Skiing Muir's East Buttress — Page 3

Andy in Mt. Williamson's Bairs Creek Cirque

Vanities

Permit me to stop this report for just one moment to note that, while there will indeed be skiing soon to come, for now we will be exploring a few other diversions, beginning most notably with myself.

Among my vanities is my sense that I am a person and in particular a skier who makes things happen. I understand I operate in a fairly small corner of the ski mountaineering universe, but nonetheless I like to think I have a knack not just for talking about things, but actually going out and doing them (see: The Couloir to Nowhere).

Mount Williamson's Bairs Creek Cirque

The Bairs Creek Cirque

North Peak

North Peak's North Couloir

Atop Lone Pine Peak

Lone Pine Peak

Iron Mountain

Iron Mountain

I also like to flatter myself by imagining I have a gift for finding things that are unlikely or otherwise unseen by other people (exhibit B: Lone Pine Peak).

And of course there is also my high regard for my skills as a skier.

I am not so deluded as to call myself a climber—though perhaps on snow I am at least not completely incompetent—but when it comes to skiing I have become, over the years, oddly capable when it comes to making pretty turns on terrifying pitches.

Uniquely at odds with that ability is my much-cherished sense that I am an eminently reasonable and rational person, conservative and cautious to the core—a belief that will soon be sorely tested.

Back home in my Los Angeles apartment, I surveyed my photos of Mount Muir with great interest. But those high-zoom shots from Thor Peak quickly revealed hints that the finger of snow I'd seen on Muir's east buttress was not continuous.

Distance compresses perspective, smashing objects together so that they appear to be adjacent, or even merged.

What looked to the eye like one thread of snow connecting top to bottom was revealed by the 17 mega-pixel sensor of my Nikon as not one but three separate snowfields, each separated by two discontinuities of unknown consequence.

I say 'unknown', but there wasn't much to call a mystery. Any discontinuities on Muir would likely involve sheer granite and horrific exposure. There would be no ski descent of the east buttress, obviously, because the east buttress was unskiable.

To be honest, in addition to disappointment I also felt considerable relief. No skiable line meant no risk-taking—no sticking my neck out there in unknown country. And so perhaps the matter should have ended but for another quirk of my character: stubbornness. Because if there was a skiable line hidden there, against all available evidence, it was almost certainly a first descent waiting to happen. A First Descent on a California Fourteener—the holy grail of Sierra ski mountaineering.

I just couldn't let the possibility go. And so I began searching through my photographic archives, looking to see if I had any other views of Mount Muir taken on other occasions. What, exactly, happened at those points of discontinuity, I wondered? What would I find, if, for some odd reason, I and my skis just happened to climb up there?

next: Reconnaissance



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