Revenge of the Girly Man — Page 6

Mount Baldy - Southeast Bowl Avalanche

The Southeast Bowl

The apron beneath the southeast ridge shows considerable evidence of surface instability. This is a common feature in Mount Baldy's southeast bowl, caused by the slope's angle and aspect, which forms a giant reflective dish aimed at the sun.

All that radiation keeps the snow in a nearly constant state of melt-freeze metamorphosis (or melt-melt), even in mid-winter. Skiers tend to dismiss the hazards of wet slides. Unlike their cold-weather relatives—slab avalanches—wet slides are slow moving and eminently predictable.

Baldy Bowl Ski Tracks in Socal Powder Bliss Skiing Below Baldy Bowl Entering San Antonio Canyon

We should remember, however, that wet slides can easily knock you off your feet at inopportune moments.

Additionally, wet slides can rapidly expand, trapping skiers not with speed but sheer size.

I make quick, point-to-point traverses across the slide zones beneath the ridgeline, only stopping where the terrain is safe.

Since San Antonio Canyon angles to the south, I've decided to descend the western wall, in the area of the Gold Ridge Mine.

I hope to find enough snow in the canyon's shadows to make a continuous ski descent all the way to the parking lot at Manker Flat, three thousand vertical feet below.

The problem with this plan is that it puts me on the wrong side of the canyon, well away from the ski hut and the hiking trail to Manker Flat.

It's hard to say if there's enough snow on that side for a viable descent—and I really don't want to start walking downhill.

I can't resist skiing an expanse of open, untracked spring powder at the south edge of the ridgeline, and that closes the deal.

I'll have to stay on the west side of the canyon and hope for the best.

Now that I've dropped into the bowl, the clouds clear, and the sky becomes a piercing blue overhead. The wind is quiet once again, and the air is warm.

The snow may be on the heavy side, but it makes for a delightful descent, the kind of pristine, untouched glisse that can only be found in the backcountry.

20 million people may be scattered about immediately to my south, yet there are no hoards of skiers and snowboarders vying here for first tracks. No waiting in line to catch the first chair.

Even the snowshoers have kindly elected to take a different route. It's just me and the mountain today, and I'm savoring it. Beneath that perfect blue sky, my Atomics and I lay smooth curves across the snow's glittering surface, one after another, the timeless dance of powder and man... And if only for this one brief moment, all is right in our Universe.

I stop to survey my tracks, looking at them almost in disbelief, as if it is somehow impossible for such fine skiing to appear after all the miserable glop above. I've had some tough days skiing the San Gabriels. They are a steep, feisty range with a surprising depth of pitfalls. The combination of Mount Baldy's altitude, latitude, and climate can produce conditions that go far beyond the merely atrocious, entering the realm of the otherworldly.

More than once I've wondered if I'm crazy to even bother trying. And then comes a moment like this, out of the blue indeed, offering such incredible turns.

The glade I'm following continues to open up, drawing me down, down to the base of Baldy's southeast bowl in one sweeping, continuous line. It's all over much too soon, as the best things usually are. You can only shake your head at this mountain and smile. I've had some of my best and worst days here—sometimes the very same day.

The unwelcome specters of rocks begin to make their appearance at the bottom of the bowl. From here, the route will almost certainly get dicey. I'm still nervous as I wonder whether or not San Antonio Canyon will take me all the way to Manker Flat, or close out. Once I drop into the canyon, I'll be committed to the route, with no way out.

next: the Safari Begins

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.