Ski Mountaineering

Mammoth Area Day Trips
May 15-16, 1999

Gerry Holleman, Paul Harris

A 5.6 earthquake at 6:22 a.m. had everyone wide awake and ready to go at 7:30 Saturday morning when 12 Ski Mountaineers met in the Mammoth Ranger Station parking lot before driving up to the Blue Col roadhead. Although the road around Lake Mary had been plowed, a locked gate forced us to walk an extra 2 miles from Tamarack Lodge. A chilly wind was blowing under sunny skies as we started up the road.

An energetic group of newcomers and veteran SMS'ers reached Blue Col before noon to find the snow was still surprisingly firm, so an early lunch was arranged to give the snow an extra hour to soften. The wind had died down to an intermittent cool breeze with an air temperature of 58 degrees under bright sun. While spring corn appeared at the bottom, 8 skiers found very firm conditions on the upper half of the col even after 45 minutes of sight-seeing into Deer Lakes Basin. We started down bumpy boilerplate with varying degrees of success. Only Angel Ocana and I went back for seconds. About half way down the col, the snow softened, and from there to the plowed road a generous base of Sierra corn was the order of the day.

Saturday's participants were Lorene Samoska and Mike Seiffert (both of whom qualified for sign-off and SMS membership), Angel Ocana, Pete Yamagata, Susan Loftus, Dennis Landin, Ray Smith, Walt Boge, Owen Maloy, Pat Holleman, and the leaders, Gerry Holleman and Paul Harris.

Over a pizza dinner at Giovanni's, discussion turned to the plan for Sunday. Because snow is scarce south of Mammoth this year, northerly destinations were the first choice in spite of the longer Sunday drive required of those who had to go to work Monday (Not me). The road to Tioga Pass had opened that weekend, so all 12 of us, augmented by Bill Lingle who had skied at Cloudripper on Saturday, set out for Tioga at 7 a.m. Given the firm conditions on Saturday, both at Blue Col and Cloudripper, it seemed likely that Mt. Dana, 2000' higher than Blue Col, would also be frozen hard. False White, on the other hand, is often too soft so this seemed like the perfect solution. A crowd of a dozen or more locals preparing for False White at the Saddle Bag Lake intersection helped confirm our selection.

After parking at the Forest Service rest area above Tioga Lodge, we walked nearly to the Yosemite entrance station before finding a spot where the snowplow berm was low enough to climb onto the snow. Then we climbed up through the woods on the southeast slope of Gaylor Peak and crossed over the open ridge, eagerly anticipating a return run on the creamed corn that was already warming nicely on the east side. Our route dropped down the still firm west side to Gaylor Lake and then through some rocks on the gentle slope past the Great Sierra Mine although none of us saw the old cabin. At 11 a.m. False White (Peak 12002') was in sight but the group elected to ski the inviting snow we were on rather than continue. We climbed an 11,600' bump on the ridge, and settled in on the rocks for a pleasant lunch while the sun did its magic on the still frozen slopes. Numerous skiers were visible below us while we were treated to outstanding views of Cathedral Peak and Mt. Hoffman to the west. La Niña snow depths on Mt. Dana were clearly much less then the El Niño bonanza that remained last July.

At 12:45 we started bouncing over bumpy crust that turned into the silky corn of our dreams a couple hundred feet down. As we whooped with glee making turns along the ridge towards Gaylor Peak, our route angled slightly left to pass north of Gaylor on a line that avoided any climbing. A cornice overlooking Tioga road forced a short back track where a 30 ft. climb put us on the north side of the northeast ridge extending from Gaylor. From there we ecstatically turned, turned, turned all the way to the road to a point about 1/4 mile below our cars. Many thanks to Owen and Ray for recommending this route, which was undoubtedly the right place at the right time.

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