Lone Pine Peak — Page 9

Owens Valley & Skis from Lone Pine Peak's Summit

The Magic Line

Lone Pine Peak is a front range summit. The mountain lies well east of the main Sierra crest, and stands in relative isolation over Owens Valley.

The view atop the summit is thus is a vertigo-charged juxtaposition of alpine and desert landscapes. One can only dream of a moment like this: I am here with my skis, standing atop a hidden pathway of snow leading all the way from summit to desert nearly 7000 vertical feet below.

Entering The East Couloir Skiing the East Couloir Icy Shadows Hanging Over Owens Valley Upper Northeast Gully Wind Below the Headwall Ski Tracks in the Midsection The Lower Gully: Ski Tracks

And it is time to ski.

I carefully step into my bindings, check and double check my gear.

I am ready.

I slide over to the east couloir's entrance, and there it is: a passage through Lone Pine Peak's east headwall.

Shadows are now crossing the couloir's snow.

This is unexpected.

I had hoped the sun would continue warming the snowpack.

Instead, with a cold desert wind racing up, the snow is hardening with every passing minute.

There is no more time to waste.

I drop in.

It's possible to imagine conditions in which the skiing here would be sublime, but that is not the case today.

And really, if I was seeking sweet turns alone, I would have kept driving all the way to Mammoth.

On this steep, hardening corn snow, I make slow, careful turns, each one with great deliberation.

Thoughts and doubts recede as I flow into the task of skiing, repeating motions I've made so many times my body knows them better than my mind does.

It's almost surprise I feel with each turn—that such a thing should be possible as descending a snowy slope with boards strapped to feet.

Where the sun remains on the snow, I make easy steep turns, enjoying the buttery-choppy feel of snow beneath me.

Where the shadows cross, I am more cautious, feeling that sudden transition to icy-crunch.

The view to the east, meanwhile, is stunning.

Blue sky over red-orange desert, the Inyo Mountains, Owens Valley and the tiny town of Lone Pine, the striking rock fin of Lone Pine Peak's northeast ridge.

With each turn I slowly lose altitude, descending to the rock step, which I down-climb, then resuming the ski descent.

Some time later, the east couloir ends, and I rejoin the main gully at the base of the northeast headwall.

Here the slab concerns remain, and indeed the thin crust of wind-blown snow does break loose in small sections.

I choose a careful route down this section, which remains jarringly steep.

The uneven surface and varying consistency of the snow make for admittedly challenging skiing, and my legs are soon protesting the extra work. The route, however, is far from over. Just to get back to Camp Doom, I've got to descend nearly four thousand vertical feet, all of it very steep. Once again, I feel dwarfed by the route's massive scale.

Farther down, the air warms, and the snow softens to more familiar spring corn. Here, it's possible to let the skis run a bit. I carve big, swooping GS turns across the width of the gully. It's been a while since I've smiled like this. I think I can honestly say I did not expect any of it. I began this hike all but convinced that success was impossible. From that optimistic beginning, I soon questioned my own motives, my judgment, my identity. As if that wasn't enough, next came feelings of certain doom.

Despite the spectacular success this endeavor has proved to be, I cannot say whether pressing on in the face of my misgivings was wise or not. That is something I will have to contemplate in the time ahead. In this moment, however, the climber/skier in me is happily immune to introspection. As the wind races through my hair, and my skis race across the snow, there is only the perfection of the next turn to contemplate, and the next one after that.

next: Perspective

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.