Ken Roberts - - Ski Backcountry
Eastside Sierra springtime
subject: two new ski runs near Mt Whitney
A couple of days ago Gi got off the airplane from Germany, drove up met me in Lone Pine, and we spent the day exploring around South Fork Lone Pine Creek.
I'm calling these two runs "new" because they're not in any guidebooks and I've never heard them talked about -- though both were rather fun + pretty + interesting. The first is . . .
The peak about 13440 ft / 4098 meters (lat/long N36.55480 W118.27872), southwest of Consultation Lake. It's rather interesting + pretty to ski, so it needs a name: the "Schneider Crest".
It has some sustained slopes at least 35 degrees and some delicate maneuvering along the summit ridge -- Gi made it all the way to the snow summit keeping his skis on the whole way (I took mine off to cross a short section where the snow had blown off). Then on the descent we found a fun little hidden chute (? 40 degrees ?) on the lower southeast side, surrounded by impressive rocks.
Second was Wotan's Throne about 12700 ft (lat/long N36.56695 W118.27978), northwest from Consultation Lake
It has an great summit panorama of the Mt Whitney pinnacles and north to Mt Russell, south to Mt McAdie - (and very easy to sit on the summit). The surprise is that we were able to ski from next to the summit all the way down the southeast side, then down directly to Mirror Lake.
We saw three short chutes in the SE side, two of which are sometimes skiable. We booted up the North chute (around 40 degrees), but we found it had a rock step at the top (therefore going down us non-jumpers would have to down-climb the rock and put on skis on in a steep spot). So instead we chose to descend the Central chute, also at least 40 degrees - not wider than two ski lengths - the narrowest steep I've ever skied (and side-slipped).
Below we found a delightful gentle run on softened snow -- which turned into a delightful steep run, straight down to Mirror Lake (it's the slope ESE from the lake).
Below Mirror Lake we stayed on the south side of the main creek (unlike the summer hiking trail which takes the north side of the drainage), so we found additional fun NE-facing snow slopes with fun skiing almost down to the foot-bridge over the creek by the parking.
For skiers, South Fork Lone Pine Crk can be a lot more than just a place the Mt Whitney trail passes through.
11apr27 on TelemarkTalk
Fun day down south for Gi + me.
Whitney Portal -- sign for Road closed, well below the big switchback. But nicely clear + dry above the sign - reasonable number of parking spaces clear at Whitney Portal for those who drove up higher.
Sound snowpack in South Fork of Lone Pine Creek. We started around 7:00 - I was able to boot with no problem up to Mirror Lake (to Gi's amusement) before I decide to put on skis - (not because I was having any problem with feet breaking thru the surface - I was just getting tired of carrying the weight on my pack).
We were also happy with how good the skiing was still at 14:00-15:00, even at non-high altitudes.
But some of the coverage wasn't so good -- notably the N side of Arc Pass looked pretty rocky, also the E chutes on Thor Peak, also anything visible on Mt Irvine. Seems to me there was more snow coverage here back in 2005.
What was fun for us was finding interesting lines (with good coverage) to ski at a variety of elevations. And because S Fork Lone Pine is not much covered in most guidebooks, we enjoyed the sense of exploration and "making it up" as we saw things along the way and just deciding to try skiing them.
Mt Whitney area - more ideas
Whitney Portral trailhead parking - altitude approx 2540 meters / 8325 feet
Mt Whitney summit - altitude 4421 meters / 14505 feet
South Fork Lone Pine Creek - more ideas
altitude approx 3155 meters / 10350 feet : lat/long (N36.57243 W118.25660)
about +615 vertical meters climb over 2.5 km from Whitney Portal. Can be reached either by summer hiking trail to northwest side of main creek (not sure about steepness, often requires significant walking, Ken did it in May 2005), or (if enough snow) by going up on southeast side of main creek (most slopes not more than 30 degrees steepness, some fun skiing on descent, Ken + Gi did it in April 2011).
altitude approx 3250 m / 10675 ft : lat/long (N36.57069 W118.26290)
about +710 vertical meters climb over 3.0 km from Whitney Portal. Can be reached either by summer hiking trail to northwest side of main creek (not sure about steepness, often requires significant walking, Ken did it in May 2005), or (if enough snow) by going up on southeast side of main creek (most slopes not more than 30 degrees steepness, some fun skiing on descent, Ken + Gi did it in April 2011).
