|G-man, finishing the bootpack section of the day|
It had been over a week since the last snowfall in the Sierra, so if Garth and I were headed in the backcountry, it was time to look for where snow might be hiding. Given the previous week’s luck in east and north(ish) facing chutes, and given how the Sawtooth sub-range of the Sierra tends to get more snow than many places, we set our sights on the Matterhorn. One of the last times I had visited the twin lakes area outside of Bridgeport was to tick “ski dreams” off the list with the G-man himself. Time for a return.
|A brisk start to the day getting across the lake. Yes, those boots are day-glow orange|
The rendezvous at the shell station in town was set for a casual 0700, but due to some impressive photos up and down 395, that got padded by 30 min. No matter…the temperature with the inversions settled in the Sierra meant temps in town were below zero again. “Damn, it’s cold here.” “Yeah, kinda glad we’ve delayed our start a tad.” Felt like that delightful winter weather from the week before was staying around a bit – though we would realize later that true to forecast, that cold, dense air was resting in the valleys, with the higher elevations being down-right civil.
|How long is this valley again? Good thing we never lose sight of the objective.|
No matter…dropping a car in town and finishing off the 13 miles out to the end of the road would be cake…right? “You can’t park in the gas station here because of all the vandalism.” “Is there really that much crime in Bridgeport?” “I can neither confirm nor deny…you just can’t park here.” Sheesh. We left a car locked, void of valuables on the side of 395 and headed straight for the most dramatic skyline in town. To our surprise, there was another car in the lot…then a second. “Good, he’ll put the skin track in.” “Wait, they’re still here…let’s get going before they poach our line.”
|Valley check. Now for the business.|
Skinning across a frosty, faceted twin lakes by 0815. As expected, all it took was a few hundred vert for the temperatures to rise. Shedding layers less than an hour into the climb. Now, when it comes to the Matterhorn [made famous in Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums], it’s easy to forget that before you start making vertical progress on the mountain proper, there is a long canyon to cross. Good thing that from start to finish of said canyon, the Sawtooth ridge dominates your vision without obstruction, and the Matterhorn is front and center. With a slight breeze, and scintillating conversation, Garth and I were out of said canyon making progress on the moraine within 2 hours of leaving the car.
|Never a moment that wasn't picture worthy...all day|
In and out of the shade kept the sun and our internal temperatures in check...before we knew it, we were staring at the last of the ascent, and 3.5 delightful routes of descent to choose from. We decided to skin as far as we could on Ski Dreams, finish it off with a booter, and tag the summit…no big deal. The boot pack was a great mix of unbreakable crust, breakable, unconsolidated powder, powder, and any combination thereof. Our strategy to find the powder in the Sierra by coming to the Matterhorn was a failure. No matter…just play the hand you’re dealt.
|Hmmm...what to ski, what to ski...|
We finished off the boot pack, grabbed some nutrition, and then saw our progress shattered by the scree/talus/wind board/isothermal melting snow on the south side. After a look down the looker’s right couloir off the Matterhorn summit, there was a ribbon of windboard to get around the rock band, then potentially good snow back down to the moraine. We dropped our packs and headed for the top…
|Finish off the booter, G-man|
|The backside slog was...well...taxing|
“Summits do matter.” “Yeah, well, that’s just like, you’re opinion, man.” We scrambled on some 4th class terrain for a bit, and gained the summit. Due to the slowed progress, we couldn’t indulge in the summit nap – sigh - we snapped some pics, and while I dug like a squirrel finding the summit register, Gman booked it back to the packs.
|What's a day in the Sierra without a little scrambling on immaculate granite?|
Looking down the couloir, that ribbon of snow was looking thinner and thinner, but we were convinced it would go. Turns out it was bulletproof…but it would take an edge, so I swallowed the pride and scraped down the thing, getting no style points on the effort.
|"Summits do matter"|
Garth, in a bout of superior reason, decided it was safer to inverse boot pack the wind board until the snow got softer, and the consequences of a fall were less severe. Good man. We got ourselves down to what seemed to be the only powder on the mountain, and cut through it with big grins on our faces…at least on mine. It didn’t hurt that the backdrop to our turns was quite photo-worthy, but we did like the idea of maximizing daylight. “Let’s get off this thing.” “Amen.”
|"I think it'll go." Our descent from the summit.|
We cruised through the low angle stuff and actually found a great 500’ chute that, though avy prone, was full of the best snow all day. Next was the b-line through the canyon, passing a guided party headed for our previously tagged summit, followed by thinking light thoughts dropping down the lower moraine and a skate ski across the lake to the car. Phew…no headlamps needed.
|"I'm gonna boot this thing until it's safer" - smart man...as an aside, that rock looks good.|
As we gobbled some energy beans and sipped the last of our vino, we watched the last of the alpenglow disappear off of the Matterhorn’s west face – lending the deep satisfaction of seeing your completed objective from the car, in a warm puffy with fresh socks and comfy shoes on our feet. “What’s next?” “Let’s see where the snow falls before we decide.”
|"I've never had a bad day skiing"|
Time for some dinner, hot water to dull the aches and sleep.
|There's something so satisfying when able to see your completed objective from the car.|
Sunday brought about a more mellow situation. With no takers to head out to Red Slate, it was time to get out and explore the snow pack. Funny, after the first couple hundred vert, it was apparent the effort on the ‘horn on Saturday had sapped a bit more gumption than expected. Coupled with the lack of clear objective besides just touring around and enjoying the snow and winter weather, motivation was lagging.
|Call it the winter parking lot for snowmobiles...bleh|
The route chosen was to head towards Reds Meadow and see what happens after that. Perhaps the snow below the closed road on the steeps was deep and stable. Turns out it was. Pick the line through the most shaded old growth area and you might find the deepest turns in the Sierra at present.
As I skinned up the groomed road, however, the grin turned upside down as the alpine air was saturated with the noise and repugnant smell of two-stroke snowmobiles. Upon hitting an expanse where a snowmobile party had treated it like a high school parking lot and they just learning to drive in the winter - the scene, coupled with my fatigue from the day before halted progress all together. I stopped, and just sipped some shiraz for a while before deciding on the next move.
I can’t say the mechanical presence of man was the only reason for halting progress, but I will say it was a player – strange how one can look at a slope and see skied lines and not get the same sense of revulsion, but seeing a pristine, snow-covered meadow torn up by frivolous, mechanized tracks with the faint brapping sounds in the background sullied my mood. Best to make the most of it and get away from the petroleum-powered hoi polloi.
Within minutes of leaving the disturbed area and back to the untouched winter scenes of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, it was back to good spirits accompanied by a return of motivation to poke around. Nothing major to report, just a Muir-esqe stroll in the woods to serve a reminder on how great it is to spend time with 400 year-old cedars and putting in your own skin track. So pleasant to see no tracks ahead, and only your own prints behind.
There was one close call with a lasting lesson. On one section of trail, earbuds still in, trying to side-hill on unbreakable crust, my uphill ski popped off. I sat, and just then, a medium-refrigerator sized chunk of ice rolled down the cliff and stopped right next to me and because of the buds, the only thing I heard was the twang of Temper Trap’s guitars. Had I been just 10 feet higher, things could have been nasty. Lesson: When in questionable terrain, be alert.
So there you have it: Another fantastic winter weekend filled with great people, gorgeous Sierra vistas, wandering about in the frosty mountains and even a couple lessons. May the winter continue to be fruitful for you all.
|Get out and enjoy winter, and it will return the favor|