Langley's Northeast Couloir — Page 10

Ski Tracks Beneath Langley


And so, today's drama is nearly done. We have only the tedious business of packing up camp, skiing down the Tuttle Creek drainage until the snow gives out, and then hiking the rest of the way to the car.

Dave speaks of the mountains' magnetism, the pull of the hills as a tangible force acting upon him. I feel the calling in a different way. To me, mountains speak of permanence and clarity. They seem to endure beyond time, places of refuge next to the constant change of the human world.

Ski Tracks in the Couloir Dave Sinking in Snow Tuttle Creek Brush Looking Toward Owens Valley Magnificent Mount Langley

And often have I longed for the clarity of an alpine route when trying to find my path elsewhere in life.

In the mountains, you can always see your destination, even if it's not entirely clear how to get there.

I pack up my tent and load up my much-too-heavy backpack.

With a last glance at Langley, and our ski tracks in the distance, it's time to leave this place.

We ski along the flats at the base of the drainage.

Now 2 p.m., the snow is being nuked by the blazing Southern California sun.

I have the advantage on skis, as I can cross flat ground.

Dave is forced into the unhappy position of clicking out of his board and trying to walk through these sections.

Inevitably, he falls through the weakened snow, and must struggle mightily to right himself.

I hear his shouts of frustration and wait for him to reappear, hiding my amusement.

Soon enough, our roles are reversed:

The snow below 9000' is too soft and rotten even to ski.

Both of us must cross the creek and hike out the rest of the way.

After all the climbing, carrying my skis and boots on my back is a withering but necessary proposition.

Dave goes on ahead, leaving me to contend with Tuttle's infamous brush on my own.

Eventually, my path connects to the remnants of a trail, easing my passage somewhat.

Thoughts of the carne asada plate at Bonanza Restaurant in Lone Pine begin to dance inside my head.

I quicken my pace despite my pack's crushing weight.

Half an hour later or so, I connect back to the main trail leading to the religious shelter. The infamous heat of the Owens Valley begins to make itself known. The air grows hot and dry; this last mile extracts everything I've got.

Dave's truck appears as I round the bend, and now, at last, this adventure is over. I drop my pack in the back, kick off my hiking boots, and take a long drink of water. The air conditioning feels heavenly as Dave drives down the rough road, heading back toward Lone Pine. We stop about halfway down and take a long look at Mount Langley, now nearly ten thousand vertical feet above.

From here, we have a perfect view of the upper portion of the mountain, including both the Northeast Couloir and the steeps of the Needle Variation. It's difficult to believe we both stood upon that same summit only hours earlier. Now it looks as far away as the moon. I picture myself skiing down that sheer face, cutting turns across haze-tinged snow. Did it really happen, I wonder...or did I just imagine it? And just like that, this day fades to memory.

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.