There are three possible ski runs above Mirror Lake: to SW (with a section nearly 35 degrees), WNW (less steep than WSW, not checked by us), and WSW (37-40 degrees, skied by Gi + Ken May 2011).
altitude approx 3560 m / 11675 ft : lat/long (N36.56137 W118.27226)
about +1020 vertical meters climb over 4.5 km from Whitney Portal. If go to it by way of Mirror Lake, the slope southwest above Mirror Lake has a section nearly 35 degrees, often icy in the morning due to wind (Gi + Ken encountered in April 2011). Perhaps this slope might be avoided if Mirror Lake is avoided, instead climbing southwest up from Bighorn Park and thereby bypassing Mirror Lake (but this alternate route might have a steep-ish slope of its own -- not checked by us so far).
altitude approx 4150 m / 13615 ft : lat/long approx (N36.55542 W118.28059)
about +1610 vertical meters climb over 6.5 km from Whitney Portal, or about +590 vertical meters over 2.0 km from Consultation Lake. Upper slopes on northeast side have steepness sustained around 35-40 degrees (not checked by us). Looking at in April 2011 (big snow year), seemed like the summer trail switchbacks themselves were not skiable due to exposed rocks (snow blown off by wind?), but an area northwest from the trail might be skiable -- better bet anyway.
altitude approx 3940 m / 12900 ft : lat/long approx (N36.55160 W118.27083)
about +1400 vertical meters climb over 6.0 km from Whitney Portal, or about +380 vertical meters over 1.5 km from Consultation Lake. Slopes on north side have steepness sustained around 35-40 degrees (Ken skied it in May 2005).
altitude approx 3750 m / 12300 ft : lat/long approx (N36.57676 W118.26551)
about +1210 vertical meters climb over 3.0 km from Whitney Portal. Slopes on East side look interesting, but not checked by us -- likely over 35 degrees, at least 40 degrees or more in some sections -- in April 2011 (big snow year) seemed to have too exposed rocks to be worth trying.
? Reach Thor Peak by ridge from West side? Looking from Wotan's Throne in late April 2011, the ridge seemed rather rocky, not at all well covered by snow.
altitude approx 3880 m / 12275 ft : lat/long (N36.56695 W118.27978)
about +1350 vertical meters climb over 5.6 km from Whitney Portal, or about +320 vertical meters over 1,1 km from Consultation Lake (in April 2011 Gi + Ken needed to take skis off to cross some rock bands (not difficult) on the lower slope North from Consultation Lake. Two steep + rather narrow gullies (about 40 degrees) on southeast side give access to the moderately-sloped and generally rocky summit area. In April 2011 Ken + Gi were able to go on snow all the way to just a few meters from the summit -- with it's great views (and nice seat) - (see report above). I'd be surprised if there's snow all the way in most other years.
The ski run from the bottom of the narrow steep gullies, E + ENE down directly to Mirror Lake if in good snow conditions and for skiers able to handle descending a 37-40 degree section was marvelous. Perhaps a helpful strategy is to think of going to the Wotan's Throne as an optional side-trip from climbing up +150 vertical meters north from Consultation Lake to ski this run.
altitude approx 4100 m / 13440 ft : lat/long approx (N36.55480 W118.27872)
about +1560 vertical meters climb over 5.7 km from Whitney Portal, or about +530 vertical meters over 1.2 km up from Consultation Lake. Upper slopes at least 35 degrees, with some exposure. Lower hidden couloir facing E + ENE is around 40 degrees. Skied by Gi + Ken in April 2011 (see report above). Spectacular views and interesting fun ski run (in good snow conditions).
see also: Gi's report + photos + GPS track
Mt McAdie altitude approx 4206 meters : lat/long approx (N36.55146 W118.27634)
Not checked by us. In early May 2005, looked like East-facing slope between Arc Pass and the col between two main summits of Mt McAdie might have enough continuous snow. Not sure what the steepness is: around 45-48 degrees? or is it 35-40 degrees? Since north side of Arc Pass did not look very skiable in April 2011, we didn't try to find out.
About +630 vertical meters over 2.0 km from Consultation Lake.
Ken did it in May 2005 (fairly big snow year) - lots of exposed rocks in the gully above Arc Pass -- though much was sort of skiable, wouldn't recommend it. Looking in late April 2011, seemed more rocky, more snow blown off, because the key gully faces west. Better ski run from summit of Mt Irvine down to Meysan Lakes valley.
Not checked by us. Looking in April 2011 (big snow year), seemed like the wind had blown some of = the snow away, left too many exposed rocks.
Some sections are not going to be skiable. Recommend bring ice axe and/or crampons. Ken did it in the late 1990s.
