Even though conditions remain thin in the Sierra Nevada backcountry there’s good skiing to be had. Heading back down to the Eastside after a great trip last week the idea was to try and stay on north aspects, and maybe get a little adventurous if possible. Rather than heading to the southern stretch of the range this conditions report comes from the middle portion of the forecast area.
We started our mission with the idea to head to Mt. Wood’s vast north side and were greeted by the first rays of bright morning light. It was a gorgeous Sierra day, but the line we wanted to ski didn’t really seem like that good of a call as we got closer and gained a better view. Go figure, although the views of Mt. Wood (seen above), Mt. Gibbs,
and the Dana Plateau were enough to remind us how lucky we were to be down within striking distance of such amazing ski objectives. With a clear understanding that our primary objective was a better call for another day we retreated and set off for the Dana Plateau with beta from a good friend that at least a few lines were holding decent coverage.
The skin up V-Bowl was smooth, although the ski out was a bit cruxy. The thin cover was tough to negotiate on the out, and like the lower elevation conditions Jeff and I found last week out of Big Pine, the blower powder that was fun to wiggle through isn’t quite as full-on fun as light snow usually is, especially this season, since there’s lurking rocks and stumps waiting to bite you.
We proceeded to skin up Coke Chute,
then switched to booting. Conditions showcased edgeable, cold, chalky winter snow.
From the top of the Dana Plateau it was nice to get the classic views of Tuolumne Meadows, North Peak and Mt. Conness,
as well as Mt. Dana. You can just barely see the Dana Couloir to the far looker’s left in this photo, as well as the top of the Solstice Couloir and the other alternate lines falling off Dana’s looker’s right shoulder.
Since a friend had skied the Ripper Chute recently we figured that’d be our best bet. Jeff and I had skied Ripper a few times each while for our buddy Tom it was his first time. Ripper isn’t necessary a rowdy line…unless you have a thin snow year like this one and conditions are firmer than they are softer. In any case, Ripper looked pretty nice from the top,
so we “dropped” in. Dropped has quotes around it here because it took a few vertical feet for our group to loosen up. At first we all felt like we were on more of a mountaineering adventure than a ski mountaineering adventure. The snow was fully edgeable, much like Coke Chute felt on the way up, but was firm enough and steep enough to send you if you were off on a given turn. The further along we got the skiing got better and better.
With beta from our buddy we carefully scoped a very small ice bulge that was easy to bypass about 2/3rd’s into the line,
and kept skiing. Here Jeff makes the choke of the couloir look pretty inviting.
By the time we found our way to the end of the line the alpenglow was setting in, which made for a couple of great shots exiting the couloir,
and skiing down the apron.
Since we had started on Mt. Wood early, retreated, hit up Mono Mart for some extra fuel, then casually made our way back up Dana Plateau a lot of time had passed without much of a notice by any of us until the alpenglow kicked in. This definitely made the lower portion of V-Bowl interesting, but we managed to get back to the car and were pretty fired up on another great day of skiing on the Eastside.
Looking ahead, once again, there are some areas of the Eastern Sierra holding worthy snow for a ski tour. You need to be selective, but it’s there. I’ve been told there’s some worthy snow in the local Mammoth backcountry (The Mammoth Crest and Sherwins areas), and overall north facing chalk where coverage is adequate is what you should expect if you make a trip. In terms of weather “The Dweeb” is forecasting more of the same until the end of the month until a rather large pattern change is coming online at the turn of the month. Don’t hold your breath, but it’s better than nothing for now. In terms of avalanche danger here are a few highlights from the most recent Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center Report:
“the snowpack is reacting to the colder temperatures. All the ingredients are in place- a shallow snowpack with large differences in temperatures between the ground and the snow surface, and cold clear nights and no precipitation. The result of mixing these ingredients is rounded, wind packed snow grains are showing signs of faceting- sharp edges and larger clusters of grains are forming- all because of the big change in temperature over a short distance. Underneath the slab formed from the end of January storms is weak, brittle depth hoar, a fragile scaffold of low density, sugary snow. To see these changes, take a handful of sun crust and look at the bottom of the crust. You’ll see large particles with lots of air space between the crystals. The crust can be crushed now where a week ago, it would break into large pieces because it was stronger that it is now. Disintegrating crusts, surface hoar, mid pack facets and depth hoar are not an avalanche problem until they are buried by new snow. If dry weather continues for another two weeks, sugar snow sluffs could occur on short steep slopes. This happened during the dry winter of 2007 and conditions are setting up for a return to those conditions.”