Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tioga Pass

On the third day of our trip down south we headed up to Tioga Pass to ski a line that I've been looking at for years. While this may technically be the end of the Dana Plateau, I refer to this peak as North Gibbs. The line we went to ski is on the lookers left skyline right off the peak. The ascent route to access this line is a little different than climbing up to the plateau like you would to ski the coke chute, the ripper, the third pillar, or kidney lake. Instead of climbing the coke chute we headed up the chute to the lookers left, right above Oscar's head in the photo below.
After skining up to the base of the chute we switched to crampons to boot up the firm snow. After topping out on the chute we still had a ways to go.
Coming out of the chute the pitch eased back a little and we were able to skin to the top of North Gibbs. In the photo below Oscar climbs with Mono Lake and Tioga Pass Road in the background. Another beautiful day!
After several big days in the High Sierra we were wiped out and happy to reach the top of our line. I've been looking at this one for years so I got to ski it fresh. Oscar captured a good shot of me dropping into this one... This line was huge, once it goes out of view it just goes on and on, I'm glad to have finally skied this.
While we were on the top of North Gibbs we looked over at the north side of South Gibbs, and it looks good. I think we may have found a few more things to hit the next time we're down in that area... Another great day down in the High Sierra, spring in California, does it get any better?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

South Lake

The day after we skied the Matterhorn, Oscar and I drove on down to South Lake, just outside of Bishop, CA. The past weekend marked "Fishmas", or opening weekend for fishing season in the Eastern Sierra. This event is celebrated not only by anxious fishermen, but also by backcountry skiers excited to gain easier access to unbelievable ski terrain. The parking area at South Lake is at 9,500 feet making it a breeze to hike the 5 summits above 13,000 feet in the area. In the photo below my friend Oscar hikes across a still frozen South Lake with Hurd Peak dominating the skyline. Our first objective for the day is out of sight behind the peak in the right of the photo. Be sure to look for the people ice fishing in the lower left of the shot...After several hours of hiking we finally caught a glimpse of our first objective for the day, Mt. Johnson. Mt. Johnson is 12,871 feet at the summit, and a long way from the car. This aesthetic face has a number of skiable lines, but right now the only one that goes through is the chute on the lookers right of the peak. A while later and we're almost to the top of the chute. Unfortunately someone had skied our line the day before, but the snow was still really good and there was plenty of room left for us to make nice turns. Oscar makes his way up the bootpack towards the top of Mt. Johnson, the Bishop Creek drainage heads west down the valley behind us, and notice the White Mountains across the Owens Valley in the distance. And dropping, the reward for the slog was good, very good. I actually got a shot of me skiing too! The chute was good top to bottom, and we enjoyed smooth snow all the way over to the base of Hurd Peak.
Once you are all the way back to Mt. Johnson, the east face of Hurd Peak(12,237ft) is "on the way" back to the car. The inviting steep powder slope just couldn't be passed up so we skinned around and booted up for a lap. The short bootpack was tough after our already long day of hiking and skiing, but we were handsomely rewarded with powder turns.
Oscar pillages the fresh powder on the east face of Hurd Peak. We skied good quality snow all the way to the lake.

While on the top of Hurd Peak I spied my next line in the South Lake area, it is the obvious crescent shaped chute in the photo below. I'm not exactly sure why but this just calls to me and I can't seem to take my eyes off it, maybe I'll get to ski in the next week or so...


So I got home from France and took a day or two to try and recover from my jet lag before heading down to the high Sierra to do a little skiing. Our first objective was a peak out of Bridgeport, CA called the Matterhorn. While not technically difficult or incredibly steep, the Matterhorn stares you in the face every time you drive by it and I'd never skied it. This stunningly beautiful peak is far from the car and getting there could take you all day, and many people choose to spend the night out there. In the photo below Oscar approaches the Matterhorn, still a ways off in the distance.Several hours later and we're booting up the west couloir. The east couloir and ski dreams both looked totally wind hammered so we went for the best snow we could find. We started our day in Twin Lakes which is just out of sight at the end of the drainage behind us.
Finally we get to the fun part. The snow was a little variable but really good. Actually we enjoyed consistently good skiing almost the entire way back to the car which is often a rarity in these parts. It was a beautiful day and we were stoked to have checked another awesome peak off our lists in good snow conditions.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Home again, Home again

Its nice to be home, and we've been getting some snow. Late April doesn't really add up to the best powder skiing, but I got out and tried, and I tried a funky new angle with my helmet cam...

