Ski Mountaineering

Blue Couloir and Mammoth Crest
April 23-24, 2011

Ted Lenzie

While I have been a Mother Lode Chapter and National Outing Leader for some years now, this was my first lead for the Angeles Chapter a section of the Ski Mountaineers, I thought it would be best to lead a simple ski trip that I have lead before. The Blue Couloir and Mammoth Crest fit this requirement just fine. Reiner Stenzel was good enough to be my assistant for this trip, so at first we had up to 8 participants sign up, but that soon dropped to 4 as the weekend drew near. We met at Schat's Bakery in Mammoth at 7 am Saturday, April 23. The participants were Andrew Wirkus, Sung Byun, Don Ralphs, and Serge Dubovitsky. Here we had a little breakfast and started the paperwork, safety talk, route descriptions, and introductions. After which, we took the short drive up to Twin Lakes and our parking area. Note: It is best to turn around and point your vehicle downhill as this area becomes very busy and it can be difficult to turn around later in the day.

So after gearing up we headed out on the then closed Tamarack X-C resort's groomed trails toward Lake Mary. From here it was on to the Cold Water CG and into the back-country. The snow conditions were excellent with the record snowfall this year. So creek crossing were easier than normal, which was a relief as we followed Cold Water Creek to Emerald Lake. This makes the navigation in the trees pretty easy. Once at Emerald Lake we took a shape right up toward Sky Meadow. The terrain at this point becomes more open and the nearby ridges are more visible and every so often we would get a peek at the Blue Couloir.

The weather was not the best as there were clouds, some wind, and occasional snow fall, but it was cold and the snow was in good shape. Powder! Our visibility was good as we could see the surrounding peaks and the Couloir itself.

Now that the Couloir was in view we meandered up the Sky Meadow area trying to link the rolling drifts, so as not to go up and down. Once at the base of the Couloir we climbed straight up as far as possible then began the zigzags and kick steps. The snow was a mixture of powder in the middle and hard snow on the sides. We tried to stay in the middle as much as possible. Once on top we regrouped and noticed the wind was lite. This was a total surprise, so we lunched in this spot, took photos, and prepared for our descent.

On top it was a little hard packed, but this soon changed as we were craving up some recent fallen powder. I went down first with the rest following not far behind. Reiner acted as the sweep on the descent as he did during the accent. Thanks Reiner. We skied, regrouped and skied and regrouped again. Since I had been there three other times I knew where the hidden powder stashes are. After the descent of the Couloir, we headed down to the right and a ridge that accessed a bowl that was full of the dry stuff.

We tore this up and headed northeast (right) and dropped into the powder filled trees that resembled a roller coaster ride all the way into an opening and down to Emerald Lake.

We crossed over to the east (right) side of the lake and climbed a bit to attain a ridge and more roller descents all the way to Coldwater Creek CG. At this point the snow was getting heavier but was still in good shape. From here we toured out the last 2 miles and back to the TH.

The next morning we met at the same TH at around 7:30 am. The weather was still unstable, but it had snowed which offered another powder day. The participants were Andrew Wirkus, Sung Byun, Don Ralphs, with Reiner acting as the sweep and I lead to the Mammoth Crest. This is a great Sunday ski as it usually only takes half a day and the group can be on their way home at an early time. We headed down past Tamarack Lodge and west toward the Twin Lakes Falls. There is a steep climb to the left of the Falls that will allow quick access to Lake Mamie and on to the TH of the Mammoth Crest. We skied across the Lake and followed the Summer trail route up the ridge. The ridge was a moderate grade that would climb mostly in the trees. Note: When climbing the ridge it would be easy to climb the steeper section on the right. This is not required to get to the Crest. Follow your map and stay on the Summer trail.

Once we left the thick portion of the trees, we turned right up the moderate slope and on to the final accent to the Mammoth Crest. Again it was breezy, but not windy at the top. We took a few photos and prepared for our descent. Note: Off the top there are many ways down. But most importantly, is to not drop down too far into Crystal Lake or Lake George since there are some cliff hazards. Since this day had limited visibility it was best to follow our up track with steeper more open variations. Basically, we skied down to our right (southeast) and would cross our up track time to time. We skied the open slopes then into the trees finding as much untouched powder as we could. Which wasn't hard to do since we were the only ones there. Once out to Lake Mamie we skied over toward the Falls and descended the up route and on to Twin Lakes and to our vehicles. It was a fast day as we were back by 11:30 am. Once all the gear was put away we said our good byes and headed home. Once at home I sent out and email and all the participants responded. It is always good to know everyone made it home safe. It was a great weekend to be out in the mountains and a perfect outing in such weather and great people who can ski with me anytime.

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