Joined: Fri Nov 19, 2004 8:41 pm Posts: 1620 Location: Santa Cruz, CA
photos by jimw, ChrisI, SteveP, fassnor, Franz
Note: No big lines were harmed during this trip. Damn. Not many actual riding pics in here, but lots of pretty scenery...
(In case you didn't have enough already from p420's TR here, here's just a few more pics and some weighty prose.)
I've been wanting to get up to Tioga Pass Resort (TPR) for quite a while now. Last year my buddy Dan did a solo Sierra crest tour, and on the way he stopped by TPR during a storm, and got some free hot chocolate. I think that sealed the deal for him. And I've been wanting to get up there and make up for a rather ill-fated Dana Plateau trip last year. We started discussing this trip last summer, and around October we finally got around to making the actual arrangements, putting together a group of like-minded skiiers and splitters. We didn't anticipate how rough it would be to coordinate everyone's schedules though... and then Dan had something come up and had to bail at the last minute. In the end, the group consisted of skiiers Larry and Franz, and splitters SteveP, ChrisI, p240, Fassnor, and myself. The plan was to arrive Friday morning and ski out Tuesday afternoon. The weather forecast wasn't looking so good, but we were hopeful that we would still get some good turns in.
On Thursday night we drove up to Tahoe to split the drive up a bit. Fassnor was already up to his usual antics. Check out his "resort board". He put slider pucks on it so he can quickly (lazily) swap the binding between the split and this board. Gotta love the asymmetric shape and "really cool" base. This explains a lot about Fassy. You know the guy has got to have a one-piece pink jumpsuit and a monoski hiding in his closet.
The next morning we got up early and headed down to the gate closure on Hwy 120 in Lee Vining, for the appointed 10 AM pickup time.
This guy got lost and thought he was going to the airport:
While we waited patiently at the gate, everyone's eyes were drawn to the startling image of the Dana Plateau. That view never ceases to amaze me.
(Note appearance of FFYB's - Fassnor's F***ing Yellow Boots - in lower left of this photo)
I pointed out to Ray (p420) some of the possible lines we could hopefully hit off the plateau.
Here's my buddy Franz, tele guy from upstate NY. He's been trying to get out here for an eastern Sierra trip for years now, and it never worked out for one reason or another. Last year he was going to come out for the ttips gathering, but got stuck in the Chicago airport with bad weather... so he spent the night in Chicago and flew back home. Doh! So he was pretty stoked to finally make it out here.
It was inevitable that sooner or later Fassy and Larry would have the ugly boot mating dance. I shudder to think what the offspring of these two pairs of boots would look like.
Fortunately, the shuttle vehicle arrived before any more shenanigans could take place. Check out the "tires" on this thing!
Ron, head TPR dude, hopped out to greet us. After a quick explanation of the process for getting the gear and us up to TPR, we loaded up the gear. Naturally, this consisted of only essential items.
"You're not worthy." (BTW, I have an even larger amount of respect for TPR since finding out that they actually sell this beer there in the summer!)
We headed up the road, and found out why those big tracks were necessary.
The truck took us about 4 miles up the road, to where the snow started. From there the rest of our gear was carted up to TPR by Henne and Brian, using snowmobiles with sleds. We geared up with our day packs and started skinning up. I was stoked to be trying out a prototype Osprey Switch 26 pack. I couldn't figure out what this pocket was for, but Ray quickly clued me in.
Unfortunately, I didn't actually have said pack. It had accidentally been taken all the way up to the lodge. But, it all worked out, since I did have my poles, and Ray just happened to have a set of Burton skins (he brought both his Burton and the new Mtn Gun that he won at splitfest - he had never ridden it yet so he had the Burton "just in case"). It was kind of nice to skin along with no pack. Henne hooked me up though and brought it back down about halfway through the skin, which was good because it was starting to get quite windy at that point, and my jacket was also in the pack. Here are some pics from skinning up the road.
View of Powerhouse chutes:
Passing some ice climbers near the dam:
Approaching Ellery Bowl. You can see the Chute Out couloir in the middle right. This is the chute that Bill from TPR fell down a couple weeks ago. Word is that he is recovering well.
