January 30, 2009

Winter Back on Vacation

Well that didn’t last long! Long range forecasts suggest a return to our non-winter winter: warm and dry. Conditionally locally look pretty bleak. I haven’t heard of anyone finding good snow in the SoCal mountains. It may be getting difficult to find snow at all. I was hoping to drive up to the Gabriels to see what’s up there this weekend, but finally got nabbed by a nasty cold, so the only adventures I expect I’ll be having this weekend are with a tissue box (more…)

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January 24, 2009

Winter Returns?

A solid 24 hours of rain in the basin have produced…absolutely nothing in the local mountains. That looks to be the case after browsing the sites of Mount Baldy, Mountain High, and Snow Summit ski resorts. Why no snow? We didn’t even bother to turn on our heater during this storm. Temperatures were unnaturally warm, offering nothing but rain in the mountains until 9000 feet or higher (more…)

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January 16, 2009

On the Beach

On the Beach

Well, after last weekend’s adventure, I figured I’d take some time off from skiing the backcountry. Sue at ESAC reports marginal conditions. Apparently the Sierra is on track to set its third driest January on record. Didn’t we just go through all of this a year ago? Once again, we’re stuck with ice and a lot of bare mountains, while the continental skiers are enjoying high times (more…)

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January 13, 2009

Mount Harwood — Northeast Ridge

Mount Harwood — Northeast Ridge

My first official trip report of the winter season is a bittersweet one. In fairness it might be best to call this a climbing trip report, rather than skiing—though we did bring skis. I sometimes think Southern California Ski Mountaineering is a sport unto itself. This adventure did nothing to dissuade me of that notion. But wow did I pay an expensive price for it! (more…)

Posted in Skiing | 10 Comments

January 9, 2009

The Ski Pole Belay

The Ski Pole Belay

Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks and tips that can make life a little easier in the backcountry. I’ve been doing some of these so long they seem obvious to me, but they may be a secret to you, so I thought I’d share a few. Here’s one I call the “Ski Pole Belay”. No, it’s not an attempt to arrest a fall with your ski pole, but rather a way to belay yourself in dicey situations by jamming your ski pole into the snow and stepping on it (more…)

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January 5, 2009

Skiing Baldy Bowl

At Manker Flat

At Manker Flat

Mount Baldy - Ski Hut Trail

Ski Hut Trail

Baldy Bowl and Chutes

Baldy Bowl & Chutes

Ontario Peak and L.A. Basin

Ontario Peak & LA Basin

Andy Climbs Baldy Bowl

Climbing Baldy Bowl

Near the Summit: mini slab release

Mini Slab

Descending in Fog

Descending in Fog

Bill Skiing Baldy Bowl

Bill Skiing the Bowl

Andy Skiing

The Author

5:30 a.m. I’m up before the alarm clock and out of the house, hitting I-10 east to Mountain Avenue and Mount Baldy, the nearest of the SoCal summits. The plan is a no-frills hike up the Ski Hut Trail starting from Manker Flat, elevation 6200′, on to the top of Mount San Antonio, elevation 10,000′ or thereabouts.

The weather is cold: damp and foggy. Snow showers and foul skies are the forecast of the day. I’m looking forward to climbing in a little snow, provided things stay well-behaved. Thoughts of risk are on my mind.

What sort of conditions will I and ski partner Bill find on Mount San Antonio’s Baldy Bowl, I wonder? A dicey January snowpack? The more typical SoCal just-hanging-on snowpack? Or something in between?

Bill and I ascend the Ski Hut Trail through waves of fog, hiking skis-on-packs across bare trail and the occasional snow patch, until at last the fog breaks and Baldy Bowl pokes out ahead.

And of course, the reality of Southern California Skiing is that there’s a lot more sun than storm, so it should come as no surprise a little higher that the fog parts to reveal a bluebird day above Baldy’s South Bowl, cloudless from horizon to horizon—at least for the moment.

Still, I’m a little annoyed I didn’t put on more sunscreen.

We take a quick break at the ski hut, where other mountaineers are putting on crampons and gearing up for the snowy bowl ahead.

The Manker Flat/Ski Hut Trail is the Southern California training ground for snow climbing and winter mountaineering skills. Fast-changing conditions, rockfall, and steeps make for perhaps a little spicier adventure than many of these first-timers are expecting, but that doesn’t seem in the least to dampen the route’s popularity.

Bill and I don crampons and head straight up the bowl, eying a variety of savory ski lines (Girly Man Chute among them) for possible descent. I had planned to be scrupulously honest and dig a snow pit on the way up, but it is evident that any such effort is moot.

Despite the recent snowfall, despite the fact that it is January 3, midwinter, I can see that the Southern California sun has already burned the snowpack to consolidated corn, top-to-bottom on these south-southeast aspects.

If anything, the concern today will shift from propagating fractures to wet slides. We are perhaps an hour from the summit, eta 11 a.m. or so, but I’m already wishing we’d gotten an earlier start.

An hour later, I’m on Baldy’s east ridge, where the snow has shifted toward the more expected January coldpack, mini-fracture included—and now great clouds of billowing fog begin blowing in from the north, swirling about the summit. Within minutes, the magnificent L.A. Basin views vanish, replaced with featureless gray.

I make a desperate dash to tag the summit before all landmarks vanish. While I have some confidence in my ability to navigate down in near-zero visibility, I’ve no desire to test that skill unless absolutely necessary.

Bill and I ski down and south in swirling fog, traversing above the rocky spine that guards the chutes above Baldy Bowl. What happened to that sweet corn snow, we wonder? Our edges skitter nervously on fast-hardening ice.

This is a not-so-fun consequence of the way Mount Baldy straddles desert and ocean air masses. The fog brings a sudden influx of moisture, saturating the top of the snowpack, which then quickly freezes. In the span of a few minutes, the snow has gone from hero-velvet to watch-yourself ice.

We ski down to the top of our intended chute, a fine-looking 45° drop to the bowl. Only now, in the fading light, I can clearly see a clear veneer of frozen water (a.k.a. ice) decorating the top of the snowpack.

Bill and I exchange glances at the chute and each other. Given my adventures on ice last year on nearby Cucamonga Peak, I’m in no mood for any similar frights. I tell Bill I’d be happy to traverse back around to the easier slopes of the bowl. He’s in no mood to argue. A few minutes later, we’re cutting turns on the broad south end of the bowl—a much safer option than the chutes.

The snow is soft but rapidly hardening, demanding a little extra concentration, but still good enough to call it fun. We snap a few shots of each other, and then we’re back at the ski hut, ready for the long 2000 vertical foot hike back down to the parking lot.

Posted in Skiing | 9 Comments

January 2, 2009

Mountain Hardwear Typhoon

Mountain Hardwear Typhoon

The Typhoon Jacket is yet another of those affordable ambiguously technical rain shells that are fast becoming today’s bestsellers. Similar to the North Face Venture Jacket and Marmot’s PreCip Jacket, the Typhoon is the only one of the bunch to offer high-end Gore-Tex PacLite fabric (more…)

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