Ski Mountaineering

Martin Luther King Weekend 2007
(Mammoth, Duck Pass and Chicken Wing)

Jan 12-15, 2007

Leaders: Tom Marsh, Lorene Samoska and Mike Seiffert

by Lorene Samoska

Back in July, Tom Marsh asked my husband Mike Seiffert and me to be assistant leaders on an SMS weekend trip up to Mammoth, staying in a plushy condo with guaranteed powder snow in January. We sort of chuckled and said, "Sure, no problem," thinking "no-way" would there be powder snow anywhere in the Sierra by MLK weekend. Having returned from Jackson Hole after New Year's, and with our appetites whetted from the powder appetizer we had in Teton Village this Christmas, we packed for the SMS trip, which included supplying breakfasts, dinners and beer for 12 people, not having any idea what to expect! We were pleasantly surprised that our fearless leader Tom did indeed have the promised stash of soft fluffy powder in the Mammoth area, and were treated to the company of 11 other eager skiers for the weekend. Particularly nice was that this SMS trip was split nearly 50/50 women/men! I hope this is a trend that continues on future SMS outings!

The weather warned of a cold powder dump on Thursday followed by an arctic cold front which would sweep down through southern California for the entire weekend. Eleven participants were undaunted by the forecast and joined us for a truly memorable trip. These included Laura Lathrop, Carol Tucker, Kat Seiple, Karen McInnis, Jim and Debra DeRose, Bill Lutz, Mike Rector, Doug Owens, Juan Engelsen, David Bjerk, and Tom, Mike and myself. On Friday night, many of us arrived early and some cooked and some ordered out for pizza after unpacking all of our supplies. Everyone signed up and pitched in for a chore on the trip - some laid out breakfasts, others cleaned up, some prepared Happy Hours, others dinner. The prep was generally easy and the system was very well organized, even for tired skiers, and everyone had plenty of food.

A little noise was heard about getting on the trail at 8am the next day, even though the forecast was for low temperatures below -10F! However, this was quickly revised on Saturday when the outside thermometer seemed stuck at -20F. In the morning, SMS member Ken Kerner came by the condo to join us for the trip. Juan, Doug, Jim, Debra and Karen headed out to Mammoth Mountain to try out the lifts in the fresh snow, while Kat opted for touring around Tamarack. The rest of us (Laura, Carol, the two Mikes, Tom, Dave, Bill and Ken) also started at Tamarack, headed toward Barney Lake below Duck Pass as our destination for the day. Near Coldwater Camp, our group ran into Jim Garvey, SMS Outings Chair Heiko Knapp, and friend Greg Sadowy. Greg's randonnee binding had just broken, and he decided to go back to town and rent some skis at the ski area. Jim and Heiko decided to join us for the climb, so our group had grown to 11. The temperatures were frigid as we continued the slog up the free groomed track to the Duck Pass trailhead.

As we turned into Coldwater Creek, the sun was hidden behind the ridge and the temps dropped another 10 degrees. We continued our climb up to Skelton Lake and took turns skiing across it, as it was frozen solid. Several people decided to make Skelton their turnaround point for the day. The rest of us continued up to Barney Lake, with a beautiful view of the Mammoth Crest all around us. We turned around at about 3 PM anticipating our powder run back down. Heiko decided to brave the cold temperatures some more and climbed over Duck Pass to check out the snow conditions. The Barney group got in about 3 more turns than the folks who turned back at Skelton Lake, as even the skin track was slow going down with the fresh snow and cold temps. Finally we reached the tree run and whooped and hollered all the way down, making pretty turns around the trees in very nice powder conditions. What took hours to get up was only a fraction of an hour to descend, and soon we were back at Coldwater and regrouped with some of our party. We collected the rest on Lake Mary road, and then picked up Kat from Tamarack around 4PM before heading back to the condo for well-deserved appetizers and beer. It was a wonderful day of powder skiing and a great group to tour with. Back at the condo, hot tubbing was in order followed by a dinner of lasagna, salad, wine and dessert. Later that evening, Heiko & Greg stopped by to report that Duck Pass was a little thin.

On Sunday, we decided to try our luck at Deadman Summit and tour up to Chicken Wing (Peak 9801) west of Obsidian Dome off of the 395. Our group consisted of Tom Marsh, Mike Seiffert, Jim DeRose, Jim Garvey, Dave Bjerk, Bill Lutz, Mike Rector and myself. The rest of the crew opted for either a rest or the ski area, while Carol decided to tour with the Range of Light group (the local chapter of the Sierra Club). At the Obsidian trailhead, it started to snow and you could barely make out the Chicken Wing from the road. The snow was very thin in the parking lot as most of the sagebrush was exposed, but we decided that the climb of about 2000 feet would probably mean more powder up on top. We headed southwest along the Obsidian Dome ski trail until we encountered the turnoff to Hartley Springs camp, where we continued southwest into the forest. Around 8500 feet we came across another road crossing, and turned left for a short distance before starting our steep ascent (about 1300' in 1/2 mile) to the top of Chicken Wing. The snow coverage was a little thin near the bottom and we had to zig-zag our way around large fallen trees. Fortunately with a big group of enthusiastic guys, everyone got a chance to break trail in 6-12 inches of fresh pow all the way to the top, and we arrived around 1PM on the summit. The clouds had parted and we enjoyed beautiful views of Mono Lake to the northeast, the backside of June Mountain to the west, and a bare, windswept White Wing (which should have been called Brown Wing) to the southwest. White Wing is another destination which usually has good snow, but this year, the lack of trees didn't allow the snow to stick, so Chicken Wing was the place to be. We did not stay on top too long, as the temps were still pretty cold and the wind was gusty. We peeled skins and were ready to eat some powder. I made a turn off the summit only to bottom out on some rocks! After side-stepping my way back toward the skin track, the group caught up and we started making our way down fresh powder in the trees. But we had to be careful, as small bumps in the snow could hide more rocks, and a few of us scraped skis while trying to negotiate the slope. After a fun 1300' descent (made just a little more interesting avoiding rocks and downed tree logs), we reached the snow covered road by nearly 2PM. Tom, Mike Rector and Dave decided they needed a second helping of Chicken Wings, and we parted ways as Mike and I headed back to the cars with Bill and the two Jims.

Chicken Wing is a fun peak - usually good for some very nice powder turns in the trees. It is very convenient and has a short approach off of the 395. The entire tour took about 4-4.5 hours, and yo-yoing is a good option as there are lots of ways down. The first group headed back to the condo for some needed refueling, as it was very hard to eat and drink enough on the trip due to the cold temperatures and constantly freezing water bottles. Even my peanut butter sandwich froze both days! In another hour or so, the second-helping crew returned and described their second run as a bit like Russian Roulette, given the propensity for hidden rocks and sheer luck in avoiding them. But, they all had big smiles on their faces and everyone had a great day out.

Happy Hour started around 3PM for some of us, and continued until about 7 when a dinner of chicken enchiladas and pizza was served. Some of us retired early, but an energetic group held a late-night yoga session led by Kat and Carol, to stretch those tired muscles!

On Monday, we divided up the remaining food and parted ways, some headed for a tour, others to Mammoth Mountain, and the rest to drive home early. This was a very memorable weekend with a terrific group of people! Special thanks to Tom Marsh for organizing and leading the trip, reserving the nice condo, and planning all of the food.

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