Every time I visit the Whitney Portal area, I always look up at Thor Peak and wonder about skiing it—but I never do. This time, erratic coverage in the Eastern Sierra had us scrambling for a backup plan, and when I looked up at Thor Peak's east couloirs, they both looked pretty well filled in. The summit snowfield was smooth but much too soft; we'd missed it by probably at least two hours, expecting the day to be much colder than it actually was. But the (camera) left chute below turned out to be a lot of fun. Good pitch, great views.
Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents
Dan Conger April 19, 2011 at 9:47 am
Despite the snow conditions, I am green with envy. Given the right conditions, would a ski mountaineering ascent/descent of Whitney's Mountaineer's Route be doable or does the north face of the mountain tend to get too blown out (like Tyndall)?
Andy April 19, 2011 at 9:52 am
In 2006, Whitney's north chute (above the notch) was filled in enough to ski continuously. I skied Bairs and Langley that year, figuring I'd pick up Whitney the following winter. Unfortunately, '06 was the last year that the big north faces in the Eastern Sierra held snow. Whitney's NF has been (mostly) unskiable ever since.
Dan Conger April 19, 2011 at 10:00 am
I haven't done any ski mountaineering since I graduated from Bishop High School in 1995. Really want to get back into the game, but it is difficult to get to the eastern Sierra from the bay area and the Tahoe region simply doesn't provide much in the way of vertical relief (compared to the Sierra east side and the 10,000 foot valley to summit verticals there). Wind often determines whether a slope is skiable more than overall snowfall. I've always wanted to ski the north-west face of White Mountain Peak. Huge vertical, very steep, but in storms the wind normally guts that side of the mountain. Now, perhaps the south-west face would be skiable, but there the sun tends to bake the mountain so that it doesn't hold snow despite its 14,246' summit. Your site rocks, Andy! Keep up the good work!!!
Joseph April 19, 2011 at 4:34 pm
Does this mean a full trip report is in the works?
Joseph April 19, 2011 at 5:42 pm
also, what is the snow like in the Whitney Portal area too deep and soft that it might require snowshoes? Or shallow enough that one might be able to hoof to Whitney's summit with just boots (and crampons for the steeper stuff)?
Andy April 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm
Joe...maybe. As for conditions at the Portal, it's almost impossible to generalize. But...if the sun is shining, I'd expect it to be soft and dangerous. On the other hand, if it's cool and/or windy, everything could be bulletproof...and therefore dangerous. It's kind of be-prepared situation either way.