We passed this interesting sign on the way... (there's an funny story behind it that Courtney from TPR let us in on)
About 2 1/2 hours later, we arrived at the lodge.
Once we saw the inside, we knew that this was going to be a good trip!
The TPR staff then showed us our cabins. This is one of the pathways between cabins. Clearly no shortage of snow!
Here's the inside of one of the cabins. Cozy and rustic.
Here's Courtney from TPR showing us two of the most welcome features. First, there are two heated bathrooms with running water. Second, there are two hot showers! (Tip: the front one is recommended.) There is even a washer and dryer. Yes, we were really roughing it.
After moving our bags into the rooms and grabbing a quick snack at the lodge, we headed out to get in a quick lap in the "bread run", which is the moderate angle gully right across the street from the lodge. We found out that the name comes from the previous owners of TPR, who found that they could start some bread in the oven, run out and do this run, then get back just at the right time to take the bread out.
We climbed up to the ridgeline directly above us in the photo below. Along the way, Ron and Brian from TPR passed us and dropped in a bit below the ridgeline. Yep, we were definitely feeling the altitude at this point. Once we hit the ridge, the winds were howling, and a storm was clearly on the way. Fassy, Franz and I stopped a little bit short of the top of the ridge to avoid the wind. On the way down, we found heavy snow with a nasty crust on top. This combination tended to want to pull the front of your skis/board under the surface and keep it there, leading to some not-so-graceful turns. I heard later that Ray was particularly affected by the conditions on his new Mtn Gun. Turns out he had mounted the bindings too far forward, resulting in multiple sequential headplants. Doh! I wish I had been there to document that.
We arrived back at the lodge with a little time to kill before dinner, which we made good use of.
Then we were treated to the first of several great home-cooked TPR meals. Bob and the rest of the TPR staff did a great job on the meals, even accomodating the vegetarians. I think we have a consensus that this beats freeze-dried camp food anyday.
We even got homemade dessert!
After dinner we just chilled out in the corner of the lodge. We had some drinks, I played some tunes on guitar.
We talked to Jennifer from TPR for a while. Turns out she is from Santa Cruz too. SC in the, um, hizzouse! Ahem. Somehow we got onto the topic of pirates... maybe from the rum that was being passed around. On that note, Jennifer informed us that they have an alternate name for TPR, which is "T P ARRRrrrrr"!
I guess you had to be there.
Soon after that we turned in for the night. It was already snowing hard, and tomorrow was looking good.
On Saturday we awoke to clear skies and about 8" or so of fresh, light powder.
We had a thoroughly satisfying breakfast, and discussed our options as we made lunches from the sandwich options that the TPR folks put out after breakfast was over. One option was to do laps in some of the safer terrain like the bread run, or tree runs by nearby Gaylor peak. Another option, which I was advocating, was to skin up to the Dana Plateau and enjoy the scenery. We wouldn't get as many turns in, but I knew from experience what an amazing place the plateau is, and nobody else in the group had been there. I thought it was worth skipping some powder turns for. I figured this would be the only day of our trip where the weather would actually be decent enough to get up to the plateau. I secretly was hoping that conditions in some of the chutes off the plateau would be good enough that we might have that option, but realistically I knew that was probably not going to be the case. Damn! I did manage to convince the guys it was worth checking out the plateau for the views though, and soon we were on our way.
Checking the route
Lawrence of Tioga Pass (a.k.a. Larry)
Skinning up through the new snow was a lot of work, and we took turns breaking trail.
We passed by this cornice collapse in the bread run
Soon Mt. Dana came into view...
...and then the cirque at the south end of the plateau.
As we made our way onto the Dana Plateau, the wind really picked up, and the snow turned to a thin, windhammered crust. Our route took us to the center of the plateau, heading straight for 3rd Pillar, which is somewhere around 11.5k elevation. Here you can see how surreal it was skinning across the flat plateau in the howling wind.
