On Wed 4-19-11 Roger, John, and Greg rallied with me for a one day east side trip to Mt. Lewis. I went up to the high col beneath the summit and skied the SE gully in the mid 90's, but always wanted to go back and ski the steep, exposed East face from the summit. Plus there is a really cool little couloir that you see from the road, which turned out to feel like a mini North Peak couloir (steep, straight, narrow, and off-camber). Actually, this peak only looks impressive and desirable when you see it from a short stretch of hwy 395 near the intersection of the northern June Lake Loop entrance.
Are we having fun yet? Skiing Mt. Lewis is going to be awesome and agonizing at the same time. If nothing else, this tour will get you to the next level. Or you'll epic from poor technique, planning, or gear knowledge. I'm leading an ASI guided 3-day trip Fri night to Monday at the end of this month, called "EAST SIDE ROAD TRIP". I promise I won't take you on anything like this unless you totally beg for it! Sign up today! 8 of us in the shop van with Logan, who is really fun and a great guide. $625 for 3 days of skiing and all the travel technique, gear, and Sierra Backcountry talk you want. Camping in the desert in comfort, eating out afterwards. Let's do it! contact firstname.lastname@example.org
But before I show you the extreme skiing on Mt. Lewis, here's some pics of us hiking from the trailhead to Parker Lake in 2005. Guess I should change my avatar seeing that it's 6 years old while I'm at it. Go up there on a great fall foliage hike and you'll get a feel for the terrain for accessing Mt. Lewis. Or just look at your map and find Parker Lake. Next time I would go in the way we came out, on the south side of the Parker Lake Trail and a few hundred yards up the hill (faces north).
http://www.thebackcountry.net/bb/viewto ... ight=lewis
Mt. Lewis is a CLASSSSIC East side peak to ski in my opinion. Classic meaning the way it used to be done more often....without paved, plowed trailheads, snowmobiles, and internet beta. And in a long day that you later say in a guidebook is 1/2 day and no big deal, because you forgot. (just making fun of Moynier's book that I love). It's not in his book, but did make it into Mingori's new book. Plus what's "classic", or unique about the East Side, is how you get super high in the alpine environment and ski 4-6000' down to the sweet smells of desert sage brush and a quite campsite near a highway.
However, "Classic" means something a lot of people do, or want to do. That's not Mt. Lewis. Although I hope to sell you on it as usual, even though my pictures will show a serious schlog! This is a 5000' day with a few extra flat miles down low.
In the center is the lower half of Mt. Lewis. On the left is the North side of Mt. Wood. Mt. Gibbs is on the right. Combined in these 3 peaks are about 20 incredible lines to ski from 5000'above the desert. Just to the north is Tioga Pass. And the Sierra is 200 miles long and 50 miles wide..... You gettin in the car?
This picture is taken earlier in the season, when you can't drive close enough. Yes you could probably use a snowmobile, but what a noisy, expensive hassle to avoid skiing 2 extra miles. This is the challenge of Mt. Lewis. If you wait for the Parker Lake Trailhead to be plowed or melted, there won't be enough snow to ski from the summit (if that's what you want). And you'll walk a lot of dirt down low. 3 days ago, we were blocked by snow on the Parker Lake road and went to Crater Crest instead. Yesterday we got another mile in with the car. A familiar Tahoe experience occured at the end of the day, as we walked back to the truck on a FRESHLY PLOWED road. So there you have it, Parker Lake is now plowed. Although the snowpack is great up high, it melts FAST with the intense sun on the lower angle slopes down low. Don't wait to ski out of Parker Lake. On the other hand, walking in running shoes on dry trail at the bottom of the mountains is just as fast. It's not like the skiing was going to be great in the afternoon slush down low. So again, this peak can be done later in the season without the steep summit part.
We still had a few miles of flats and some patchy snow and creek crossings to deal with to climb the East Face. On the way back we skied out more easily on the south side of the Parker Lake and Trail. Next time I would skin up the whole route that way, rather than aim for the steeper East Face. In either case, you never have clear views through the drainage and trees. Just go up and stay on snow.
