Joined: Fri Nov 19, 2004 8:41 pm Posts: 1619 Location: Santa Cruz, CA
photos by jimw & wavy
Memorial Day Weekend!
I got my first splitboard about 3 years ago. One of the first real spring trips I did with it was over Memorial Day weekend a couple years back, when we did Dana couloir, and explored (cue music for knucklesplitter) LUNDY canyon. Ever since then, I've been hooked on the eastside, and it's been an annual Memorial Day weekend event. Continuing the tradition this year, I hooked up with Dave (wavy), a fellow Santa Cruz splitter I met at Roundtop a few weeks ago, and Larry, my old backcountry partner...
... and I do mean old. The dude just turned 58! I can only hope I'm doing what he does when I reach that golden age.
Dave and I decided to take the lazy approach (well actually I convinced him) and just make Saturday a driving day. That way we could take our time getting out to the eastside, not worry about traffic, and have some time to chill out and acclimatize. Plus it wouldn't really matter if I was 2 hours late getting over to Dave's house. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
We hit the road around noon, and made our way over toward Sonora pass. The weather was beautiful in Santa Cruz, but as we approached the pass things changed quickly. We experienced rain, snow, sun, wind, hail, and everything in between. Here's where we started into the hail zone.
And a view of some nice lines during a brief clearing.
Overall, the weather up high was sucking, and we were glad we decided to make this a driving day. A call to Larry, who had skiied Dunderberg earlier in the day, confirmed this. I also spoke to bcrider later that evening. He and his crew had been riding in the same area, and he said that it was so hard that he lost a tip clip because it rattled loose. I believe his exact description of the conditions was simply "heinous". The forecast called for improving conditions over the next two days, and after that we were certainly hoping it was true.
This was my first trip with Dave, and one thing I really liked about travelling with him is that he likes to drive. I mean really likes to drive. He drove the whole way out.
We arrived in Lee Vining in time for the scheduled Mo-Mart Meeting (tm). We met up with Larry, and ran into several folks from the forum. It was nice to see some familar faces, and meet some forum members we hadn't met before. Here's patroller420, his wife Anna, and fullers2oh. Anna must be a pretty damn cool woman to put up with that guy.
We had a thoroughly satisfying meal, and hung out and exchanged stories until we got kicked out. We hadn't really figured out where we were going to stay that night, and after some brief discussion, we headed down to Mammoth to one of the prime hot spring locations. Dave and Larry both slept in the back of their respective cars, and I lucked out and got to bivy outside on what turned out to be the coldest night of the weekend. At least the skies had cleared up, and I had an expansive view of more stars that I thought possible.
We awoke to clear blue skies and a fantastic sunrise. We hopped into the hot spring, and enjoyed the front row view of Mt. Morrison and Mt. Laurel.
We hadn't yet decided on the objective for the day, but we knew that whatever it was would have to wait till we had a real breakfast. So we headed into town and had a nice one at that place just up the street from Mammoth Mountaineering. I had talked to bcrider the night before about possibly getting together with his crew for a tour, but I never heard back in the morning, and since we were lagging it was probably a good thing anyway (turns out this was the day that his crew was, um, shall we say, "stroking the flanks" of Mt. Johnson). After a leisurely breakfast, we wandered in to Mammoth Mountaineering, and ended up talking to Brain, who happens to be BCD's roommate. He recommended that we check out Mammoth Crest.
So, we packed up and headed down the street. Access couldn't be easier. Basically just follow the main road through town until it becomes Lake Mary road, and follow that to the gate closure at Twin Lakes. Then get out and start walking down the road. Here we are at our 10 AM alpine start.
The road was plowed all the way to Lake Mary, but traffic is restricted to only those who are staying in the cabins around the lake. Right after we started hiking, one of these cabin residents passed us in their SUV and offered to give us a ride to the lake. "No thanks, we're OK..."
Note to self. If you ever get an opportunity to cut out such a mundane part of the approach, take it.
Instead, we ended up hiking a little over a mile down the road. Even that was interesting, as there were several icy spots, and I think all of us had at least one fall. I had one hilarious save where I ended up "skating" clear across the road. Finally we made it to... the next road.
