Ski Mountaineering

Summer Solstice Weekend

Dana Couloir, Blue Couloir

June 24-25, 1995

Unscheduled Trip of Opportunity, by Don Pies

By the time we reached Bishop, it was clear that the extended ski season of '95 had brought us well into the windshield bug-decorating season. Planning a trip for June 24th & 25th was no guarantee against new storms for our party of Walt Boge, Nancy Gordon, Gerry and Pat Holleman, Owen Maloy, Joe McCoy, Don Pies and Reiner Stenzel. Soured ski trips had been reported throughout June since new storm systems kept killing the Sierra corn crop. This weekend was different, the air was still, skies were blue and the corn was ripe over these longest days of the year.

The road was open to the Mt Dana trailhead in Tuolumne Meadows but closed beyond. Unfortunately, an avalanche fatally buried a snowplow operator the previous week near Olmstead Point. The plow cut through deep snow resting on the rock slabs and essentially performed a mega snow-shovel shear test. Also joining our group were Ruth von Rotz from Tahoe and Carol Broberg and her dog from Mammoth. Continuous snow allowed us to skin all the way up the west face to the 13,053 ft summit. We had to avoid the temptation to peek over the northwest ridge which was lined with cornices, and here prudence paid off when one of these car sized blocks took a tumble and ripped up the north face that afternoon. Three more skiers from Tahoe joined us for a lazy lunch hour on the summit.

Most of the group returned on great snow along the ascent route. Nancy, Reiner, Ruth, myself and the Tahoe crew dropped down the east ridge and then into the north facing Dana Couloir. This is a perfect run for those wanting a taste of the steeps without having to be a high angle chute skier. The entrance is gentle, the angle is sustained at 38 degrees for several hundred feet, the run moderately wide and the runout open. We hit unconsolidated muck most of the way down but Reiner showed us that even bad snow can be skied well. A tour across the Dana Plateau brought us to the top of Ellery Bowl. The standard line of descent was capped by broken RV sized cornices with fresh fracture areas. An optional line was down 50 plus degrees through the rocks. We choose to chicken-out and head back the way we came. An extended social hour at the cars followed by one of Joe's great meal creations concluded a long but excellent day of ski mountaineering. Reiner headed off to Mt Conness on Sunday while the rest of us were found heading up the Mammoth Lakes basin toward Blue Couloir. Friends from Lower Rock Creek and Lone Pine joined our tour over more primo corn. The couloir was a little soft but consolidated enough to be easily skied. A bit of fun tree skiing brought us all the way down to the roadhead on continuous snow. Even nearby Lake Mary was completely frozen over on this first weekend of summer. By early afternoon, several other tours were planned into July-are we spoiled or what!

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