Ski Mountaineering

Two Teats

March 3, 2001

Reiner Stenzel

It looks like it, it sounds like it, but no, you guys, it's not what you think. It's a real Sierra peak whose descriptive name was probably given by a lonesome sheepherder. The peak is on the San Joaquin ridge and easy to see when returning from Mt Ritter. It calls for being climbed, so why not on skis in winter? Except this winter every weekend seems to be stormed out. The scheduled SMS trip for the weekend was of course canceled. One storm ended on Friday, the next bigger one was forecast for Sat night. Well, one has to take chances in ski mountaineering. An old SMS tradition is to borrow a friend's mountaineering wife (or husband) and head for the mountains on a short notice. Susan Livingston badly "needed" San Joaquin Mtn and I agreed that we should give it a try. Left Fri after work, crashed in Bishop, got up Sat at 5:30 am, and started to ski at Mammoth Mtn before the resort crowds arrived.

The morning sun was out, fresh powder everywhere, and the view of the Ritter Range from Minaret Summit (9,175') was spectacular. Beyond the road end there were no more tracks, so it was time to trailbreak in 10" of fresh snow. The workout became easier after we reached the treeless ridge with packed snow, but there is a reason for it; a howling wind blew on the ridge. High clouds were building up. We skied up the San Joaquin ridge to Deadman Pass (10,255'). There, most previous SMS trips ended, but it is only half the way to San Joaquin. After the pass the ridge drops a few 100', then one reclimbs another peaklet (10,375'), then it drops again and you reclimb again to 10,485', then you drop again and climb another bump at 10,913', then you drop again before climbing the Two Teats (11,387'), and of, course, you drop twice again before climbing San Joaquin (11,600').

As we skied along this roller coaster the sky changed fast: A fuzzy front moved in over the Ritter Range, a beautiful Bishop wave of three stacked lenticular clouds formed to the north, and the wind really picked up. Approaching the Two Teats I wondered why Susan fell so far behind. I climbed into the saddle (bosom?) of the Two Teats to look at the remaining route to San Joaquin. At least another hour round trip to the summit! By now it was 1 pm and half the sky was grey. I decided to have fun in the Teats and climbed the exposed one. The other one had a bra of sastrugi on and was less attractive.

Spotted Susan in the distance but she was slowly heading back. Something seemed wrong. This uncertainty, the weather, and timing called for a retreat. After I caught up with Susan I noticed she was missing one skin. She had skied down with skins which came loose, stripped off and, by the time she noticed the loss and returned, they were gone with the wind. %^&* happens! Well, I gave her mine, put on my ski crampons and returned sidehilling up the bumps. At Deadman Pass the sky was uniformly grey, Ritter was clouding in and a blizzard blew spindrifts into our faces. Time to get out. Nice telemarking down the ridge. In the forest we appreciated the tracks of the often-criticized snowmobilers which got us quickly on the road without trailbreaking. By 5 pm we were back at the car and six hours later at home. The impending big storm dumped 5 feet of snow on Mammoth Mtn.

(Ed. Note -- Two Teats consists of the rather strange volcanic outcrop shown in the photo and a bump on the San Joaquin Ridge.)

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