At least we could skin this one. We followed this around Lake Mary, and through Cold Water campground. Along the way we got various glimpses of the crest. We decided this spot looked like a good destination.
We followed a sign toward Emerald Lake, but we didn't take the most efficient route and ended up climbing a ridge that we then had to descend to get to the lake. But thanks to our alpine start we got to the lake plenty early - uh, just in time for lunch.
From the lake we had a great panoramic view of the crest. See?
Here's a cool looking rock formation that I believe is called The Ship's Prow.
It kinda reminds me of 3rd Pillar on the Dana Plateau. In fact, this area in general has a lot in common with the Dana Plateau. It's relatively flat on top, with lots of steep chutes dropping off the eastern side. You could spend a week out there and not get bored.
After a short break, we started climbing toward Hammil Lake. I believe the chute we were aiming for is just called Hammil chute. Once we started onto the lower slope above the lake, right at about 10k, we hit perfect corn. There was actually a bit of new snow on top from the previous night, and it was mixing into a great riding surface. Even though we thought we were a bit late (1:30 at this point), it turned out to be perfect timing since it had been so cold the night before, and still hadn't heated up too much during the day. This was going to be good.
Better view of the area in the upper right of the previous picture. I think that the notch right in the middle may be the backside of the entrance to Parachute. Can anyone confirm?
Anyway, back to Hammil chute. Getting closer...
Dave was feeling a little tired, and decided to head back down to the lake a little early. Larry and I kept on climbing, though Larry wasn't feeling 100% either. Here's a shot that Dave took when I reached the notch and Larry turned around. The snow in the main part of the chute was good, but towards the very top it got pretty hard and steep, just topping 50 deg.
Climbing out of the top of the chute was similar to emerging on the Dana Plateau - a nice flat area with great views. Only this time, the views included lots of fast-moving storm clouds. Time to get down.
Looking back at the entrance, there are storm clouds in the other direction as well. Doh!
Larry and I dropped in. The top 50 feet or so was pretty sketchy, but after that it was great.
Then we got to the lower, wide-open part of the run, and it just turned to perfect butter. STOKED!!
Here's Larry at the lake after the run.
He suggested that should name the run "I got a woodie". After some discussion, we decided to shorten it to just "Boner".
Yes, it was that good. Even at 3 PM!
Looking at the map, we figured we could cut out some of the slog on the way out (as well as get in a few extra turns) by climbing over the next ridge and descending to TJ Lake next to Crystal Crag.
At this point, the clouds were moving in fast.
Once we got down to the lake, it wasn't long before it started snowing.
And thus we started our exit odyssey of traversing around lakes...
... across the road...
... down the road...
... and down the road...
... on the road? ...
... until we finally got back to the cars just before 7 PM.
A couple miles down the road, we emerged from the snow into sunshine in town. Weird. We stopped by Mammoth Mountaineering again just in time to make some mandatory gear purchases at their weekend sale. I got a great deal on a pair of BD Guidelite skins. So long, crappy Burton skins!
We had a nice view of Bloody Mountain on the way out of town.
Larry had to leave, so Dave and I headed over to - you guessed it - the Mo-mart!! We got there around 8 PM, and... WTF?? no other splitters?? I thought Matt and PJ were going to be there. They claimed to have been there earlier, but I don't believe it. We did find the other Dave (fullers2oh) there, and we closed down the place yet again.
Dave had a hotel room in Lee Vining for the evening, and was nice enough to let us crash there for the night. We exchanged stories and pictures of various trips. He has been lucky enough to be based on the eastside for this whole season, and had quite a few stories.
Dave woke us early as he planned to meet up with some folks to tour out to Koip peak. SC Dave and I discussed our options. He was feeling pretty beat from the previous day, and was happy just hanging out around Mono Lake. It seemed like everyone else had bailed to go back to Sonora, but I wanted to get in some more riding on the eastside. We had scoped out Powerhouse on Friday evening, and it looked like it still went. It was looking like today was going to have the best conditions, and if I went there, Dave could hang out at Mono Lake, and - most importantly, of course - we could eat at the Mo-mart once again before leaving! That settled it.
