June 11, 2010

Split Mountain – South Face

Originally our objective was a fiercely ambitious loop in the Williamson arena, but conditions didn't look favorable, or maybe we just weren't stoked about putting in that much work, so we kept driving north. Farther up Highway 395, Split Mountain's south face looked enticing, so we gave it a go.

Without having scouted the area beforehand at home, I wasn't terribly confident I could stay on-route in the dark, so I got a relatively late 4 a.m. start. That proved to be about an hour too late. The California sun turned Split's upper south face into one big slush field by the time I got around 13K feet. Post-holing down to my thighs and starting to wheeze to the point of having trouble breathing, I decided the prudent course of action was to turn back. I do like to try to be reasonable at least once in a while.

My partner Dave of course was on his usual blazing place, and topped out on the South Summit right about the time I decided to quit climbing. By coincidence, we ran into Howie Schwartz of Sierra Mountain Guides, who was playing hooky from his guiding duties and off having a little fun by himself. SMG, you may recall, was the company I chose to guide my climb of North Palisade, and Howie was also my teacher for the Level I Avalanche Class I took this past winter at June Mountain.

So, small world.

My impressions of Split? It is indeed a hard mountain to get to, necessitating a vehicle-bashing drive over some really ratty dirt roads. It is also one of the most strikingly beautiful peaks I've climbed. Colors bursting out of granite. The skiing was fantastic: smooth, glorious snow that just went on and on and on. The climb itself up Split from the Red Lake trailhead is a long one. I'll be back—and I'll definitely be budgeting a little more time for the ascent.

  1. Jonathan L says:

    Is that Dave as in Super Dave? As in more first descents than a man knows what to do with Dave ? As in I’m a rocket scientist Dave? And you kept him in sight? Don’t apologize for wheezing.

  2. Andy says:

    Yep, that Dave. Funny story: Dave and Howie had never met prior to this trip. When they ran into each other around 8K feet, they got into a little friendly see-who-can-get-to-the-top-first competition. Meanwhile, I was trailing a little behind, trying to figure out who Howie was and why the heck he and Dave were going up so fast! :)

  3. EMan says:

    Very nice vid. Congrats on keeping your sanity.

  4. Dan Conger says:

    Awesome … so many faces to ski, so little time. Now that I’ve finished my MBA (graduated yesterday!!!), I will actually have time to head to the Sierra on the weekends from my bay area home. You’re a warrior, Andy!

  5. Andy says:

    It’s been a good year!

  6. Joseph says:

    What did you shoot this footage with it has a really clear picture…

  7. Andy says:

    This was shot with a Panasonic TM700. The files are difficult to work with, but the quality level is very good for a consumer-level cam.

  8. ram says:

    Pretty cool video and thanks for sharing. Couple of friends are thinking about hiking up split this weekend (June 19/20). Any advice on trail conditions would be great – is the trail up to red lake easy to find and passable? Where did you hit the snow? How is the snow conditions high up the mountain etc?


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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.

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