Some more cool pictures from Chamonix

Luckily my friend Dave skis with a camera some of the time. He captured a few images of me throughout the trip, and here's a few that I like. Here I am skiing some pow on the lower slope of Mt. Mallet.Here I'm skiing some pow at the top of the Aiguille de Belvedere.
Climbing to the top of the Aiguille de Belvedere.
Dropping in to the Col de Cortes, this thing is steep.
In the sun dropping into the Col de Cortes.
A little bit of Chamonix rock stepping. They seem to walk on rocks with their skis a lot there. I don't really mind doing it, it just looks a little weird in pictures.
My first ever skis on rappel, I think it went well, and was followed by some more rock stepping...
And nothing like a beautiful knife edge ridge walk in a white-out. This run was tons of fun, rappelling, rock stepping, ridge walking, and even a little powder skiing mixed in for good measure.

The shoulder of Mt. Mallet

After an exciting day on the aiguille du encrenaz and a couple trips to the hospital I had a chance to get back out with the Chamonix crew for another exciting ski run off the Aiguille du Midi. Our fearless leader Dave thought we should hit a line called the shoulder of Mt. Mallet, something he thought hadn't been skied all year. If, in fact, this line had not been skied all year it is due the fact that it isn't really all that easy to get to. One could climb up it and risk death in the serac fall zone, or you can go the way we went... After skining for a while, climbing a chute, rappelling into another drainage and skining up the glacier, we finally got to the crux of the route. This incredibly steep and rock face is the only reasonable way up to the top of our line. The steep bootpack was a little hairy, especially when you consider the exposure beneath us, it felt good to have two ice axes for this one...We finally made it to the top of the line, and our big crew had a little difficulty fitting onto the steep ridge at the top. Dusan, Giulia, John, and Jim, and of course Dave and myself, was quite the massive group. These guys ski together all the time, I was just tagging along for a couple weeks, and I'm glad I had skilled and experienced Chamonix "locals" to show me the ropes, no pun intended.
Since Dusan put in a healthy amount of the final bootpack he got to drop first on the top. Here he examines the powder with the towering Dent du Geant in the background. Its a long way to the glacier from here and the skiing was pretty darn good most of the way. It was fortunate that we had such good weather while I was there, because even though the skiing wasn't "all-time" it was pretty good, and beautiful sunny days make you want to get out.
About halfway down the chute opens up into a sweet steep face. Believe it or not this is actually a picture of me grabbing a few pow turns way above the glacier below. Chamonix is cool. Note the seracs hanging off the cliff faces all around, that is why you don't want to approach this line from the bottom, they have a tendency to just fall off whenever they want to.
Once we got a bit lower down we could actually open it up and carry some speed. In the photo below I'm cruising down an enormous face with a steep wall of glacial ice in the background. There aren't too many places in the world where you can ski in mountains like these, truly an incredible experience.
The shoulder of Mt. Mallet was the last cool line that I got to ski in Chamonix. With volcanic ash disrupting air traffic throughout Europe we were lucky to get home only one day later than we were supposed to. This was very fortunate due to Lynn's knee injury which we are now finding out to be somewhat less serious than we had originally thought. Its nice to be home, and with the recent snow here in California it is time to get after it down in the high sierra.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Scariest day ever!

