Monday, March 31, 2014

White Wing

Yesterday's winds brought a classic Sierra spring storm through the area with around a foot reported at the ski area. I toured with a new partner, Dave, and we decided to drive north and have a look at the Chicken Wing/White Wing area.

I was pretty skeptical we'd have enough snow, but figured we could piece something together. Four or five inches of snow covered the road on the approach which was bare before this last storm.

In fact the trek into the meadow was all or mostly bare before this last storm, but once we got to the north slopes of White Wing coverage was better.

 The snow was a little wind blown, easy to skin, and staying nice and cold under a steady, brisk west wind.

Views across the canyon to June Mountain ski area.

Dave approaches the mini summit with Long Valley and the Glass Mountains behind.

The skiing proved to be good fun!

 Our handiwork.

There were probably "better" places to go for deeper snow or easier approaches, but it's hard to beat good turns in this amazing spot. Thanks Dave!

Mt Emerson Recon

Steve and I toured up to the north face of Mt Emerson to "have a look" at the beautiful couloirs there. The ideas was to figure out the approach and perhaps give one of them a shot if conditions warranted.

The upper Buttermilk road is clear of snow all the way to usual spring skiing parking area. A short hike led to the approach gully and easy skinning the rest of the way. The snow is thin though, and one more warm spell could turn the approach into a long walk.

The winds quickly turned from moderate to strong on the skin in.

Mt Emerson looming up canyon.

By the time we reached the base of the chutes the winds had become stronger than strong!

The amazing Zebra Couloir comes into view first.

Shortly followed by the main Emerson Couloir.

Conditions looked decent, but the fierce winds gave us pause. Gusts were occasionally strong enough to knock us off our feet!

The ski back was fun in a perverse way. A mixed bag of sun/wind crusts plus the wind kept us off balance and very few confident turns were had, but travel was quick and no injuries were suffered.

We'll be back!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Return Creek Ski Tour

When Nemo and I skied out of Virginia Lakes a few weeks ago (post here) the terrain to the west looked amazing and so I decided to take a multiday tour out over Frog Pass to the head of Return Creek and explore. Click here for a map.

I floated the idea to a couple of buddies, but unfortunately they could not join me, so it was to be a solo adventure. 

The tour starts out of the Virginia Lakes trailhead and heads over Frog Pass. Snow conditions were excellent for rapid travel with firm corn snow and solid wind board with very little breakable crust.

This was the view from the pass back into the Virginia Lakes drainage and Dunderberg Peak.

And this was the view to the west towards my destination.

After a  fun descent on fine windboard (good turns even with the heavy pack!) and a very short climb I arrived at beautiful Summit Lake which literally sits on the Sierra Crest. It seems to drain both to the East, into the Great Basin, and to the west, into the Pacific Ocean!

After Summit Lake a traverse north and a little climbing brought me to my camp which took a good effort to construct.

After setting up the Megamid and cooking dinner I went for an evening stroll (on skis) to loosen the body and mind.

After a long, cold night the day broke crisp and clear. After a big warm bowl of oatmeal and a delightful hot cup of coffee I made my toward Twin Peaks and enjoyed more astounding scenery.

I passed beneath Virginia Peak. A fine peak with several extreme descents for those so inclined. 

This was the view down canyon towards Shepard's Crest. My camp was in the clearing in the center.

Two nice ski descents off of Twin Peaks (the summits are back out of view).

Since I was going solo I opted for the most moderate route which started out discouragingly in this rocky gully. I had to remove the skis and clamber over talus two or three times.

Perseverance paid off though as the gully opened into a wide, gentle canyon with easy travel right on up to the east (lower) summit of Twin Peaks.

Vast views south.

The summit pile sat on a little point with big exposure.

The higher west summit (left side of pic) required a long talus descent and a rocky traverse which I just wasn't up for.

This is a zoom shot back to Dunderberg Peak with the White Mountains behind. Simon and I were on the right shoulder a few weeks ago.

Another zoom shot south. Banner and Ritter back left, Mt. Conness far right, and North Peak left of the big snow field center.