Dave dropped me off at around 8 AM. We had arranged to be in contact via radio. He was going to come back at 1 PM, wait around till 2 if he didn't hear from me, then come back again at 4. Then call in the guard. I hadn't decided exactly what I was going to do yet so I wasn't sure how long it was going to take. I had a fantasy plan that if I got onto the plateau early enough, I would head over to Dana couloir. Well, that idea went out the window about half an hour into the climb. Since the lower area was more melted out than when I was there 2 weeks ago, I thought that maybe the thing to do would be to climb up across the big patch of snow right by the powerhouse, then traverse over to the snow finger at the end of the main drainage.
This involved cutting across a lot of stuff that looked like this:
Real Fun (tm). When I finally got over the main drainage, I was already sweating like a pig, and I also realized that I was pretty tired from the previous day.
This was going to be a long day.
I tried skinning up the drainage, but the combination of steep, firm, suncupped snow and my tiredness made for an exercise in skinning futility. I finally gave up and broke out the Verts. Then I saw that there was already a bootpack in place.
The fastest approach probably would have been to just enter from the road directly below the main powerhouse drainage (instead of traversing over), and just climb up the boulder field to the snow, and start bootpacking from there. Oh well. Fortunately a random cloud appeared and sat in place for a hour or so, providing some shade from the sun as well as slowing the corning up process.
Here's how it looked down low. Not so great.
In several places the snow was starting to give way to the stream below. Here's one big hole that you could just barely get around.
Looking across at the road. Why, oh why wasn't that thing open?!?
Meanwhile, Dave was having a great time hanging out at Mono Lake. Here's a shot he took looking over in my direction.
Finally, above about 9500 feet, the snow became skinnable.
And pretty soon, the objective came into view.
It took me an embarrasingly long time to reach the base of the chute - like 4 hours. I guess I was tired. Then I started getting leg cramps. I was beginning to wonder if I should just turn around.
I had a snack just relaxed for a while. Soon I started feeling better, so I started climbing. Here's a shot looking down from near the top. It gets pretty damn steep up there, just over 50 degrees.
In this one small patch of snow at the climbers left top of the chute, it changed from nice consistent corn to what felt like a 3" slab on top of loose sugar. A little unnerving to find that at the top of the chute. Fortunately, the snow everywhere else in the chute seemed to be good, and I was planning on descending the more eastern-facing aspect.
BTW, thanks to whoever put in that bootpack (I think it was granjero)!
Popping out of the top of the chute, this sight is enough to rejuvenate anyone:
This time, for once, I didn't spend much time hanging out on the plateau. It was already after 1:30, and it was time to head down. I called Dave on the radio. He answered, but was just far enough out of range that I couldn't make it out. I told him I was heading down and that I thought I should be down in an hour, hoping that he heard me.
Here's the entrance exam. The bootpack brings you out the climbers left top of the chute, which is in the lower foreground. At the climbers right top of the chute, there is this cool rock/snow fin you can ride out onto and traverse back into the main chute. It's actually pretty mellow, but just remember to start the traverse before going over the cliff! I've wanted to do this line ever since I saw a great picture of bcrider hitting it a couple years ago.
Here's what it looks like from the other direction, standing on top of the snow fin entrance looking back at 3rd Pillar and the climbers left top of Powerhouse. If you look closely, you can just barely make out the bootpack up the chute (it's easier if you start from the lower left where it's more visible). It's a good illustration of the steepness of the upper part of the chute.
And here's a special shot just for SanFrantastico, because he L-O-V-Es this view!
As I was getting ready to drop in, I noticed a rap anchor in place. I don't believe this was Spectra; however I can neither confirm nor deny whether the name of this particular chute entrace is "Desperate Shit Chute".
Where was I. Oh yeah. I dropped in, and the snow was fantastic all the way down the chute!
... and down the middle section...
... and down the beginning of the lower chute.
Things got manky for the last thousand feet or so...
... till the ride finally came to an end (note: bindings on correct feet this time).
This was followed by a mildly heinous boulder-hopping session...
... and then I finally popped out on the road to find Dave chillin' by the car, hanging out in his lounge chair, reading and getting some sun.
Another great descent off the plateau ticked! Speaking of the plateau, here's the mandatory shot from the gate.