A few days ago Dave and I headed back to the aiguilles rouge with Lynn and Rosanna. We had found good snow the day before, so we figured we could do it again. In the photo below we hike towards the back of the aiguille de encrenaz. You can see three chutes in the peak in front of us, and the line we're skiing drops in off the top from the middle chute. A little further along, and Lynn and Rosanna cruise up the top of the ascent chute with the Mont Blanc Massif behind them. This place is incredibly beautiful.
The line we skied was a little gnarly. The top 100 meters or so was extremely exposed. The snow that we skied is really exposed and steep until you get below the rappel. Once you're beyond the rappel the slope is less steep, and generally not that exposed... In the photo below Lynn rappels into the lower slope while Dave looks on. You can sort of see the lower part of the chute on the lookers right...
And here Lynn is about to finish the rappel, which she did quite well since I'm pretty sure it was her first time rappelling with skis on... Dave and I followed after she made it through and then things got interesting, very interesting....
In the photo below you can see the line we descended. The line comes right off the top and cuts lookers left to a very short rappel, at which point you're in a big chute that under normal circumstances would have been pretty sweet. Unfortunately we learned a little bit about helicopters this day. Everyone is okay minus a few bruises and a tweaked knee. This was a prime example of how quickly things can go wrong in the mountains. Generally I take it for granted how infrequently we have problems when we're doing things that are actually quite dangerous.
I apologize for the vagueness of all this, but I will explain more later.... And coming up, skiing the shoulder of Mt. Mallet, and more powder.

More powder skiing in Chamonix

The other day we headed out in search of more powder. All the easy to access lines seemed to be heavily skied, but luckily Dave, Dusan, and John had the brilliant idea of going to the top of the aiguille de belvedere, istead of just going to the col like hundreds of people before us. The extra thirty minutes of bootpacking afforded us a completely untracked steep chute that was sloughing big... Here Dave and Dusan stand in front of the Aiguilles Rouge, the range on the north side of the Chamonix Valley. Here's a shot looking east from the top of the aiguille de belvedere, you can see our bootpack coming up from the col, where everyone seems to drop in. This run put us down in the Berard Valley where we had a several mile long ski out to the town of Buet. In Buet we enjoyed some beers before jumping on the train back to Chamonix.
And dropping, Dave dives into a sweet but heavily sloughing pow run. This run was pretty steep, but really pretty mellow by Chamonix standards...
And Dusan follows suit, scoring a little pow for himself. I went last down this section and covered the boys in the cloud from my slough, apparently it was pretty exciting, but I didn't even see it happen. It was another good day of adventure in the mountains around Chamonix.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cosmiques Pow, kinda...

Today I woke up to a loud banging on my door. Confused and startled by this, I had no idea who would be knocking at this hour since the plan had been to take today off from skiing. It was Dave, he said "40 cm's meet me at the Aiguille, quick." I wasn't ready at all, but made it over there in 10 minutes for the first Box. Seeing no other pairs of fat skis in the Tram we took a leisurely stroll over to the Cosmiques. This was my first foray into the Cosmiques couloir, one of the most classic and heavily skied lines in Chamonix. This is one of the go-to ski area style runs off the Aiguille and a super sweet couloir. In the photo below Dave inches his way down into the entrance of the Cosmiques, a spot where a lot of people rappel. The firm snow, or ice as I call it, was little dicey through this steep and rocky section.
Once we got through the rock cruxes we found some nice wind deposited pillows of snow for the lower two thirds of the run. The deposits were really deep and face shots were plentiful, with the occasional pure ice turn that would sneak up on you. But if you played your cards right you could avoid the ice and laugh your way to the bottom.
In the photo below Dave steps on the throttle and enjoys some of the best turns of the day.
We had decided to hike back to the Aiguille Mid-station to avoid the thin cover thrash out the bottom to the tunnel, and on the way over the clouds and the peaks made a perfect backdrop for a cool shot of the tram cars as they passed overhead.
Then we looked down the hill at the smooth dust on crust and we just couldn't pass it up. The snow was blower, but only about 8 inches deep on top of a smooth crust. The lower pitch of the Aiguille has some really great terrain, and I can only imagine how fun the runs down through this zone are when you can ski to the bottom. We managed to ski most of the way, and then we continued down on a trail to the tunnel where we got a ride back to town. In all, we got about 7,000 vertical feet of sweet dust on crust skiing, followed by about 1,000 feet of downhill walking.
It was a good day indeed!

