2010 Eastside Spring Trip, Day Two.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
I set up shop at the Grant Lake Marina Campground, literally steps away from snow down to the road of the full 5,500' descent of Mt Wood. You couldn't have a better located campground. What it lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in location.
The view from my campsite, from which you can see both the top and of Mt Wood and lower face, and from which I walked less than 10 minutes in the morning. No commute! Note the cloudless, bluebird skies. (Cue ominous foreboding music)
Just steps from the road, the lowest-most toe of snow. This was actually a relatively difficult sidehill skin, with hard snow in the early morning.
Resting at the top of the first 2,000' pitch just below the Parker Bench, looking down at Grant Lake. When I got back to the campground after the ski, a fisherman fellow came over and said, "I watched you coming down from all the way up there with my binoculars." What he meant was just from this point. It impressed him enough, so I didn't feel the need to mention that I came down from 3,500' higher than that way up in the tempestuous clouds. I was also too tired and frayed to shmooze.
Mt Wood upper mountain from the Parker Bench. Note the first wisps of clouds peeking out from the sides of the mountain. This is one of the biggest continuous descents you can ski in the Sierra, and certainly the biggest one I've climbed and skiied to date. The scale out here is so deceiving. I just kept telling myself, "It's just a Tallac stacked on top of a Jakes." That helped.
The NOAA forecast was for mostly cloudy with 30% chance of snow showers after 11am. At about 10:30 it became a white-out, with wind and blowing snow. Being either (a) a glutton for punishment, (b) a sucker committed to finish what I started within the bounds of safety regardless of conditions, or (c) a backcountry skier looking to "build some character," I continued upward, telling myself that I'll turn around when it gets just too much to bear. (Life being what it is these days, I had to plan this eastside trip way in advance, jealously hording these days on the calendar, and praying for good weather.) I wasn't too afraid of getting lost, as I found my way to the right chute in one of the few gaps in the clouds, and the terrain wasn't too severe (i.e. no major exposure or risk of ending up in the wrong drainage or something), so I proceeded to start booting up the main chute. It was a test of wills. The snow was pretty firm, but I donned my crampons and fortunately stumbled upon a good bootpack right up the gullet. Of course, you couldn't really see the bootpack, because the blowing snow filled it in. So I was usually just focused on the five feet in front of me (couldn't see much else much of the time anyway) looking for telltale distinctions in the snow texture to indicate a filled-in boot placement. Needless to say, I made it pretty much to the top, stopping about 75 feet or so shy of the summit in order to huddle up close to the last large rock outcrop on climber's left. It didn't provide much shelter, as the snow was blowing from every which way, but at least the rock shielded the wind from one direction! Needless to say, I took no photos between the previous one of a bright sunny day starting up from the bench, and finishing the descent of the upper mountain. You wouldn't have seen anything except white. It was as equally a character-building descent of the upper mountain as a climb, with re-frozen textured snow, teasingly flecked with new snow blown into pockets to make for a nice turn amongst each dozen. Here I have managed to get my camera out after making it down from the upper mountain:
Still lots of skiing to be had down into this whiteness. Some of the turns actually got decent down lower.
Looking back up from whence I've come, the mountain being a tease and showing a glimpse through the white veil.
The turns down the bottom 2,000' (where the fisherman watched), actually were really excellent turns, with smooth turns on soft velvet.
Of course, just before dinner, while I was out poking around Panum Crater looking at obsidian, the skies cleared and the mountain revealed herself again. Though you can still see major contrails of snow blowing from the summit.
Let's hear it for a balmy spring!