Tuttle Creek Shakedown — Page 4

Mount Langley

Blood, Sweat, & Tears

What is it about these Eastern Sierra approaches? Do these mountains not want to be skied? What sort of madman's stage is this place?

I am floundering in deep snow, repeatedly wrenching my legs from the hell-bushes' clutches, battling the summit pack which swings freely around my neck like a wrecking ball, jabbing at my jaw. I pause, considering my options. Obviously, I have to switch to skis and skins to ascend this slope.

Andy Lewicky: In Too Deep

There is no other choice. I'm waist deep in snow, in hiking boots, on a 30 degree slope, entering twilight, and somehow I've got to switch to skins.

I wallow though the snow, looking for a section free of Hell Bushes, where hopefully I'll find crust hard enough to stand upon.

Next, I remove both backpacks. If I drop anything here, it may well slide all the way down to the bottom of the drainage. I pull my ski boots from my pack carefully, then search for ski socks. My bare feet feel the sting of freezing air.

Dare I allow myself some hope? With skins and skis, I should get to camp before dark. I snap in to my bindings, pull both packs on—and then nearly slide straight down the hill. My skins can't find purchase on this crust, which for some reason has the consistency of miniature ball bearings.

Are you kidding me? I am forced to put most of my weight on ski poles to avoid taking that nasty slide down. I have to get off this aspect. It is a long, sketchy traverse to the creek, but fortune smiles at last, and this part of the creek is well covered with snow bridges. I rush across, not daring to breath until I'm safely into the forest on the other side.

The snow shifts to deep, sugary snow, but this is no ordinary powder. Destructive metamorphosis has worked its dark magic.

The snow has the cohesive quality of flecks of glass. At this angle, my skins just fluff about, sliding freely backwards, sideways, any which way but up. I slam my foot with each step, trying to set a platform in this rotten, bottomless junk. By stomping and pushing desperately off my poles, and traversing low back and forth, I am able to gain elevation, but oh so slowly, and at great cost of energy and spirit.

I reach a tiny, treed gully where the snow has formed a quirky, hollow crust that cracks and thumps as soon as I step on it, and for a moment I'm hopeful my skins will bite. Instead, I this time do fall backwards and slide downhill. I catch myself quickly, but my abused leg cramps. ACK! I can see the bench just above me now, perhaps only fifty vertical feet, but at this rate it may as well be a mile.

Back to the so-unsweet sugar snow I go, fighting now not only the snow but also my legs, which threaten to cramp every time I try to wrench my skis out from the one to two meter depths of the snow. I am traversing away from the bench, and I realize I can't make the kick turn for the final traverse to the camp. My legs and the snow won't allow it. Am I going to spend the night here, fifty feet from camp, because I can't move?

My solution instead is to straddle a small fir, hoping to use it as a pivot point to turn around. Instead, of course, my downhill ski gets trapped deep within the tree's well, and my other leg cramps for good measure. My imaginary audience is perking up again. This is high entertainment.

I resort to the simplest of solutions: I flip my bindings off with my ski poles, flip my skis around, floundering in the bottomless snow, and manage to snap back in going the opposite direction. No points for style, but with a final, lung-searing push, I make the bench and prepare to set a crash campsite.

next: My Kingdom For a Cook Pot

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.