The Aguille du Midi and Adventure skiing with Dave

The fabled Aguille du Midi is one of the most ridiculous ski lifts in the world. Putting a tram to the top of this tower of rock was a crazy idea, and it is even crazier that they actually did it. It does, however, offer access to some of the most extreme ski terrain in the entire world, and that is pretty cool. The other day Lynn and I headed up there to do a quick little tour, and eventually we headed down the Vallee Blanche. Our ski was more like a little sightseeing mission as the conditions down the Vallee were a little rough. It is pretty amazing to ski through huge seraced glaciers for miles and miles, and cool to check out even if the skiing is bad.
One of the most interesting parts of our run was finding this cave that they bore into the glacier. At the end of the Mer de Glace, or Sea of Ice, they have made a cave that you can walk through as a tourist attraction. I'd never walked around inside of a glacier before, and it was pretty cool.

And in typical French fashion they had to take it to the next level. There was a thirty foot long carved ice bear in the cave, Why Not? They had also lit up the cave with all different colors of lights and had carved a number of rooms. In this photo you can see the Ice cave, and a variety of older ice caves that have since been abandoned. I think they make the cave in the same spot every year, and that gives you a good idea of how fast the glacier moves down the Valley. I think it is also pretty interesting to notice how the top of the ice is cover with so much rock and dirt, it almost looks like the ground, a moraine in the making I guess...
The Mer de Glace is truly an amazing sight to see. Even though our ski run wasn't that great I was really psyched to check out this incredible place. Touring the ice cave alone was something that I'll probably never forget. Mid winter you can often ski down to town from here, but later in the spring, like now, you would end up walking down. They have an old cog railway that runs from the spot this photo was taken and that was a really unique and fun way to end a great tour of the Valee Blanche and the Mer de Glace.
The next day Dave and I decided to go for a ski in the afternoon. The snow hadn't been great, so we were going to go on an "adventure" ski. It was clear as a bell until we got to the top of our run, the Ronde Glacier. As soon as we got ready to drop in a cloud rolled in and completely whited us out on top of a very steep and firm ski run. Having been down this area many times before, Dave was fine with it, since I'd never even looked at what we were about to ski, it made me a little nervous... Here's Dave sitting at the top of the Ronde, hoping the cloud might lift...
It didn't really lift, but it was in and out, so we made our way down to a variation of the normal route of the Ronde called the Heart of the Ronde. This variation usually involves a little bit of rappeling, and the photo below is a shot looking straight down the line. Dave wanted to do a variation of this variation, and this is where the real adventure began. Directly left of this line is a knife-edge ridge which would lead to the skiers left side of the Heart of the Ronde...
And this is what the first half of the knife-edge looked like. We roped up and Dave went ahead and made some nice steps for me to follow. This ridge may not look that crazy, but a slip down either side would have been pretty ugly.
We followed up our ridge walk with a little rappel to get into the top of our line. Remember, any rock you see is vertical.... I don't commonly rappel with skis on, but that sort of thing is the norm here in Chamonix. Thank goodness for our ropes because without them we couldn't even really have attempted this line. Eventually we made it through these rock cruxes and got to the slope we had set out to ski.
And ski it we did. Here's a shot of Dave shredding a powder turn down the variation of the Heart of the Ronde. The clouds were in and out all day, and it was even snowing from time to time. For all of our efforts and rope work we were rewarded with about 15 sweet powder turns which was pretty awesome considering that most of the snow elsewhere had turned to crap.
Getting to this line truly was an adventure, and I thank Dave for showing me this little gem. While the conditions may not be ideal it sure is a lot of fun playing around in these huge mountains.