Mount Muir: The East Buttress

A Discontinuous Ski Descent of the 'Unskiable' East Buttress

Skiing Mount Muir's East Buttress

MOUNT MUIR, CALIFORNIA — In those many sleepless nights, I began to wish I'd never seen it. I was having a nice, easy backcountry skiing season, perfectly ordinary, perfectly fine. I didn't need any trouble.

I didn't need to do anything special. I didn't need to be special. I didn't need to be obsessing about hanging snowfields and massive, dead-drop cliffs. And I especially didn't need to start a take-no-prisoners war between prudence and ambition...

Trevor Skiing Toward Mount Muir The East Buttress Below The Buttress

Of all California's fourteeners, Muir is perhaps the least impressive at casual glance—or perhaps even the easiest to fail to notice altogether.

Seen from the west, Mount Muir's 14,012-foot summit is but a minor pinnacle off Mount Whitney's southern shoulder.

So unarresting is that western view it has led many people to question whether or not Muir is, in fact, a mountain—or just a lesser part of the Whitney massif.

Yet while Muir's apex is unimpressive itself, below that summit is quite a remarkable feature indeed: the mountain's massive and imposing east buttress.

As a bold geological feature, Mount Muir's east buttress is a prominent one in a region hardly bankrupt of competitors.

Even the most exhausted Trail Camp hikers must surely find themselves arrested at some point by the sight of that dramatic thrust of granite, even if they're unaware it's part of a California fourteener.

Where Muir is concerned, in fact, the east buttress is the mountain. It is what justifies calling Muir a peak rather than peaklette, and what makes it worthy (if arguably) of its namesake.

Some years after first seeing Mount Muir from nearby Whitney Portal, I returned to climb Muir via the resonably-tame west face. And I clearly remember clinging to Muir's tiny summit while peering down the shockingly-exposed east face, surveying that magnificent east buttress with an eye both relieved and wistful.

As a skier, I have looked at many mountains, and I can tell you that Muir's difficulty level is extremely easy to categorize: it is unskiable. Much as I want to ski all of California's fourteeners, I've accepted that some will forever thwart that ambition. Some are skiable from their summits, and some are not. Muir falls into the latter category.

In fact, even if you adopt a more generous standard, Muir remains stubbornly unskiable. Perhaps someday I'd carry skis up Trail Crest and ski some pitiful scrap of something on the west side of the "mountain" just to say I got close to it. Or so I thought until Spring 2010, when word came that an ambitious and gifted Colorado ski mountaineer named Chris Davenport had skied Muir...

next: Davenport's Line

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.