Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Birthday to me

As usual on my birthday I headed out to go and get some turns on snow to celebrate the fact that I am now older than I used to be. This year was no exception and I went out to get some of the sweet pow that has been falling over the past month. We headed down south to the High Sierra to get our powder fix and we eneded up at Tioga Pass which was open for the first time this year. We hiked up Mt. Dana and headed straight to the Solstice Couloir for some steep pow. This is what the entrance to the Solstice looked like... That cliff under the spine of snow was over 50 feet tall and pretty intimidating to drop in on... I cut a big notch into the cornices so we could side slip in and it was pretty manageable after that.Here's what our entrance looked like after the cornices got chopped away, again the cliff beneath me is over 50 feet, and the cornice to the right is probably 25 feet tall. Once on this slope everything was great and it was powder for 2,000 vertical feet. May 29th might be the latest I've ever skied powder...
Here's a shot looking up the line I just skied down. You can see my tracks on the left of the frame, and you can see how massive the cornice we had to drop beneath was, it was huge! The tiny notch you see on the ridge is the notch that I chopped out of the cornice with my ski, and you can see the cliff we were above while dropping in. Exhilarating to say the least.
After scaring the crap out of ourselves dropping into the solstice couloir we hiked over to the Powerhouse chutes. In the photo below Pat makes a big slash on the dust on crust pow heading down to the car we parked for this shuttle run. It was pretty good snow...
Mike Vaughan and I decided to drop into a different line in the Powerhouse zone and Mike went first and ripped it. I didn't ski this as fast as he did, I was impressed.
The next day, 5/30/10, we went down to South Lake to ski the couloirs on Mt. Thompson. Pat, Je, and Mike had never skied Thompson before so I put in a nice bootpack, thn realized I needed to ski neighboring Mt. Gilbert and headed that way to ski a new line in epic conditions. It was a beautiful, albeit warm day, I guess it gets warm this time of year...
After skiing a quick run on Mt. Thompson I booted up the north couloir of Mt. Gilbert by myself to take another line off my growing list. It was steep, possibly the steepest line I skied all year in the Sierra. In the photo below I am standing straight up, so the chute below is how steep?...
No one was watching as I skied this, but it was among the steeper things I skied all year, and those are definitely some of the shortest turns I made this season. There was a lot of snow moving and getting caught in my own slough was not how I wanted to celebrate my birthday...
Overall, I was really happy to have finally skied this line, I've been in this area so many times and not skied it... The conditions were good, although a little sketchy, and for May 30th, probably the best conditions I've ever had... This is one for the books, I don't think I'll ever ski powder this late in the year ever again...not on a line like this
Happy Birthday to me, nothing in the world makes me feel like skiing something like this.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The winter that will never end

Since I last posted about my adventures on snow it has continued to snow and snow and snow here in Lake Tahoe. All the resorts have been closed for almost two weeks and our snow pack has only increased in that time. With Lynn being injured I've been staying close to home and trying to get out skiing as much as my work schedule will allow. There is very limited mountain biking to be done since all of the good trails in the area are still snow bound and will remain that way for some time. Lots of people are "over it" around here, but those who are willing to enjoy whatever mother nature has to throw at them are still out getting it good in the mountains throughout the state of California.
Luckily for my friends and I, we are of the mind that when there is snow, you go skiing. This is especially true when there is powder, and even more so when there is powder in late May. The other day my friend Joe and I headed out to Ward Valley(my backyard) and found great skiing conditions on all aspects, including powder on north facing terrain. In the photos above and below Joe enjoys some of the best May powder turns he's ever had.
Today was quite similar, it started raining at lake level last night and we got another 6 inches or so of new snow up high. I skied a few laps up at Alpine and, considering the time of year, I was pleasantly surprised by the conditions. It was snowing hard all day and looks to keep up through the day tomorrow.... Looks like tomorrow might be another powder day. The only drawback to getting all this new snow this time of year is that as soon as the sun comes out, it is all over for a couple days, nothing escapes the sun and it's radiant warmth this time of year.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Photo day at South Lake

After getting throttled by the wind down off Tioga, Abro and I met up with Mike Vaughan and headed down to South Lake to shoot some pics for my upcoming article in Backcountry Magazine. The conditions have been great, so getting shot for the article was easier than it could have been. The South Lake area is one of my favorite spots to go skiing this time of year so shooting pics there was great for me. Mike Vaughan approaches the Gilbert Thompson Cirque with a beautiful ridge in the background.After hours of shooting pics and hiking around we tried to find a good slope for sunset light. In the photo below Abro tiredly hikes for another lap late in the day with Mt. Johnson and Mt. Gilbert in the background. South lake rules!
Abro put the camera down for a few minutes while we shredded this ini chute with some nice cold snow in it. South Lake is in the background and out car is a mile down the hill from there. This season's snow pack is way different than last year. Last year at this time the lake was melted and there was almost no snow or ice on the banks of the lake. What a difference a year can make.

