Ski Mountaineering

Cedar Canyon

Feb 2, 2008

Alvin Walter

The original skiing objective was an open traverse over the 3 T's (Thunder, Telegraph and Timber Peaks) in Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains - probably less than a couple of air miles east of Baldy Bowl. Four other strong and talented skiers: Scott Bornheimer, Don Sutton, Angel Ocana, and Cedric Ma were up for the adventure that had been on my goal list for a long time.

We met a little after 7:00 a.m. at the trailhead for Icehouse Canyon to arrange a car shuttle up to the Mt. Baldy parking lot. The first couple of miles were skinning up an icy road that skirts around the edge of Mt. Baldy's resort to Thunder Mountain. We then dropped about 400 feet down the east side on a steep, icy pitch that some of us decided to crampon down, while two skied to reach the saddle between Telegraph and Thunder, where we stopped for a break. From this position we looked at the slope up Telegraph that had glistening patches of ice spaced randomly about our projected route up to the ridgeline between Telegraph and Timber. Three of us decided to stay with crampons/boots while two skinned. The ice made for a challenging ascent with dicey moments for all. Near the ridge line, I was in two-way radio contact with Jake Faller to identify our position for possible filming as Jake was planning to film another group in Baldy Bowl from this position. Even when we were right on the ridgeline we were still the tiniest, near-invisible specs that were too far away even for his powerful telephoto lenses.

Time had marched on quickly for us as it was after 1:00 p.m. on the ridge and we had to decide, as a group, if going north to Telegraph for at least a half hour on a rugged, icy ridgeline would compromise our chance of getting some good, mid-day skiing. We chose to head south and savor the views of Baldy Bowl and the east-facing slopes of the ridgeline from our special perspective. After a short while, we reached a prominent high plateau where the terrain dropped precipitously to the south and would have made for great skiing down into Icehouse Canyon if only there was more snow coverage.

Scott and I checked out our options to the west and north of the plateau. From the recent weekends where I had skied excellent powder on northwest-facing aspects, I had great confidence that this same aspect with the well-spaced glades of trees to a deep canyon below would be the best option for the day. We all moved near the middle of the plateau and peeled our skins. After posing for some photos, we started laying down tracks. The snow was awesome powder on a roll-over pitch that exceeded 40 degrees as we made short traverses west to stay in the steep and deep. Conditions continued this way for at least the first 2,000 vertical feet until we broke out of the trees and headed to a south-facing aspect of the canyon that was baking (for February 2, 2008) in the sun.

Immediately we were treated to two to three inches of corn on a uniform base in a broad, open canyon with side slopes of 30 +/- degrees. Many turns were fast and furious as this "Ego Snow" let one have the feeling that nothing could go wrong. After about 1,200 vertical feet of this corn, we stopped for a break and unanimously decided we had to have more. We skinned back up to the top of the corn level and ripped it again. This was definitely a day to remember - only at this point it wasn't over.

As we descended deeper into this now narrow slot of a canyon, we got into more trees, shade, some bushes and powder again. With this day of climbing and skiing meant to be an adventure, none of us knew exactly how or where our skiing would end. There were moments of uncertainty as it looked like our canyon was closing in on us. At one point, we were elated to find something that looked like a trail and began following it uphill even though we knew we needed to head downhill. Suddenly something jelled in all of us and we turned around to proceed across the canyon to pick up the trail that headed down as our instincts directed. The very nice thing about this trail is that it was gentle and well-covered with untouched powder in this very restricted space that enabled us to keep our speed in total control. We proceeded down many switchbacks through now what was primarily an oak tree covered forest with some of those beautiful red bark cedars projecting up through the canopy until Icehouse Canyon with plenty of snow on the trail opened up for us. On we continued skiing until we reached the Icehouse Canyon parking lot with our cars only a couple of hundred feet away. The day couldn't have turned out better if we wanted it to - it was excellent and deserved a celebration.

Scott recommended the Buckhorn, just about a mile down the road. For a Saturday night with live music and an outgoing, energetic singer, there was hardly a crowd and we enjoyed several rounds of toasts with dinner and good entertainment that was befitting our fine day in the mountains. Thanks to Scott, Don, Angel, Cedric and Jake (who joined us at the Buckhorn) for the fine day.

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