Ski Mountaineering

Baldy Hut Weekend
March 10-11, 2001

Don Pies

As the final winter storm cleared Mtn Baldy on the morning of March 10th, SMS'ers made their way up the Hut Trail in some of the most pristine scenery I've witnessed in the area since my first visit in 1974. This was the last of a series of storms over several weeks which allowed us to ski from the cars to the hut on Saturday and all the way back to the main road on Sunday. The more adventurous group of Stephen Bates, Walt Davie, Gil Estrada and Bahram Manahedgi pushed an early weekend on Friday night. Under blizzard conditions with headlights, they made two assaults and two retreats back to the cars, and finally settled down around midnight at the Snowcrest Lodge. The rest of the group arrived early in the morning from various destinations between San Diego and Santa Barbara. Participants included John Anderson, David Baron, Jennifer Iceland, asst. leader Bill Lingle, Reed Moore, Don Pies and Mark Vogt.

The jaunt to the hut was a bit tedious as skis kept scraping away the fresh surface snow and then slide on the icy base layers beneath. Ski crampons would have been nice. After a recharge at the hut, it was time for a mass powder shredding session on the mountain. Variable soupy skies discouraged summit attempts for the day, but that was OK since Baldy was offering some of its finest conditions in the west bowl region. And to add icing to the cake, the tree section next to the bowl was being unusually friendly to skiers.

Gil Estrada concluded his day by making a sweeping traverse to the top of the long gully above the hut. This run is an overlooked treasure he has coined GilSki. Walt was less fortunate on his last run when a dense whiteout caught him on west bowl and caused such an intense case of vertigo that he was nauseated for two hours. The evening was spent in classic Baldy style, warm friendship and fine food thanks to Bahram and Gil.

Sunday was a stellar day for backcountry skiers. Deep blue skies lured us out of the hut and toward the summit early. By mid-morning a constant parade of skiers were either climbing up the airplane gully or setting perfect tracks down its length. The soft snow gave way to crust only on the summit plateau. Reed had an unfortunate experience that taught us all a lesson. "If you lose your ski pole basket, take your hand out of the strap." After losing his basket, a solid pole plant dropped the tip deep in the snow and changed the pole into a permanent fence post. Reed kept going and so did the top section of his ski pole. The greatest challenge of the weekend was the return to the cars in whiteout conditions and variable snow. But who's complaining since it's a rare Baldy weekend when you only take your skis off at the hut.

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