Soon we reached the rocks near 3rd Pillar, and that is when we really started seeing some amazing views. If you've never been there, the Dana Plateau is one of the most incredible places in the world. You're walking along on this flat, barren plateau, then on the eastern edge it just drops off like you're walking off the end of the world, 1000 feet straight down. I highly recommend visiting. The views are phenomenal... and as if that is not enough, it is also home to some of the craziest chutes anywhere.
Here's Fassnor and Franz getting their first look off the plateau, with Mt. Dana and its Dana/Solstice couloirs in the background.
Larry and Steve take a peek into some serious exposure.
Here's what they saw:
Fassnor takes a look out the other direction at the Powerhouse chutes.
Everyone had to take a turn checking out the ultimate view - laying down in the notch at the very end of 3rd Pillar and looking over the edge. Here's Chris checking it out. That's a LOOOONG way down!
I'm sure everyone wants to know how the 3rd Pillar chute was looking. Here's what it looks like from the top. Not too bad (the view I mean)...
... but it gets real steep, real quick.
Here's a view from out on 3rd Pillar itself.
ChrisI and p420 kept talking about how it looked "totally doable". I was wondering if we were looking at the same thing. Here's a chute with a seriously steep entrace, and a definite no-fall zone. We have no idea what the conditions are like in the chute, other than that there's a bunch of new snow, it's probably windloaded, above average snowfall for the month, generally considerable avy danger in today's advisory, and no reports of anyone hitting any of those chutes yet this season. Let's jump right in! Seriously, nobody wanted to hit the plateau chutes more than I did, but after talking about it it just didn't make sense. Aside from the fact that we didn't know the snow conditions, there was the minor detail that we'd end up on the road way down from TPR and have a seriously long trek back. Maybe if we had brought rap gear and could get in to check out conditions first... but we forgot the spectra slings back in the room. Oh, and the ropes and harnesses too.
So it was back to enjoying the views. We took a break near some rocks to warm up and have some lunch. We also saw a huge rabbit come bounding out of nowhere, and disappear just as quickly. It's amazing that those guys can survive in that environment.
The snow in the bowl below Powerhouse chutes was looking seriously inviting. One of these days...
After lunch we headed over to Ellery bowl to check out the views there, and also to check out snow conditions to see if a descent there might be possible. I knew that the far lookers left end of the bowl was uncorniced and might be a go, but then again it had gotten wind hammered the previous day, and was in the process of getting hammered again.
Here's Larry and Franz checking out the bowl entrance.
We almost succumbed to groupthink and briefly considered just dropping in, but sanity prevailed and we found a safe spot to dig a pit on the same aspect and incline.
p420 led a little Avy 101 session for some of the guys with less experience digging pits.
What we found was a slab due to the new snow that hadn't bonded well to the underlying snowpack.
There are more details here, but this was enough to convince us to skip Ellery Bowl today, as much as we would have liked to have dropped in.
So, we headed back the way we had come.
Fassnor shreds the gnar. (You know there was a serious lack of action shots if I'm posting this!)
OK, we did finally get in some nice turns in the bread run on the way back to the lodge.
p420, ChrisI, and Fassnor went for another quick lap in the bread run before dinner, while the rest of us took advantage of the hot showers. Damn you, TPR, I don't know if I can go back to winter camping now after experiencing home cooked meals, running water, and hot showers in the backcountry!
Speaking of great meals, we had another one that evening. We also met up with Rod and Shelly, who had come in that day and were planning on staying all week. They had done a run in the lower part of Ellery Bowl on the way in, and confirmed that conditions "sucked". Looks like we made the right choice.
During dinner, Ron from TPR came by and broke the news that the incoming storm was looking like a doozy. He thought it was likely that we wouldn't be able to get out on Tuesday as we had planned, but that Wednesday was likely. Most of us were able to make it work if we had to stay an extra day, but Franz and Fassnor didn't have that option, meaning they would have to pack up in the morning. Bummer.
After dinner, I pulled out the laptop and we had a slide show. With 4 guys with digital cameras and coming from the school of thought of "take a shitload of pictures, and at least a few of them are bound to turn out decent", this took a while. We entertained some of the other guests and TPR staff with videos and pictures from other trips as well.