We headed into Lee Vining and pulled into the RV park, where they have hot showers. Which felt really good at this point. They also have a bunch of cottonwood trees, and we got to see firsthand why they are called that. It looked like it was snowing with all the puffs of white floating around.
Naturally, we then headed to the Mo-mart for the final supper before heading back home.
Back up for a sec.
When we drove out on Saturday, we had discussed stopping at Bodie to check it out. Neither of us had been there, and it seemed like it might be a cool place. But with the crappy weather on Saturday, and our late start, we decided to pass. But now, on the way home, we decided what the hell, we might as well stop by.
It turned out to be well worth the stop.
Bodie is a ghost town just outside of Bridgeport. It is now a state park, and the buildings are preserved in much the same way as they would have appeared when the town was inhabited in the late 1800's.
We paid the extra few bucks for the self-guided tour pamphlet, and it contained some pretty interesting information. For one thing, Bodie was one of the first towns to use electricity generated remotely by hydroelectric power and transmitted down power lines. I don't know if these are those same power lines, but it looks cool:
Remnants of hydroelectric equipment
Old-timer playin' the Bodie blues
More interesting is the fact that there were some serious skiers in Bodie back in the day. Check out these planks. They're about 10 feet long!
And then, tucked away in the back of the booklet, was the most interesting fact of all. Would you believe that the splitboard was actually invented in Bodie?!? It's true! Check it out, we asked around and found a few old photos which seem to confirm this.
Here's "Crazy Dave" Johnson, the inventor of the splitboard, with one of the early prototypes. That big wheel is a Pelton wheel. These are normally used for hydroelectric power, but Crazy Dave found that it also cut the perfect splitboard sidecut.
In this shot, Crazy Dave is showing off the machine he designed for achieving the perfect center cut.
Finally, here's a shot of one of Crazy Dave's test riders, a local Paiute Indian known simply as "Chief". He's posing next to the prototype board-pressing machine. Word has it this very machine is now in use at the Voile factory.
I mean, you just can't make this shit up!
So back to the real Bodie. The only bummer about getting out there is that part of the road is a somewhat rough dirt road. We kept wondering how they got all those nice, evenly spaced, horizontal "bars" in the road. You know, the things that make your car vibrate so much you think it's going to fall apart? We found the answer in town. They roll this thing up and down that stretch of road every week to keep those bars in top shape!
If you're not conviced by now that Bodie is worth visiting, here's one other thing. From just outside town, you get an uninterrupted view of the Sierra crest from Bridgeport clear down to around Bishop. It tried to get a pano of it, but it's a poor substitute for the real thing. You could easily spend half the day sitting there trying to identify all the peaks.
And on that note, we headed home.
And Crazy Dave, since he loves to drive, drove the whole way back to Santa Cruz.
I was happy.
Turns out this was probably my last trip for the season. I just found out I need to move out of my place in a month. I kinda knew it was coming, but I was in temporary denial until I got the official word... and now I have to pretty much drop everything to deal with that. I hate to miss out on all the late-season goodness that is still waiting to be had, but you guys go out and get some of that for me, will ya? (ahem... Saddlebag splitfest... ahem...)
Joined: Mon Feb 06, 2006 11:40 am Posts: 113 Location: Salida, Colorado
Great TR jimw! I always enjoy reading your reports. Full of humor, mishaps, and of course great riding and terrain. Good luck finding a new place to call home. One of these days I'm going to make a road trip all the way over there just to check this momart place I keep hearing about!
Joined: Mon Feb 20, 2006 4:48 pm Posts: 214 Location: N. Vancouver <=> Santa Cruz
Yo, Nice TR Jim! That weekend was a blast! It was cool hanging out with you and Larry. Have to admit tho, I wasn't really feeling that 'love' for driving the last hour or so of the circuitous, 12 hour trip home
Oh, and thanks again to fullers2oh for putting us up for a night...
And here's a special shot just for SanFrantastico, because he L-O-V-Es this view!
Awww... thanks for that! Great TR, but why oh why did I open a Jimw trip report on a Sunday? It would have gotten me through the whole work day if I had waited until Monday. Great view of the Mammoth Crest - very inspirational! I must visit that area out in person someday. As someone once said, "So many mtns so little time..."