak.

Probably the most hazardous skiing I'll do all year! Not life threatening hazardous, but the potential for mild to moderate injury was huge. Trying to rein in them skinny sticks was a real challenge. Lots of step turns, a few teles and a pile of "oh craps!"  Didn't go down, but it was plenty close several times.

Nice day, "fun" tour. Really need a couple more feet down here though.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Backcountry Skiing in Mammoth!

Yep! Winter has finally arrived to the Eastern Sierra.

Somehow, most years, February delivers good winter skiing and this year is no different.

Of course the bar is set pretty low after this most incredibly dismal December and January.

Right around the first of the month we got a real nice cold winter storm which added another 12" to 20" to the snow pack in the Mammoth Lakes Basin.

Problem was the previous 12" to 20" of snow on the ground had been sitting around for two months turning into a weak, rotten mess, so the avalanche hazard was significant.

Steve and I toured up near Blue Crag back on 2/2 under gorgeous skies, light to moderate wind, and cold temps. The snow was fantastic, but we did experience several loud collapses of the snow pack. Quick tests with the ski pole indicated a gradual increase in density with depth to about 18" down, then an alarmingly hollowness for another 20" or so.

We stayed off anything steep, which wasn't too disappointing because the steeper lines were mostly rocky minefields anyways.

Steve skins up with Blue Crag behind him.

We took a couple of fun runs in these nice glades.
Sure was nice to ski some fine powder this season. Twas a long time coming.

Last week stayed unsettled and cold with a few more inches of  fresh snow in the basin, so Nemo and I did a dawn patrol ski on Friday to get in on the fun.

We skied the Hollywood area above McLeod Lake and found more excellent snow.

Nemo skinning, grinning, and digging the winter scene.

It was his first outing on his new powder boards and he took a liking to them right away. Them rocks took a bite or two out of the bases though!

The always picturesque crest was in especially fine form.
The snow pack here was deeper and less hollow, but still pretty suspect so we stayed on the shallower lower slopes. Had a good old time and found some sweet little shots in the trees I had not skied before.

Friday night into Saturday the weather changed, becoming damp and warm. We got more much needed snow, but the light, wonderful snow that we had been enjoying was replaced with classic Sierra cement.

Undeterred and happy to see ANY kind of snow, Anne and I headed up in the Sky Meadows area for a tour.

The dampness and the low clouds made for a pretty cool mood.

The skiing above 9,500' was surprisingly good. The snow was a dense, creamy goodness that carved up very nicely. Didn't get any good pics of Anne turning, but here she is near the bottom of one of the nice little slopes we skied. Black, white and blue!
No collapsing or cracking here, but we did see a little shallow slide where the wind had obviously created a pillow. It did not step down into the lowest layer, which was a reassuring sign.

More smiles at the end of this ski too!

It's been great to get out, experience some mountain solitude, put in a skin track, groove on some good turns, and enjoy the company of my good friends.

Now lets see what happens next during this crazy winter!