Here you can see on the screen the Corkscrew chute, which starts just south on the plateau from Cocaine chute, and meets it halfway down. I pulled out this picture as Courtney from TPR was talking about when she descended this chute with Bill, the guy who was injured in Ellery bowl. She is a splitter too, and she said that as she was descending the chute, it became icy and sketchy, and she swore that if she made it out of there alive she was going to burn her split and take up cross-country skiing. Of course when she got to the bottom she said she promptly forgot all that and was ready to do it again...
Another thing to notice about this shot is that Chris, a.k.a Brad Pitt, looks like he really wants to kick Ray's ass.
We stayed up late with more pictures and tall tales. Here on the table you can see Bill's boots, preserved from after his accident. All of the buckles were broken and thrashed from rock impact. It is amazing that he survived. I am in the process of telling some thoroughly engrossing story. I think it went, "So there I was, rapping into the Desperate Shit Chute (tm) on a spectra sling..."
Soon it was time for bed. I wasn't too tired so I stayed up and took the opportunity to post a few pics, and make a quick observation report on the ESAC site.
Sunday started out clear and windy, but it was clear that a major storm was on the way. It was looking worse than previously predicted, and Ron was now worried that we might end up stuck there all week, in which case we might all have to leave that night. So he suggested that we check back in around 3 PM. We briefly considered going back up to the plateau with some ropes to check out some of the chutes, but nixed that idea after talking to Ron and noticing the howling winds. Instead, we planned to head just up the road to Gaylor Peak for a couple laps. We had yet another excellent breakfast, packed our lunches, and geared up. But first, we had a new inductee into Club Melanono (tm)! This is a very exclusive club...
Here's a group shot before starting the tour. Notice how only the cool guys have melanono's. You know you wish you had one too.
Heading out towards Gaylor, the skies were already looking threatening.
In lieu of any rad action shots, here's a nice dead tree:
We did get some nice views of Mt. Dana and the plateau, with some cool lenticular clouds forming.
Damn splitters - where is their sense of aesthetics!
Oops, I lied about the action shots. Here's Steve gettin' some.
After a couple laps we headed back to the lodge, where Ron confirmed the bad news. It looked like the coming storm would drop 6 feet or more, so we had to quickly pack up and head out. Here's Steve approaching Ellery Bowl.
This was the only bare spot on the road in the upper 3 miles. I think it will be a while before the road opens.
Chris and I ended up staying in split mode for too long on the way out. Tip: switch to board mode at Ellery Lake, where the 8% grade sign is (duh). On the plus side, due to our slowness we got a free ride back to the changeover point on the snowcat.
After that it was a quick ride back to the cars, where we packed up and parted ways. Steve and I decided to head straight back to Santa Cruz, while the rest of the guys stayed for a day of area skiing in Mammoth. I hear it was pretty impressive, with Mammoth getting something like 2-4 feet that day. We were all bummed that we had to leave TPR early, but it was still a great experience, and I highly recommend it. I'll definitely be back.
Special thanks to the TPR staff - Ron, Henne, Brian, Courtney, and Jennifer. The crew worked their asses off and kept us well fed and entertained. I hope they got a bit of a well-deserved break this week... but I think the massive snowfall probably kept them quite busy.
Extra special thanks to Franz, p420, ChrisI, SteveP, fassnor, Larry, Rod, and Shelly - you guys made for a great group, and I'd do it again anytime!
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2005 3:18 pm Posts: 57 Location: Santa Cruz, CA
That definitly did not suck! You've outdone yourself with that TR, Jim; good stuff. Thanks again to everyone for making it a great trip!
bcr, the pack's the Exposure 36. I was looking for something smaller than my Ceres 50, but bigger than my other daypacks (which will probably get sold.. I dig the exposure). So far I'm really happy with it, but it doesnt have the built-in ability to carry a board in board-mode like the larger versions. At the moment I'm cheesing it a bit by using the hypalon tabs for the Excessory packs with some cinch straps to carry the board vertically. The material they use seems a bunch lighter than the ceres, but still way durable. I give it a thumbs up.