This is the line Greg and I skied. The other guys skied from the high col, where you can go down the north couloir or the SE gully. The gully is an amazing S shaped, glacially carved feature that is just an awesome place to go see.
this is at the large plateau 2/3 of the way up. Here you can see the north couloir that leads down to Walker Lake, another good way to climb the mountain and descend right about now when you can probably drive close enough to start skinning.
We tried to climb the ridge, but it's really 4th class I think. I downclimbed quite a bit and crossed over onto the east face to climb the snow. Traversing onto the face from the high col is steep, and exposes you over rocks. (not that you ever want to slip down steep snow either!). If you're going for the summit, don't go to the col. Stay well below that and boot up the face through the rocks. Beware of avy danger or rocks coming down obviously, there's a lot of it right above you.
This peak is Parker Peak, with Koip behind it.
Here's a thread to a ski tour I did 2 seasons ago up to Koip from Tioga Pass. I include this to show you what the terrain looks like along the John Muir Trial, behind Mt. Dana and Mt. Lewis. By the way, I see in these pics a possible low angle NW ski descent off of Mt. Lewis, leading back to Walker Lake. If you climbed up there and didn't want to ski down no matter what, it looks like late season snow exists where you need it.
http://www.thebackcountry.net/bb/viewto ... light=kuna
Trying to make a route work through the summit ridge where it's rocky. No go, this is steep and exposed. Mono Lake in the background. Today was a great sunny day with only summit winds.
Here comes some of the guys
Although it was very warm and 12 noon, I didn't see any rocks loosening. You're over some cliffs on the face, and there is no easier way to ski down that I saw. My line shows where the little couloir is. You don't see it anywhere on the mountain until you ski right underneath it briefly (or you know it's there from far away pictures)
summit pano looking east. you can see the whole snaking gully descent to Parker Lake.
summit pano looking NW. Tuolumne begins in near that area of heavy trees.
Zoom in of John and Greg arrive near the summit, figuring out what I did; that climbing the ridge in ski boots is a no go.
This little couloir doesn't look nearly as sweet as it does when you ski down it. It's truly a straight, off-camber chute at about 40 degrees. The snow was perfect corn and flat for me.
For scale, one of the guys is skiing near the top center of the snow here.
We hung out on that little rock island in the center for awhile, which was really nice and relaxing. Nothing like drying out your boots while still wearing them, just because you're sitting on some warm rocks. Of course looking through these pictures I'm now thinking about the potential for snow or rocks to warm and fall into the canyon on us. When you're in there, you only see the lower rock walls. There is a lot of snow above that. Just reminds me to think about what you can't see. We didn't see a single rock anywhere on the snow, or hear anything on this warm day. So maybe it's not a concern very often. This spot seems pretty safe and the highest spot in the gully, but don't let your gaurd down in this canyon with all that east facing snow and rock above you. Looking at pictures, there are a few spots along the skier's right side of the canyon that probably get some afternoon rockfall and wet slides.
The corn snow was perfect. It had that slight water glaze and skied really fast. Fat skis make such a difference in the warm, afternoon corn snow I might add to you old schoolers. I'm saying this snow was money. But with my old 70-80mm waist skis, it would have been too soft. You won't find that perfect 1/2" penetration corn snow everywhere on the mountain, it's gonna be hard in places and extra soft in places. But you can buy fatter skis that work everywhere on the mountain. 95-100mm at the waist and lightweight is my recommendation. K2 Coomback/Gotback, Dynafit Stoke, BD Drift/Starlet, etc...
We only risk getting skins wet when we know they are soon to come off the skis. They dry out quick in the sun if they do get soaked though; 10 minutes on a warm day with direct sun.
The Mt. Lewis SE Gully comes down that steeper path of snow. To the left is the way up to Koip and Parker Peak.
Mt. Wood's north side hides the "Z" couloir. One guy went down it today, which was really firm snow. I haven't done it, but is any descent worth it when it's rock hard? Definatey builds character though, and it's still a 5000' day so props to that guy!
walking the Parker Lake Trail in 1995 or so. leather tele boots and straight skis. Jim and Truckee's very own Will Richardson, the first wintertime employee of The BackCountry.
My friend Jim who introduced a few of us to the Mono Lake and Tioga area ski tours. This was his 40th birthday. Now I'm 40. Trying to grow that mountaineers beard, but it keeps getting too itchy.