March 29, 2007

El Nino or El Nada?

Some of you may recall this was supposed to be an El Nino Winter, with above-average precipitation for the western United States.

What happened? This winter can be charitably described as a cruel hoax: currently, Los Angeles is (arguably) experiencing its driest winter on record.

To the north, even Mt. Shasta (!) is experiencing a dry winter—though dry for them is still looking mighty good compared to what’s happening down south.

Before we abandon all hope, yes, there is snow in the High Sierra. Look for touring opportunities in the Mammoth Lakes region, north through Yosemite/Tioga Pass, to the Sawtooths and Twin Lakes. No guarentees, however, as to whether any of it will be skiable through May, so plan your road trips early.

On the subject of weather, here’s an interesting LA Times article on a ‘rebel’ climatologist who correctly predicted we’d see record drought, rather than the wet season expected by everyone else. Interesting, no?

Posted in Weather | 0 Comments

March 20, 2007

Skiing Abineau Canyon—Sort of

We’re in Northern Arizona right now, seeking snow and surgery. With regard to the surgery, we got great news. As for the snow…

I decided I was going to hike up the San Francisco Peaks and ski whatever snow I could find—link patch to patch, if I had to.

Abineau Canyon, on the northeast side of Humphreys Peak (Arizona’s highest mountain, at 12,600′) tends to hold the most snow in late spring—if you can get to it.

The road accessing this side of the mountain is closed in Winter by the Forest Service, mostly because they don’t want people getting stuck in the mud and/or wrecking the waterlogged roads.

That leaves your basic Death March: park at the Arizona Snowbowl, and hike/traverse around the eastern side of the mountain to the summit, descend, and hike, hike, hike back to the car.

The hike is complicated by distance, hostile terrain, and legal restrictions—travel on bare talus above timberline is prohibited due to erosion/endangered species concerns.

I did successfully make the summit, and ski the northeast ridge, where a cornice still lingered. It felt good to be back atop my hometown mountain, and ski it. Once off the ridge, however, conditions were pretty much tragic.

Given the dearth of snow this year, I guess I’ll have to write up a report of this savage little outing—though I hesitate to call it backcountry skiing.

Posted in Skiing | 0 Comments

March 8, 2007

Mount Baldy Report: Bleak

I’ve been suspecting (or maybe hoping is the better word) there’s more snow in the local mountains than reported.

The only way to get good intel, I know, is to put boots on the ground, so I drove up to Mount Baldy to hit the ski area and scout out the backcountry possibilities.

Ouch! God bless Mount Baldy Ski Area, but they’re working with vapors up there. For the first hour I was (I believe) the only skier on the mountain—and for good reason. The ski runs, such as they are, consist primarily of ribbons of snow created via snowcat.

Despite how bleak the conditions were, I did have a fine time schussing about. And the terrain park had good coverage.

As for the backcountry, Ontario Peak had the most snow in the region, with almost enough—almost—to qualify as skiable. Mount Baldy itself was looking very…well, bald, as today’s photo indicates.

Before I abandon all hope entirely, I must remind myself that I skied my first tour last year, the Girly Man Chute, on March 14, following the first decent storm of the season (compare the photos if you want to make yourself cry). So, if we get a major storm in the next five days, things could turn around. Otherwise, I’m just going to load Far Cry on my machine and check out.

Posted in Current Conditions | 0 Comments

March 4, 2007

A Message From Below

We made the long drive to Mammoth Mountain this past weekend, where the view was dominated by two ‘mammoth’ in-bounds climax avalanches.

Given the overall lack of expected avalanche activity following the most recent storm cycle, these two slides were a dramatic indicator that there is indeed a depth hoar layer lurking along the ground on northern aspects in the Sierra.

It’s hard for me to feel much enthusiasm for venturing into the backcountry after examining the slides. Hoar layers such as these can persist long into spring. Moreover, they are almost undetectable: buried two or more meters beneath a consolidated snowpack that may otherwise feel perfectly safe.

In fairness, a skier’s weight is probably too trivial to trigger slides like these—unless you happen to hit the slab in just the right place. For now, I think I’ll avoid skiing steep north slopes in the Sierra backcountry.

Posted in Avy News | 0 Comments