Ski Mountaineering

Snow Shelter Course - San Joaquin Ridge
Feb 10-11, 1996

Leaders: Reiner Stenzel, Mark Bailey

Since there was no snow in the local mountains I drove on the preceding weekend to the Sierra Nevada to scout for a suitable place. After spending a night in a storm near Deadman Pass it was obvious where one would need emergency shelters. Six brave souls signed up and ventured without tents to spend the night on the San Joaquin ridge north of Mammoth. These were Mark and Jennifer Bailey, Steve Tuszynski, Ken Deemer, John Armstrong, and myself with K9 Tatanka. We met at Mammoth Mtn, skied up the road to Minaret Vista and continued to climb along the San Joaquin ridge. In contrast to the previous weekend spring weather was here. The view from the ridge was superb: To the east were the White Mtns, to the west Banner, Ritter and the Minarets, and the Southern sky was full of Bishop waves (stacked lenticular clouds). The snow depth exceeded the length of my avalanche probe (>8'). Off the ridge, among some whitebark pines, we made our basecamp at about the 10,000' level. Three igloos began to grow out of the snow. Mark and Jennifer built a cozy one-bedroom apartment, John and I decided on a 6' palace, and Steve and Ken worked on an individual style with top ventilation. Hour after hour went by with cutting blocks, stacking them, closing the gaps, digging out an entrance and leveling the interior. By late afternoon the homes were done but we were exhausted.

After the last sunrays turned the Whites red we lit up candles inside the igloos, dined and relaxed. Three illuminated domes in the darkness of the ridge were a pretty sight. Next morning sunlight got us out of our homes. After breakfast, we spent an hour practicing the use of avalanche beacons. Fastest recovery was accomplished with the new sensitive Ortovox using the field line search method. Later, as the snow began to soften, we started a tour to Deadman Pass (10,220'). The run down on spring-like snow was superb. Snowmobiles transported snowboarders up who practiced 30' jumps on the ridge. We had quite a few visitors at our igloos, among them participants from a ski trip of the Nordic Section/OCSS. Jennifer demonstrated the stability of her igloo by climbing on top of it. After lunch we skied out, barely avoiding a close encounter of my German shepherd with a dog sled team with 10 wild huskies. Back at the cars we concluded our very enjoyable weekend trip.

Many thanks to Mark for assisting with this trip.

Reiner Stenzel

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