If there is a desire to traverse the summit from south to north . . . Keep in mind it might be tricky to find the top of the Mountaineer's Gully with snow cover if have not checked it out first from bottom, and that it can be very icy (due to wind) or re-frozen in the afternoon. Keep in mind that the Northwest side of North face has sustained section around 40 degrees, and in many years does not have continuous snow (possibly with slab rocks showing?).
Ken skied down it in the late 1990s -- then circled around west and north sides of Mt Whitney to Arctic Lakes and over Russell-Whitney col down to Icebery Lake and North Fork Lone Pine Creek
Not checked by us. About +225 vertical meters of climbing over 1.5 km, then about 525 vertical meters descent to Mirror Lake, most slopes less than 30 degrees. Could be exposed rock bands where skis would have to be removed to get across.
Not checked by us. Mentioned as possibilties in one ski guidebook. About +300 vertical meters up from Consultation Lake, perhaps exposed rock bands. The bowls don't go anywhere near the top of anything.
Not checked by us. Likely over 50 degrees.
main tour ideas South Fork
key question is whether to go on northwest side (summer hiking trail) or southeast side (usually more snow cover to lower down) of main creek on ascent or on descent.
key question on ascent is whether to bypass Mirror Lake (to avoid steep often icy slope southwest above lake)
key question on descent is whether to just go back the same way of the ascent, or rather to climb up an extra 150 vertical meters north from Consultation Lake to the southeast side of Wotan's Throne, then descend E + ENE direct to Mirror Lake.
which one is best likely depends on specific snow conditions each year -- which vary depending on total snowfall and strengh and direction of winds. So a helpful strategy is to just get up to Consultation Lake and have a look before deciding:
* Schneider Crest ski peak: spectacular views, interesting descent.
* Trail Crest pass: east + northeast side not checked by us for skiing. Optional to attempt also to continue to summit of Mt Whitney, or to ski down west side of pass toward Hitchcock Lake or Guitar Lake.
* Arc Pass: Optional to attempt to also climb and/or ski the east side of Mt MdAdie, or the west side of Mt Irvine.
* Wotan's Throne by gullies in its southeast side.
* tour around west + north sides of Wotan's Throne to Mirror Lake
strategies for ski touring South Fork
? approach to Bighorn Park by summer hiking trail or by southeast side of main creek ?
? descent from Bighorn Park by summer hiking trail or by southeast side of main creek ?
? camp near Bighorn Park ? or Mirror Lake ?
North Fork Lone Pine Creek - more ideas
approach: easier if do it early enough in a spring season with enough snow so that the main creek is well covered with snow. Otherwise have to climb up the rocks of the Escherbacker Ledges on north side of main creek -- then even less fun doing it that way on rocks on the way back down (carrying skis).
Lower Boy Scout Lake - ??
Mountaineers Gully - ?? can be icy due to winds -- or if tour is not fast or well-timed its surface can re-freeze in the afternoon.
Mt Whitney summit - ??
Mt Whitney North face - ??
Russell - Carillon col - ??
11may on TelemarkTalk [ photos ]
Excellent corn skiing Sunday on non-high S + E facing slopes. N slopes icy.
But the "easy" access to the upper basin is coming to an end. The slopes to the northeast of the steep section of the main creek have significantly melted out, leaving exposed rocks and thrashy brush. We made it (with some difficulty and debris) directly up the narrow "flume" of the creek itself, but I doubt this is going to hold much longer. (Which leaves the hiking trail route up the steep slope to SW of the creek, often icy in the morning).
11apr on TelemarkTalk
Found some very skiable snow this morning, up to 11500 ft on SE thru NE slopes (in view of the parking). Skied down E ridge + its NE side of the peak between Contact Pass + Mt Alice -- about 3300 vertical ft total -- starting with 1000 vert at 38.5 degrees, then 1250 at 32-35, and the rest was less steep, but still fun. Snow not mushy, but very edge-able, sent down a shower of crystals with me. A few short sections with some mild sluff debris. The very bottom 8200-8500 E-facing was notably sun/wind eroded, but still easily skiable at 11:00.
With all that wind in the last couple of days, I was afraid of finding boilerplate snow, so I decided to try for non-high S + E slopes where the sun could help me out. Drove up to the usual parking (road easily dry to the end). Started out about 6:30, with the idea of skiing some SE + E slopes on "Contact Peak" (at least that's what I call the peak about 12795ft between Contact Pass + Mt Alice, lat/long N37.11284 W118.47451)
I went past the E-facing gully for Mt Alice (tho it does not have continuous snow to the top of Mt Alice), climbed up the next obvious E-facing gully (just before the "flume" of S Pal creek). Not feeling much wind so far. Then I got off route, went too far N, reached a notch in E ridge about 10970ft -- by what looked like an interesting ski slope (which I had noticed earlier from below). So I climbed that (on crampons). Above 11500ft the E ridge snow was pretty wind-blasted -- and my face started getting actively "blasted".
