Ski Mountaineering

Mammoth Lakes Ski Tour

Jan 18-21, 2008

by Tom Marsh

Much of the joy of Mammoth Lakes in January is the reliability of effortless dry powder (otherwise known as POW). Even last year during one of the driest years on record and during a major cold snap, you could find fairly good ski conditions. Lucky for us this year, a major storm tracked through the area in early January giving us an excellent base.

Most folks arrived fairly early on Friday evening in time to enjoy an evening in the spacious condo with a roaring fire and good conversation. There were 14 of us on the trip - Randy Lamm, Bronwyn Barkan, Kat Seiple, Jim Garvey, Brian Hammer, Linda Bouchie, Ulrike Luderer, Kevin Olson, Aaron Applebaum, Mike Rector, Bill Lutz, Mike Bratkowski and Aron Socher and myself

Bill popped in a slide show of many of his past trips as we discussed all the familiar places folks in the group had been. Most of us arrived before 10PM that night. Randy, Bronwyn and Mike Bratkowski opted for a late start from Los Angeles. Around midnight, I woke up to the ring of my cell phone. Someone prudently lock the front door to the condo before retiring for the night and Randy and his wife, Bronwyn could not get in. After letting them in and carrying the remaining food stuff upstairs to the kitchen, it was almost time to greet Mike arriving near the 1am hour.

The next day dawned sunny, cold and beautiful. The air was fairly still and spirits were high for an exciting tour. With the exception of Aron Socher and Bronwyn, the whole group decided to do the tour. We started out at the end of the road near Twin Lakes by about 9:30AM with fantastic weather. After about an hour of trudging the Lake Mary road and the Coldwater Creek road, we arrived at the Duck Pass trail head. This was not before seeing Pat and Gerry Hollerman gleefully making the many rounds around the block on skate skis. They had been up for the prior 6 days and enjoyed great condition on Mammoth Mountain and the XC area.

As promised the snow in Coldwater creek was nice powder. Surprisingly, we had to break trail for much of the way past the first hump a couple weeks after the last snowfall. It was virgin terrain as was crossed over Skeleton Lake and up the drainage toward Barney Lake and the base of Duck Pass. A real testament to the wonderful pristine conditions of this sport. For many of us, this was the first tour up this canyon. In fact, for Kat, it was her first back country tour. The whole group did exceptionally well climbing the 1,800 feet in elevation gain from the cars.

The weather was perfect for a nice lunch under the warm sun. Although, not too warm to change the powder like conditions of the snow. After a brief time at Barney Lake, we made the quick decent down the canyon. As we expected, the snow was soft and forgiving. The decent after Skeleton Lake was especially joyful as we each found untracked sections tree weaving down to the Duck Pass trail head.

Back to the condo by 5:30PM, we all enjoyed happy hour with beer, wine, chips, salsa, quiche, pizza and an assortment of dips and sauces. So much so, that we may have to deem this trip a little on the "Nancy" side. After that, most of us retreated to the warmth of the Jacuzzi and dry sauna.

Bill keep the sauna streaming with cups of water over the rocks and heads. Bill devised a way to keep the warm air from the top of the sauna with the occasional wave of a towel. Later that evening, after enjoying a Lasagne dinner, Mike and Lorene dropped by for a visit. They had recently purchased a condo in the Mammoth area.

The next day (Sunday), Mike and Lorene decided to join us for a tour up Mammoth Crest. Sunday was a bit cold and blistery. A storm had been forecast to arrive in the late afternoon and the winds and clouds started to pick up. We started on the Lake Mary road again with a short cut by the stables to get over to the trail head at Lake George. Before that Kevin, Ulrike and Kat split off in search of the Mammoth Pass trail. A nice track had been set climbing the ridge near the summer crest trail. We had wonderful views making quick work up to our lunch spot just below the crest. It was not as comfortable as the day before with a moderate breeze and disappearing sun. After the brief lunch, many in the group decided to take the short jaunt up to the crest to marvel at the outstanding view in all directions. Given the approaching storm and the high winds, it was fairly short lived. The bowl to the North of the crest looked to be the best conditions down. Later, we found out this canyon was called Red Cone (Jim Garvey archives). We were greeted with the whole spectrum of variable conditions from wind pack to breakable crust to sections of powder. The conditions improved considerably as we made it down through the trees on the way towards Horse Shoe Lake. It was all hooting and hollering as we made turn after turn in the near perfect powder. Randy and Dave went a little too far to the right and were greeted with sizable cliffs. Most of us stayed to the left and easily made it down to Horse Shoe Lake. Lorene showed us the way back to the short cut to the stables and ultimately to the cars. As we got back to the condo, the first snowfall started to arrive. The conditions got considerable more blistery and snow had started to accumulate. Perfect conditions for Happy hour viewing and another trip to the sauna. That evening after dinner, we got a nice surprise visit from our SMS chair, Scott Kopke and his lovely wife, Estelle and two kids. Apparently, this was the condo that Scott stayed at and the Jacuzzi that we had just come back from where Scott met his Estelle a few years ago. I offered to take both of them over for bit of nostalgia, but Scott declined.

The next day, the sun had appeared with a bit of wind. Most everyone decided to go on there own. So after packing in the morning, Bill, Mike, Kat and I drove over to the trail head for White and Chicken Wing. After a blistery start, we started up the climb to Chicken Wing in wonderful conditions. It took about two hours for Bill, Mike and I to reach the top following an existing track. The wind had moderated and the sun came out, so it was quite pleasant as we ripped off skins and made the wonderful decent through the powder back down to the XC trail.

Thanks much to Randy and Bronwyn for helping with the food and Randy for agreeing to co-lead.

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