I skied from the summit down to the col for this view down into the Twin Lakes drainage. The Sweetwater Mountains are distant right.

The huge cruiser valley skied really well on consistent wind board.

Once past the rocky obstacles in the gully the lower slopes held perfectly cooked corn.

Next up on the "to do" list was a big loop over Virginia Pass, down Glines Canyon, and back up to Summit Lake (see the map linked at the top).

Right at the top of the pass I found this interesting sight. These are animal tracks! The snow is compressed and consolidated by the weight of the critter, then when the wind blows the soft, loose snow around the tracks is eroded leaving the raised tracks.  

The cruise down Glines Canyon was terrific.  Very fast travel. Very fine scenery. This pic was taken a bit below the pass looking down to Green Lake.

And this is the view back up the canyon from Green Lake. 

I stopped for a quick break at this island near the outlet of Green Lake. My kit in full display. Dynafit 7 Summit skis (love em!). I used the Life Link claw on my pole as a little insurance in steep, firm conditions. The orange unit near the red pole basket is a SPOT locator. It sends a signal indicating my location to Mary and has an emergency function in case I need help. Nice to have when you're flyin' solo!  

Above Green Lake I skinned up nice firm snow in this neat creek bed. 

Eventually arriving at the big & beautiful East Lake.  

I topped off the day's journey with a nice corn run down the southwest side of Mt Camiaca. South, southwest, and particularly west slopes had corned up really well. Smooth velvet! Just don't be late or you'll have mush. Seemed like 11am to noon was prime time. 

The following day I needed to get home, but first I got up nice and early for a tour up above Return Lake.

Gray Butte.

Return Lake and Virginia Pass with Glines Canyon beyond. 

I had designs on Stanton Peak, but found it too steep and firm for solo comfort, so I headed over to a small promontory with outstanding views. Here's Spiller Lake at my feet, Spiller Creek below, and Matterhorn Creek in the next valley. Beyond is some of the most rugged, least visited areas in Yosemite National Park. 

The beautiful head of Spiller Creek with Whorl Mountain on the left and Horse Creek Pass at the notch. 

After another pleasant descent down to camp I packed up and headed out. 

The trip worked out really well. I had not visited this area before and was simply amazed at the incredible scenery. The weather and the skiing were superb too.

As John Muir said, "Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."

Just what my spirit needed!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Backcountry Skiing, Bishop!

I got in a couple more days of skiing.

After skiing in Mammoth for the past few weeks, I decided it was high time to take a look closer to home. While Table Mountain and South Fork were still dreadfully thin, Bishop Bowl looked pretty good. 

Once up and over the moraine the coverage was decent.

I skinned up to the left shoulder first thinking I would do some short laps in the glades. Nice views of the terrain above Lake Sabrina.

But then I figured I'd go all the way to the right shoulder just below the summit. Amazing alpine scenery from there.  Mt Emerson in the back.
Paiute Crags.

The skiing in the sparse glades turned out to be quite good top to bottom. With light powder up top and creamy stuff lower down. One of those days when I started with low expectations, almost baled, then had a stellar day.

Next up I figured I would give the Humphreys Glacier area a try. Easy driving (little snow) to close to 8,000' and good coverage once to 9,000' or so.

The approach gully was filled in nicely. Location of last year's MCL tear!

Chute on SE side of Basin looked quite skiable. Not so sure it's transitioned to corn yet though.

The day's route runs up to a small ridge before a short, brushy drop into the McGee Creek drainage. Nice views from the ridge.

Mt. Locke.

Bishop Bowl. Previous day was up on the left hand ridge.

Travel up McGee Creek was quick and easy. Nearing Langley Lake with the huge moraine of Humphreys Glacier and Mt Humphreys above.

Skinned about 2/3s up the moraine as the snow became increasingly wind affected (always seems to be back here!). Skiing was doable, but strenuous on the moraine. Could of used some big heavy skis and speed - I had neither.

Cruised out McGee Creek on transition snow. Then really fun skiing out below Basin and in the approach gully on supportable sun crust and wind board.

Great scenery. So so skiing.
Can't complain. A couple of weeks ago there was half as much snow here!