Eastside Update: Ski Mountaineering Conditions 2021-04-05
"The juice is worth the squeeze."
While conditions are certainly not "all time", there are some great snow surfaces to be found in California's Eastern Sierra right now. This week I explored the Dana Plateau (Lee Vining) and Rock Creek (Tom's Place) areas with fellow Blackbird Guide Jason Smith and Lauren, a skilled and fit skier.
The Dana Plateau is a bit thin, especially until the road opens and access to the snow up high is easier. We toured up V-Bowl to reach Kidney Chute, finding thin and soft snow as early as 9 am. We mostly managed to keep skis on from the trailhead to the Plateau. Coke Chute, our ingress and egress, was soft around 10am and only slightly warmed at the top (enough to put a glaze on the wind hardened surface).
The Plateau itself was skinnable, but wind scoured more than usual. We kept our skins on without having to skin through rocks and dirt from the Coke Chute to the Kidney, but the coming days will probably make that unlikely soon. The snow was heavily textured sastrugi and a little difficult to ski through on the way out.
The Kidney Chute Itself was hanging in there and holding good corn. The only problem was lots of people had skied the line in soft snow conditions so there were lots of hardened ski tracks. Still fun with some nice solar input!
We exited the way we came, by booting back up the Kidney Chute and descending the Cocaine Chute. This made for a big day (7k" or so), but avoided some scree walking on the alternative ingress.
Next Trip: Rock Creek.
Day 1: We parked at the Snopark and found the snow starting about a half mile up the road. With our plastic expedition sled we were able to get in easily by walking the frozen, snowy road with shoes on. After almost 8 miles we made our way to camp below Treasure Lakes. The Road is supposed to open much further up the road on Monday!
Camping near Treasure Lakes we were able to access Mt Morgan, Treasure Peak, Mount Dade and Dade Lake, the normal camp for climbing or skiing Bear Creek Spire. The best snow we found was from a subpeak of Mount Morgan on a Northwest facing couloir. We skied from around 12,400' and found a combination of cold, faceted snow and warm spring snow. The coverage in the couloir was pretty good, with only occasional sharks lurking below the surface. The apron was a bit bonier, but easy enough to find thick lines.
Day 3: Treasure Peak to Mount Dade
We started the day looking for corn on the flanks below Treasure Peak. Our first couloir was east facing and well covered. We booted up until things got punchy and then began our descent. The corn was primo, although with light overnight freezes made for short windows to harvest it.
Our second run was on the flanks of Mount Dade. The snow had begun to soften and without a thick snowpack and a deep freeze the previous night, it was a little soft on the descent. The coverage was fair, with a number of lightly covered rocks that will soon be making a more of a presence. The bottom hundred feet of the bowl was very punchy, to the point of becoming unstable.
Run number 3 was on the north facing slopes below Pipsqueek Spire. The snow we found here was a combination of beautiful faceted snow, "hot pow" and punchy wind crust. Carefully placed turns allowed us to enjoy some consistently high quality snow, but it was far from a free for all.
Day 4: A windy return to summer
Our last day the wind picked up and the temps dropped. This weather combo made for good conditions to glide back to the trailhead. Mostly the conditions were firm, coverage was ok and we were able to cross directly over the frozen lakes. We skinned to above Mosquito Flat where we were able to rip skins and ski until about a mile from the Snopark.
Overall, great tip with lots of miles to find good snow! The range is looking very light on snow for the first week of April, but there are still some great turns to be had!