Ski Mountaineering

MLK Mammoth Ski Weekend

Jan 13-16, 2017

by Tom Marsh

Several Atmospheric rivers forecast to hit the Sierra range in the next few days was the lead up to our planned visit to Mammoth for backcountry skiing. Luckily the forecast called for a break in the cycle with cold sunny weather. Everyone was giddy with excitement about the snow and fine weather ahead. Bill, Bruce and I drove up on Thursday night for a planned ski of Mammoth Mountain on Friday. The storm cycle was just winding up on Thursday as we drove to Bishop and camped at the Thunderbird motel.

A couple of inches of wet snow covered our cars as we got up early on Friday to drive to Mammoth. Many snow enthusiasts drove the snow covered roads to Mammoth. The skiing on the mountain was fabulous with deep power in the glades and packed powder on the groomers. Most everyone else came up on Friday evening to our Sherwin Villa condo in the center of town. Some of the group walked to dinner in town Friday evening. The condo group included Ulrike Luderer, Kevin Olson, Alvin Walters, Ellen Walters, Jim DeRose, May Adachi, Sung Byun, Ken Deemer, Bill Lutz, Bruce McVicker and myself.

We discussed extensively the planned routes for the weekend. The avalanche reports had dire predictions for the backcountry, so we had to take routes away from slopes more than 30 degrees.

On Sunday, we got an early start at the end of Lake Mary road. The traffic in Mammoth was extreme, so we were pleased that we were the only ones at the end of the road at about 8:30am on Saturday. Unlike recent years, you had to climb several feet to attain the ski track to the Tamarack ski area. The morning was cold, but the sun was up and there was virtually no wind. As we tracked the 2.6 miles on the Tamarack trails to our proposed trailhead in Coldwater canyon, we were told by a women from the ski patrol that we could not be on the road at all and had to break trail. We were mindful to ski on the end of the road, but to break trail all the way from the Lake Mary turnoff would have been quite impractical.

Upon reaching the Coldwater trailhead, we found the breaking to be easier than thought. The pack had firmed a bit and we only went in about a foot. We took turns breaking trail, careful to stay away from steep slopes.

We finally made it to the edge of Skelton Lake around lunch time. The view of the upper canyon was fabulous. The sun was shining on our lunch spot with no wind. Despite the cold temperatures, it was quite pleasant sitting in the warm sun with untracked powder everywhere. Some of the group decided to lounge after lunch while some of the group wanted to track through the lake in search of some slopes further up trail. Alvin made good time breaking trail across the lake before reaching some nice hills above the lake. Even in fairly steep terrain, there were really no turns to be had as the snow was just too deep.

We stayed close to the up track going down. I found the section below the lake to be quite nice with glade skiing through the trees. The snow in the lower part of Coldwater canyon never disappoints this time of year.

The next day, we discussed several alternatives. The group enjoyed the touring and breaking trail, but the downhill skiing in so deep of powder was difficult on slopes we deemed to be safe. After reviewing the maps, we decided a backcountry tour plus a downhill at a resort would be nice. On Sunday morning, the group met up with Reed Moore at the Obsidian Dome trailhead off 395 around at 9am. We were blessed to have a track set in the deep powder all the way up to the saddle on Chicken Wing (or so named by BC skiers for the peak to the North of White Wing). We started breaking near the saddle between Chicken Wing and the bump to the North. We descended briefly to a big open area for another break in the warm sunshine. Ulrike did a great job breaking trail after our rest stop as we ascended the slopes through the beautifully haunting terrain. Most of the smaller trees were completely encased in snow giving the feel of skiing through a ghost forest. Reed Moore provided some much appreciated breaking up several hundred feet before we had another very pleasant lunch in the sunshine and calm wind. After Lunch, Bruce broke trail as we traversed the slopes. Views of Mono Lake and the peaks to the North were now spectacularly visible in the clear sunshine. Finally, we reached what appeared to be the eastern edge of the June Mountain ski resort. After a short ascent from there we were at the top chair of June Mountain. The views were spectacular in all directions as we prepared for the long decent on groomed trails. Some of us found trackless powder in the glades as we skied all the way down to the parking lot and our awaiting shuttle. Special thanks to Ellen, who stayed back by 395 and shuttled us back to our cars. We all drove back to the condo for a dip in the warm outdoor Jacuzzi, happy hour and dinner. Several friends joined the group for dinner including Shady and Erin with their son Gabriel, Reed Moore and Jenny Lo. Bill provided the entertainment for the evening with his fine guitar playing.

On Monday, we met up with Reed and Jenny for the semi groomed trails at the end of the Rock creek road south of Mammoth. The main road was not groomed, but the lower (aka Outhouse Trail) was groomed all the way to Rock Creek Lodge and a track was laid in the meadow past the lodge all the way to Rock Creek lakes. Most of the group skinned up with backcountry skis while some of us had waxless touring skis. We had another wonderful weather day with cold mornings (single digits) and sunny pleasant days. The upper trail after the lodge was beautiful along Rock creek. Thanks to all sharing in the joyful experience of backcountry skiing. Special Thanks to May and Sung for coordinating the meals and co-leading the trip.

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