Ski Mountaineering

SMS Snow Shelter Course, Mt Baldy
Jan 31-Feb 1,1998

Leaders: Reiner Stenzel, Keith Martin

A winter storm was forecast for this weekend. From a large applicant pool five hardy souls showed up on Sat, 8am, at Manker Flats on the Mt Baldy Road. These were Keith Martin, Dan Brosnahan, Bahram Manahedgi, Ken Kerner, and myself. The intention was to spend comfortably a stormy winter night in the mountains without tents. And so we did.

At 8:30 am we hiked up the road/trail to the San Antonio Hut. Continuous snow coverage started above 8,000' in the Bowl. However, the snow was frozen solid. Our goal was to ascend the West Ridge above the Bowl where there are flat areas to build igloos. The ascent was dicey, requiring a long gentle climb, no turns, firm edging, and strong nerves to avoid a disastrous fall. Ken took a relatively short one and decided to sign out. By 1:30 pm we found a nice plateau on the ridge (9,000') and started to construct two igloos. This involved cutting blocks and stacking them in an inclined spiral to produce a dome. Only the top 1 foot of snow was consolidated enough for cutting blocks, below was loose powder. While the clouds were rolling in we worked hard to build our shelters. After several hours the roof was closed, a covered entrance was completed, and we were ready for any weather. Dinner was at 6 pm during a light snowfall. Dining was in style: fondue, wine, fresh herbs, strawberries, chocolate, etc. Finally, the cold wind drove us into our igloos where it was quiet and 10 degrees warmer than outside. We lit up candles and settled down for a long night. All night long the wind was blowing through the trees and it snowed intermittently. An unavoidable nature call proved the comfort of our shelters.

There was a dark red sunrise next morning. Soon thereafter the clouds moved in again. We had an outdoors breakfast in the snow kitchen and then discussed the options: Keith had to get home early, the rest wanted to ski Mt Baldy. Thus, we mutually agreed to sign out and ski in different directions. Keith carefully hiked down the steep frozen slope following footsteps in the forest. Three of us climbed up the ridge where the snow was intermittent and crusty. Dan was better off with his crampons. Higher up there were nice patches of fresh powder. Above the tree line a ferocious wind was blowing. On the summit (10,064') there were at least 50 mph gusts. A mass of clouds was rolling in from the Northwest, a precursor of the next real El-Nino storm. Bahram and I enjoyed our ski run down. By 12:30 pm we were back at "home", ate lunch, packed and were ready to ski down when the whiteout moved in. Bahram skied down in the forest, I took my chances to ski down the Bowl just following the fall line in a uniform white environment. Tricky skiing with a full pack. We met near the hut. After a short break we hiked down the trail in gloomy fog.

Back at the cars (3:30 pm) I found a note from Keith that he had made it out fine. He even found his waterbottle which slid down the Bowl the day before, a small consolation for his other losses, torn pants and a burn hole in the sleeping bag. Ken, too, had his adventures. He built a snow trench in the lower Bowl to spend the night, but was scared away by a nearby rockslide which send footballs tumbling down the Bowl. We all had an exciting weekend. Thanks for Keith's assistance in leading the trip.

Reiner Stenzel

Back to Trip Reports
Back to SMS Home Page