So I gave up and skied down -- turned out one section was NE instead of my intended E + S, but that skied well too -- which made me optimistic for future days around the southern Eastside.
Finished by returning to parking on SE side of main creek -- think I got a more distance skiing than if I'd taken the hiking trail -- only one little thrash before reaching the road for the cabins and NE to the bridge by Glacier Lodge to cross the main creek back to my car.
Palisades - "Contact Peak" - E ridge NE side descent
Mt Gibbs East couloirs
11May on TelemarkTalk
Some great corn skiing down at around 11:00 Monday (also would have good an hour earlier) - except some pockets of deeper mush around the steepest section. (Gi managed to skin all the way to the top, but everybody else was happy to follow the steps I made).
Much less snow on the low approach than we were expecting (based on this big snow year). Fortunately there's a dirt road in the Bohler canyon approach (not shown on some maps), which made the hiking easier, then the bushwhack section wasn't too bad. High-clearance vehicle important for the approach road, Eric + Gi drove until blocked by fallen trees, around lat/long (N37.89740 W119.14092).
. . GPX file with tracks+waypoints: download this
We drove up the Buttermilks Rd on Wednesday. It was much worse than I remembered from like ten years ago. I'm no expert on driving dirt roads, but I'll suggest that anyone driving a normal-clearance vehicle should plan on not getting even as far as the junction with the Horton Lakes Rd (lat/long N37.309 W118.609, alt 2280m / 7500ft) -- not even as far as the normal approach to Basin Mt.
Fortunately someone in our party had a high-clearance 4WD, and we were able to drive up past crossing McGee creek and virtually to continuous snow (lat/long about N37.277 W118.619, alt 2615m / 8575ft), where we were glad to meet Glen + Terri, and get some good advice from them about snow conditions, which made us decide to ski the central Wahoo gully - (but this is about roads).
I'd suggest that anybody who wants to drive anywhere near that high should have pretty serious HC 4WD vehicle with a pretty seriously experienced driver. The water crossings (though exciting enough) were not the crux, rather some rocks and ruts, such as around (N37.294 W118.609, alt 2375m / 7800ft) for one.
Those with less serious vehicles or experience might be glad to make it that far and just park and start hiking.
Also, plan for extra time in the driving, for the many many "moderate" rocks + ruts which must be handled.
It might be somehow possible for High-Clearance 2WD to make it to the snow line, but we did spend 15 minutes helping a solo driver get his 2WD free from a wet rut (much lower down). (yet another reason we were a bit "late" starting our ski descent.)
Birch Mt loop
Big loop over Birch Mt - some good skiing lower East - too much wind - more exploratory adventure than we expected.
McMurry Meadows Rd for access: dirt mostly in good condition, glad Gi had rented a high-clearance (non-4WD) for the last half mile or so.
Snow -- The wind prevented any softening of the snow up higher, but the snowpack seemed overall very sound, so we could enjoy skiing softened snow at lower altitudes - found a nice little gully holding snow down lower than we expected. Skiing the upper section of the main East run (over 35 degrees) on hardpack was though-provoking, fortunately it was very edge-able.
Rocks -- After viewing from rt 395, we knew we'd have to cross some rocks to get between the top of the main East runs and the summit slope -- but we didn't appreciate how wide the rock zone was going to be (? 75 yards ?). Since we were doing a loop (climbing up wide around south by way of Tinnemaha Creek, then descending direct east) - so finding the top of the main east run turned into an adventure. Carrying skis over chunks of granite when the wind was almost knocking me over (and not finding a good snow descent the first two times) is not something I want to repeat often.
Snowy gully on east side down low was nice: Get in there quick
before it melts out more -- location on track in GPX file, which also shows a
way to avoid the worst bush-thrashing while reaching it from parking.
McMurry Meadows Rd: wide dirt, currently likely drivable (but with some steep-ish and curvy sections) on normal clearance 2WD to the cattle gate less than a mile before the normal parking spot (N37.06678 W118.35216) to start bushwhacking up toward Birch. After the gate, there's a water crossing, then up a short steep rocky hill -- we were glad we had high-clearance.
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