Shut down by the wind

Sometimes, even when everything has been going your way for a while, you get reminded that mother nature is in charge. One morning last week I was meeting up with photographer Jason Abraham to shoot some pics down off Tioga Pass and South Lake. The wind was so incredibly strong that there was no way we were going up onto the plateau, so we went with plan B. Plan B was to take our time and just ski something on the lower slopes below the plateau. Here's an black and white grainy shot of the plateau. From this spot you could barely tolerate the wind, being 2,000 feet higher up and it would have been impossible to stand...We settled on a sweet looking 3,000 foot chute that was our best option for soft snow on this day. Here's a shot of Abro shredding the corn on this lower chute off Tioga.The lower third of this chute became a big dirty debris filled channel of snow. The upper 2/3's of the chute were great snow, but from about here down was pretty terrible skiing. You can see the power plant road still far below us in this shot.
After descending this chute we decided that it was, in fact, the best snow we could have skied on this particular day. It was just one of those days that if you were at home you might not have gone skiing... We ended up on the other side of Lee Vining Creek and had to find a spot to cross, Abro went for it on this questionable log jam. Lets just say that I didn't choose to follow him. A moment after this shot was taken he was standing knee deep in the creek. I did a little backtracking and found a good clean spot to cross. Luckily we got a ripping fire going later that night and he was able to dy out his boot liners...

Mt. Thomson

After our big day on Whitney and Russell, Oscar and I chose to head up to South Lake to enjoy some good snow conditions. The South Lake area has some of the easiest late spring access in the range, and generally speaking, peaks lower than 14,000 feet have better snow conditions... The lake was frozen solid so we cruised right accross it on our way to ski Mt. Thomson. A little while later and we're right below the awesome north/northeast facing chutes on Mt Gilbert on the left and Mt Thompson on the right. The summit of Mt. Thompson is about 13,400 feet, and the bench we are hiking across is about 12,000. I'd never skied on either of these peaks before, so we headed for the trident(three chutes) on Mt. Thompson. In the photo below I'm skining toward the base of Mt. Thompson, and I am glad to be there. After skinning as far as we could I set a nice bootpack up the mellowest of the three chutes. This bootpack would come in handy once we decided to ski all three chutes that day, the snow was so good we just had to...The first chute I chose to drop in on was the skiers left. The wind had created a funky rock/cornice crux that had to be negotiated to enter from the top. I suppose I could have downclimbed this with my skis off, but I felt the need to spice it up a little. Definitely the most difficult moves I had to make that day.After entering the chute safely, phew..., I enjoyed some of the best snow I've ever experienced in the High Sierra. Top to bottom, great snow, I'm pretty sure I hooted and hollered at least three times during my first run, and second run, and my third run too. After we successfully tracked out the chutes on Mt. Thompson we enjoyed the long run back down to South Lake. The snow was great the whole way.... It was an awesome day in the mountains, and after two 8 hour days in a row I felt the need to take a day of rest...

Whitney and Russell in a day

Last week I headed back down south to meet up with some friends and ski some more peaks down on the east side of the sierra. Last Sunday I hooked up with Oscar, Andrew, Allison and John to try and tackle Mt. Whitney and Mt. Russell in the same day. Since both of these peaks are over 14,000 feet tall, it was sure to be a big day. We started in the dark at about 5:30 am, I shot this photo about a half hour into our ascent just as the sun was rising. After about an hour we caught a great view of our first objective. The summit of Mt. Whitney isn't too far from our break spot here. I was surprised how easy and quick it was to get back here...
A little while later and we're still headed up, the Owen's Valley sits almost 10,000 feet below us. At this point we're about to head into the Mountaineer's Route to start the steeper part of the ascent.
This shot is looking down the Mountaineer's Route from the top of the snow. This day was one of the windiest days I've ever spent in the mountains. The wind was so strong that it was actually blowing us over. I physically got blown over at least 4 times this day. From the top of the Mountaineer's Route chute there is a technical mixed snow and rock climb onto the summit Plateau. It took us about 5 hours to reach the summit from the Whitney Portal parking area. Once on the summit plateau it is completely flat, creating an interesting juxtaposition to the sheer cliffs that make up the eastern face of the mountain.
Since it was so windy we were freezing cold on the summit. We quickly made our way to our descent route which was not the way we had ascended. Normally people ski down the mountaineer's route, since we had the plan to ski Mt. Russell, we descended the north side of Mt. Whitney into the basin between the 2 peaks. In the photo below you can see our descent route, kinda. Its a little hard to tell how we linked this face together, but it was actually pretty easy...
As I might have mentioned, it was windy, in this photo, Oscar skis the north side of Whitney, you can see the snow being blown up and over the ridge behind him. It was brutally cold on the ridge, and this wind was relentless. Once we got down the face and into the basin between Whitney and Russell it was much more tolerable and pleasant.
Our next objective was to get as high up Mt. Russell as possible. Since gaining the summit from any interesting ski line on the peak involves technical rock climbing we chose to ski from the highest skiable point. The photo below shows Mt. Russell as seen from the summit of Mt. Whitney. Our line is the ribbon of snow that makes it close to the summit. Truly a beautiful mountain, not much in the way of sweet skiing, but I hear there are some incredible big wall rock climbs up there.
We climbed straight up the line we wanted to ski, and you can see the north side of Mt. Whitney behind us. We were all psyched to be out of the wind and took our time climbing our 2nd 14er of the day.
And dropping. Jon drops in on the weird snow on Mt. Russell. Jon is a machine and he skied 12 of the 14 peaks above 14,000 feet in the state of California in the past month. Unfortunately he broke his leg after being hit by rockfall just the other day so completing his 14er mission might have to wait til next season...