Tuttle Creek Shakedown — Page 8

Tuttle Creek Crossing

The Last Crossing

The sugar hoar that made for such a difficult ascent the night before makes for a reasonable descent this morning. The cold snow skis a lot like powder.

I could call this fun, winding my way down through the trees, if it weren't for the heavy pack on my back, which makes every turn a cautious affair. I find the pack's weight makes it difficult to stay forward on my skis. With each turn, the weight drags me back on my tails.

Sierra Granite Owens Valley Looking up the Drainage The Road Home

Compared with the weird, wind-blasted slabs above, however, this is easily the best skiing of the tour. I have only one last challenge today: get back across Tuttle Creek.

If I can do that, I know it's a just quick bushwhack to the trail, then an easy walk to the car.

But first, the creek must be crossed.

I find the traverse line I missed yesterday and decide to follow it, wanting to stay on snow as long as possible. A few turns later, however, I discover that my predecessors have crossed the creek at a snow bridge that no longer exists.

I'm trapped on the south side of the creek.

The trail, the car, and the Carne Asada plate in Lone Pine are achingly close now, but the creek looks impassible. I side-slip alongside, looking for an alternate crossing. Somewhere below me is that waterfall system—no hope of crossing there.

If I descend too far, I'll be forced to climb back up, and that's a dark possibility indeed.

I find a thin finger of snow, some 6" wide, stretches across the two meter wide creek. I move closer to survey it. The narrow snow bridge seems to rest on a branch, though I can't see how wide it is.

The snow isn't frozen, but neither is it powdery, somewhere in between, of indeterminate strength and consistency. The angle of the slope is such that I can ski on one ski over the creek in one quick schuss, provided the snow bridge doesn't fail.

If that happens, I fall two meters into icy water rushing over boulders. I take a swig of water and think things over.

Just do it, I think.

I ready myself, raise my ski poles to push forward—and stop... If the bridge fails, which way do I want to fall? Upstream, I decide, meaning I ski it on my right ski. One push, if all goes well, and I'm over to the north side of the creek, minutes away from the trail. Again I hesitate, imagining the fall, with a 50 pound pack, into the creek. Alone. I back up, unwilling to take the risk.

There is nowhere left to go but down into the creek itself. I keeping my skis on boulders, dirt, branches, snow, whatever will keep my feet out of the water. And in the end, it is that same branch that nearly dumped me into the water that I use to pull myself up the snowy opposite side of the creek. I collapse there, in a sunny patch, and this trip, I know, is over.

My first time winter camping has been full of surprises. I hate to imagine my report card. But, I've survived, and I've learned a great deal in the past 24 hours. This information will no doubt be of great value for future endeavors. But for now, I think I'll just hurry to the car and crank up that heater!

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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.