Ski Mountaineering

Red and White
Mar 25-26, 2001

Reiner Stenzel

This was an improvised private ski mountaineering trip on the weekend of the scheduled but canceled Olancha Pk trip. Four of us decided to ski and climb an SPS peak in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Red and White (12,816') is located at the end of the McGee Creek drainage south of Mammoth, north of Rock Creek.

On Sun, 3/25, 6 am, Mark Vogt, Jonathan Meaghan, Susan Livingston, and myself met at the crossing of the McGee Creek Road and Hwy 395. The normally easy drive to the trailhead became a challenge due to first intermittent and finally solid snow coverage. All of our 4WD cars barely made it to the stables just short of the trailhead. From there we skinned up on the trail which parallels the creek. Except for some creek crossings we had solid snow coverage. Between Buzztail and Horsetail Springs the trail turns southward and a great panorama of snow covered peaks of the backcountry opens up. We navigated through forest, crossed frozen lakes, climbed some steep gullies, which by 3 pm got us to the McGee Lks. We camped on a plateau at 11,200' between Big and Little McGee Lks with great views on Red and White, Crocker, Hopkins, corniced Hopkins Pass, and several frozen lakes. We relaxed in the afternoon sun before it vanished in approaching high clouds. We planned our ascent route via Pk 12,360' and the cl 3 NE ridge, although the difficulty of the latter was not obvious. By dinner time the sky was grey, low clouds were drifting in and the prospect for the peak climb became uncertain.

On Mon we got up at 4:30 am. To our delight the sky was full of stars. After flushing down two packs of oatmeal with hot tea, we put on crampons, packed up the skis and headed out by first daylight. Jonathan wanted to conserve his energy for the ski run down and opted out of the peak climb. We skied up to Pk 12,360' where the details of the route became clear. There are three high points to this mountain, the middle one being the highest. An impressive, steep snowfield lies just north of R&W.

We left our skis at Pk 12,360' and cramponed just below the cl 2 ridge to a saddle just east of R&W. From there we climbed the cl 3 NE ridge leading straight to the summit. It was a mixed rock and snow climb.

The rock was highly unstable and although we stayed close together, one of us had a close encounter with a tumbling block of major proportions. Jonathan claimed he even heard the rumble from basecamp. At 9:30 am we were happy to be on the summit, although a bit uneasy about the descent. We signed the peak register as first of the year. Wonder why only two pages were filled in 2000. The view over the snow covered Sierra peaks was spectacular. It was windstill and sunny. Mark used his ham radio to contact Jonathan who had my sports radio.

Lots of pictures were taken, but then we had to face the music and head down. Climbing in telemark boots is not exactly ideal, even with crampons on like Mark did. Diligently we made it down the ridge without incident. Susan perfomed a successful self arrest on a steep snowfield. The real fun started when we switched from crampons to skis. We had a wonderful ski run down from Pk 12,360'. We heard voices and spotted two people coming down over corniced Hopkins Pass. By 12:30 pm we were back at basecamp. Time for lunch and relaxing. The skiers passed by and we greeted them. Later, their ski tracks on a sunny slope were run over by a sizable wet snow avalanche. We double checked our beacons for the ski run down. Spring snow made the descent very pleasant, nevertheless turning with full packs is an exhausting fun through trees, across creeks, etc.

After 2 1/2 hrs we were back at the car. Packed up and were ready to plough our AWD subis through the snow as before. Then Murphy's law struck: The tires sank through the mush and the car bodies rested on a 1 foot snow layer. The next hour+ was spent shoveling snow on the road. By 6 pm we were on dry ground, by 11 pm I finally dropped into my bed. Thanks to everyone's cameraderie, endurance, and patience. Probably, after the bodies recover, memories of another fine ski mountaineering adventure remain.    

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