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Eastside Blueballs, and a Bit of Hope

Ed Note: published date is Dec. 15, but the actual skiing happened between the 9th and 13th.

Part 1: Bloody Couloir Blueballs

After finishing my masters thesis and successfully defending, I needed a little break from the city. Dan was also finishing up a few tough weeks of work, and was persuasive enough to convince me (ok it didn't take much) that a couple days of big lines and hot springs on the Eastside were what we needed. I called a few buddies, but due to the timeframe of our trip (weekdays), they were mostly out. Our friend Bob was in for a day at Virginia Lakes though, as he wanted to ski the Green Creek Chute, and so just like that we had a crew!

Early on Sunday morning my alarm clock somehow didn't go off, and I was instead woken by the sound of Bob calling. "You boys up yet?" We finally made it out of Reno, and headed towards Bridgeport an hour late. The mountains looked good in the early morning sun, but there was quite a bit less snow than we had been hoping for.

Dan scouting the Green Creek Chute...needs a bit more snow.

After giving the green creek chute a thorough look, we decided that it didn't have enough snow, and that we might not have enough time. Ok time for plan B: Black Mountain. Bob seemed a little bummed, as he had been up Black Mountain a few times, but he finally agreed to be our guide. It was a good decision, as Dan and I got to explore a new area, and get a little more acquainted with use of crampons and ice axe (thanks Bob!). We also got a feel for the conditions, which were quite firm but edge able, and very thin. In general, there was little to no snow below 9,000 Feet. Holy cow, maybe we should have just stayed in Tahoe!

Virginia Lakes. Frozen over and making erie sounds!

On the bootpack up. A little bit of soft stuff...

Shot of myself on the down thanks to Dan

The views of Mono Lake were spectacular from the summit. We skiied a north facing chute, and managed to find a little bit of chalky snow, and then a long bushy runout. I'd call it fun!

At the trailhead, we hung out, drank beer, and debated how cold it was going to be that night. Dan and I were planning to camp in Mammoth, and give the Bloody Couloir a shot the next day. The forecast was for it to get to around 10 degree F, quite chilly. Maybe too chilly for a tent? I was apprehensive, but we had both brought two sleeping bags and thought we might be able to find some hot springs to stay warm in. We parted ways with Bob, and cruised on down to Mammoth.

We camped out at the Crab Cooker, and were happy for its nice hot water and ample flow. That night we soaked for hours, and put our water bottles in the source when we went to bed. I woke up around sunrise, and was too cold to do anything but get back in the hot spring and try to make coffee. On my way to the spring I pounded on Dan's camper shell, and he rustled around. I thought he might get up, or that I would try again in a few minutes. Boy was I wrong! As soon as I hopped in the tub, there was no way I was getting up until the sun hit. It was just too cold.

Morning sun and ice at the Crab Cooker

Finally, once the sun had come up and I was fed and full of coffee, I got out and decided to wake up Dan. He groggily started getting his stuff together, but was moving slow. I knew this was far from the early morning start I had hoped for on the Bloody Couloir. We finally left camp around 9:30.

Continuing towards the trailhead, the drive was slow. The upside to the Bloody Couloir in the early season is that you can take a 4wd road to the snowline, cutting miles off the approach. Well don't be fooled, the road sucks and it still takes a long time.

We finally got close to the snow, and ran into a couple other guys who were gearing up. They weren't skiing the bloody, but said that they wouldn't drive the road further. It looked like we could continue on to me, but we heeded their advice. After gearing up, we proceeded to walk up the dirt road for another half mile or so, eventually finding snow and a good parking spot/turnaround. Damn. Lesson learned: make your own judgments and take advice from strangers with a grain of salt. Oh well. It was now getting quite late, but I reckoned that if we could start booting up the couloir by noon we'd have it.

Once we got to snow, the going still wasn't particularly easy. There was a lot dirt, and not a lot of snow. There were also a lot of bushes, a creek, and some bad route-finding done on my part. More delays, Damn. I was slowly watching my goal slip away, and it was only because we were taking too long.

As it got later, I started thinking about rockfall in the couloir (see report of recent rockfall here) It was definitely warming up, and I could see sunlight hitting the upper reaches of the mountain. Dan also voiced his concerns, and said he was nervous about climbing the steep firm snow. I chuckled, and thought that the descent might be scarier. Dan is an ex-ski racer, so the chalky conditions probably seemed soft compared to what he's used to! It was definitely firm, and not very filled in though. We were both surprised by the lack of snow.

Heading up the apron, not sure if the rocks were from a lack of snow or last weeks rockfall. It was probably after 1:00 by this point.

We stopped and had a powwow at the top of the apron. Continuing further would put us in the couloir, and I didn't want to head up if we weren't going to make it. Despite the hazards of rockfall and potential difficulties finding a transition spot, the line is just too legendary to ski only 1/2 of. I thought it could wait for another day and better conditions. Dan agreed. It was a tough decision, as we'd come so far and hadn't yet found any real skiing, but we decided to call it. We grabbed a snack, and checked out some mines that are at the base of the couloir. Hard to believe that people made a road all the way up there, just for some small tunnels.

At our top out point.

Entering the mine

Ice...and Gollum!

The mine was cool, but it wasn't what we had set out to do. Feeling a little disappointed, we skiied back down the road (taking our skis off frequently for the dirt patches). The skiing was alright, but mostly just a traverse. I was definitely a little down, and frustrated. It felt like winter had abandoned us. Where was all the snow?? Why did we drive so far just to go for a hike?? We drove back down the rough road, and opted for another chilly night at the hot spring.

In the morning we didn't feel like braving the low tide and firm conditions again, so we hung out and I had some time to contemplate.

Lessons learned:

1. Start early. Really, even if its cold.

2. Wake your buddy up. If you're in a group its partially your responsibility to make sure everyone is moving. And make sure you convey an early morning plan and sense of urgency on your partners.

3. Be prepared for exploratory missions, bad conditions, and wrong turns in new zones. Be patient about that stuff, and just make sure to have fun with it. Skiing is supposed to be fun right??

4. Know your crew, and communicate with them. Practice skills ahead of time, and be patient. We're wayyyy more ready now.

Morning ice again at the Crab Cooker.

Back home I was feeling impatient, and a little cooped up. I wanted some skiing! Dammit, what happened to winter?? The snow we had experienced sucked!

Part 2: Hope

On Wednesday I got up and checked the forecast. It said a pattern change might come, and that we could potentially get some snow in a week or so. Hell yeah!! Thats not a lot to go off, but its way better than a forecast for endless high pressure. I'll take it.

That afternoon I decided to stretch the legs and go out for a tour, again to the Mt Rose zone (a played out Nevada classic at this point). I was expecting the chalky shit snow, and low tide conditions of Mammoth. Low expectations. Low low expectations, which were actually quite exceeded! