I had no real beta on this one other than than hearing the name from a few go getters I know. Then I picked it out on the map last year from the highway, and realized there was a lot of interesting qualities to this peak. Howie recommended it too so I assume he's been up there; especially since you can see it from his house. At nearly 13,400' it was sure to deliver some views of one of the less visited sections of the East Side. Paul Richin's guidebook speaks highly of the south side gullies, which looked amazing. I'm going back for that from Taboose Pass sometime for sure.
I'd really like a picture of the North Couloirs on Cardinal from Neighboring Split Mountain. Anyone? They should re-name Cardinal Mountain to be Couloir Mountain. There are a number of great ones spread around the south, east, and north sides in the 1-2000' range, with lots of vert beneath to ski as well.
Here's a picture of the south side of Cardinal I took a few weeks ago from Goodale to the south.
SORRY so many pictures, but this was a long day in unreal ski terrain. Get a beer if you're going through this. This was IDEAL conditions too. Boot deep powder and cold enough to preserve good snow all day.
With the recent cold Sierra dumpage, we were able to skin from the car at under 6000'. DUDE! That's a 7000' ski descent, half in powder, 1/4 in corn, and the bottom was easy enough to just traverse in boot deep slush. We went up the parallel gullies in the middle of this picture. Although I found a few steeper couloirs a little higher, I was quite content to come back and ski down near our skin track. I knew the snow was perfect, and it was a long way from the car to be screwing around with lines we didn't really know went through completely. I saw a few that I was 99% sure though. Next time! Skiing down the ridge on the edge of the cliffs was just as exciting as squeezing into a boney couloir entrance anyway.
Tinemaha on the right, Split to the left, and Cardinal's East side more left. We started in the desert at the right side of this picture, and skinned up inbetween Cardinal and Split. There is a fork early on which has you on track for either mountain.
I drove in the afternoon before to figure out where to camp, then went in again after retreiving some ski partners Abe (Towlie) and Michael (from our shop). I knew we wouldn't have time to ski the peak if we drove in the morning, these dirt roads can take hours if you don't figure them out in the daylight. Leaving Tinemaha Campground, you take a right and go around the locked Private Property gate. There is another gate, also locked, which has torn down barbed wire right next to it. You'll go through this again leaving the private property block, before finding some signs to follow for Red Lake Trailhead. You could also come in from McMurry Meadows Road, but that's longer and wetter right now. I heard that the property owner is okay with skiers going through here. Thanks Bud! There is nothing to mess up, just a rocky road in the desert for a mile or so on the far north side of his property.
See that land scar in the middle? That's just around the corner from an excavation site, near Tinemaha campground. When you get to that, bang a left and go through the broken fence heading straight for the mountain. When you exit the second gate, which is where my car is (and pointed towards home), follow the roads on the map. You'll cross a tiny bridge over Tinemaha Creek, and then climb up the hill on the north side of Mountain Creek.
My red line shows our ascent route. Coming back we got on snow sooner and looked at all the steep north facing couloirs.
Michael just started working at our shop this winter, moving down from Oregon after college. Here he's making real food. Gotta take him on my trips more often. Not to mention he had no problem charging up there. On the right we are leaving in the morning. Planned departure time 6am. Acutal = 6:30. I think we got to the top at 2pm. There is definately some mileage in there. Mix in a creek crossing, some trail breaking, boulder field skipping, and multiple false summits, and you have to keep your head in the game for success on this one.
Sure doesn't look 7400' higher. I wasn't looking forward to the multiple false summits. Seems to be the theme in this zone. I skied Williamson and Goodale next door recently, and both had summits tucked away at the far west corner.
We crossed the creek a few hundred feet higher than the trailhead, finding snow on the south side of the creek. If there isn't snow, the actual trail follows the north side of the creek. Walking up that in hiking shoes is probably nearly as fast in times of a higher snowline.
My skin track up is in blue. I found that you could actually ski that couloir from the very top, entering just below the huge cornice. It wasn't crazy steep either. But a little boney, and that cornice isn't your friend. So we went back around to a known excellent entry point.
Oh boy. This was that moment when I realized it was going to be cold boot deep powder everywhere above 10k.
The boys climbing with Split Mountain's South face in the background. Brooks boarded that recently. Looks a bit like a Laurel S Face descent to me, or something out of Cham where you need the perfect conditions; that is cold enough to freeze the snow and rock in place, but soft enough to ski in control. That's a huge run, Split is 14k!
Beautiful Granite walls, spires, cracks, blah blah blah. Only you're probably not walking all the way back here for it. Nice to look at though.
Above Michael is the very top of parallel gully, climbers right side. That's the cornice I said you can ski around easily. It does choke to ski width wide or so, but close enough to the ridge so you can see if you want it or not. No need to climb ze extreme' so I crossed us over into the climbers left gully and got on the ridge.
South side of Tinemaha in the background. That low angle south facing bowl just left of the summit looks like a nice long ski back down to the desert.
Here's where you can either skin up the ridge near the edge and look down all the crazy man couloirs, or walk 30 minutes across small-med sized rocks. If I had just put my skis in the pack rather than shoulder them, I would have been more satisfied with my decision to boulder skip. It was a little futher than expected.
We booted up near the edge. Those south facing gullies were pretty steep up high where we could have crossed them, with a bit too much exposure for skinning across. The guys didn't have ski crampons either. Seemed safer to avoid the snow and weave through some granite we could hold onto. Kind of fun and exciting to boot up the ridge near the edge, and the snow was perfect for it.
I kind of like the boulder field crossing now that I think about it. This way you're concentrating on the view south. Upon return it's definately faster to stay high near the edge, as you can put your skis on earlier. And look down the north couloirs and to the peaks in the other direction.
This couloir near the summit looked so amazing. The shot on the right shows a zig left, right, left that I'm positive goes through. The snow was right on this day, and probably isn't most of the year. Not that our group was looking for stuff like this. This is just a step or two more risky than I should be taking at this point in my life. But boy did I want to do it! There's another pic coming showing it go through.
We dropped skis and walked to the summit. A nice comfortable, small perch.
Looking from the summit to the NW with Abe coming up.
The summit register with a view to the west.
Michael and Abe on top
The 3 amigos. Really psyched! No wind, feeling pretty good, powder coming, and the snow isn't really changing beneath us. The only concern I had was crossing the north facing slopes way down at the bottom, but we could just schlog on the other side of the creek if we see signs of wet slide danger.
From right to left, Tinemaha, Birch (behind it), and Split Mountain.
Here's the entrance to the super sick north facing couloir near the summit. Note the picture on the right is another more reasonable N facing couloir a little further down the ridge. I didn't have 100% confirmation that it went through. I think a little scouting around and you'de see it go through at that roll over.
Here's how the above left picture works out. Hard to know how much snow is sticking to that steep rock wall. It was soft today though. A belay perhaps with my 30m rope to go check it out? Nah, I'm skiing the south side from Taboose next time. Brooks, go check this one out for us!
Not couloir de extreme, but a no fall zone just the same.
Oh, and then there's all these other couloirs just down the ridge that also appear to go through, with a short, moderate rock scrambe to get into. Again, I didn't know if they go through for sure 100%, so that draws the line in the sand in my book.
Our skin track coming up the twin gullies.
I did a few ski cuts up high, but could tell the snow wasn't windslab. Just dry,nicely consolidated and bonded. I skied across the gully and found the snow to be good everywhere. Here comes Young Michael.....dohhhh! Danielson, wax on wax off! (read ski your own line).
That's it Abe. Show em how the old guys do it.
We played leap frog down this super long run. Great snow, 35 degrees, 1500' I'm guessing just in the gully.
They would name this climb the Elevator Shaft. That couloir above Abe went up 1000' before disappearing, possibly onto the ridge cleanly. But you'll never do it, because there are 19 other couloirs closer to the summit.
Here's where you need fat skis and Swix F4 glidewax.
We got back down to the end of the snow around 4pm. No real wet slide or rocks coming down except in one small spot.
We crossed the creek and walked on the trail now void of snow.
5 minute walk to the car. After a nice hangout period, we packed it up, grabbed Subway in Independence, and staged cars to do Kearsarge Peak the next day. I'll have those pictures up tonight or tomorrow.