Ski Mountaineering

Elderberry Canyon
May 4-5, 1996

Ken Deemer

On Saturday, May 4, 11 of us met for an early start to a long and memorable weekend. We skied Elderberry Canyon and the Bishop's Pass area for a total of 8,000 to 9,000 vertical. Included in the group were old timers Pat and Gerry Holleman, Don Pies, Reiner Stenzel, Diann Fried, Pete Yamagata from Sacramento, and Reed Moore from San Diego, as well as relative SMS newcomers Eric Watts, Brian Bartholomew and Lawrence Pallant. We were well into a warm summer-like spell which had produced considerable melting over the past two weeks. Snow level was about 8,500'. The ranger station had warned of wet snow slide possibility. We were able to take three four wheel drive vehicles up a passable road on Mt. Tom to about 6,500' where we started walking. The trail consisted of some long switchbacks and was quite passable. Elderberry Canyon was hidden from view during the ascent. After a couple of hours, we reached a ridge just above the canyon and our first good view of the more than 4,000 snow-covered feet to the summit ridge line.

Once on snow, the group quickly degenerated into an energetic advance party and the rest of us laggards. Don Pies and I had discussed a rumor we had heard that Reiner had begun to mellow a bit and enjoy a more leisurely pace. We were quickly disabused of this notion! The original intent was to climb to the massive headwall at the top of the canyon (about 11,000') and to descend from there. The summit route beyond this point is quite steep and avalanche prone, and we were concerned about possible slides from the canyon sides later in the day. As it turned out the snow was well consolidated with evidence of only minimal sloughing along our route. In addition, there were two delightful chutes, at least 1,000' in length, above and to the west of the headwall, which were just too inviting to leave untracked.

The advance party (Reiner, Gerry, Reed, Diann and Eric) were well into the Southern and steeper of the two chutes by the time the rest of us collapsed for lunch below them.

However, once re-energized by peanut butter and power bars, Don and I ventured up the second. We certainly could have made it to the ridge line, a thousand feet or so above the group, but Reiner's party had since rejoined the others and we thought it best to peel off our skins a few hundred feet short and return to the group. The snow was pure ego! Don and I were back in a matter of seconds. We paused for some group photos and then, with few breaks, skied all the way to snow line (close to 4,000' of descent). We returned via a steeper trail which continued down the length of the canyon and intersected exactly with our starting point at the vehicles. It was painfully obvious that a few weeks earlier, we would have been able to ski another 2,000'. Saturday evening, we feasted at Sizzler, then some of us enjoyed a relaxing soak at the hot springs south of Bishop.

The group scattered to various campsites then met again early Sunday at the South Lake trailhead. We were able to don our skis almost immediately since we were a couple of thousand feet above our Saturday start. Gerry Holleman led the group on a delightful tour toward Bishop Pass. We passed over numerous benches and frozen lakes to a saddle below Mt. Goode. At this point, Reiner and Diann split off to keep an engagement in LA (what could possibly be more important than this?).

The rest climbed a few hundred feet more then peeled our skins for a delightful run of a thousand feet or so. Reed Moore found a particularly challenging slope and laid down a perfect set of tracks. It was promptly dubbed "Reed's Run". We spent a well deserved lunch break admiring our work and decided that we just had to do it all over again. Many of us headed over to Reed's Run which was just the right combination of a little too steep but 'what the heck!' It was a picture perfect afternoon, and we all agreed that there were more than enough bowls, chutes and slopes for and extended base camp. Maybe next year..... Oh, by the way, this marked my final provisional lead trip. Thanks to Reiner, Gerry and everyone for your help.

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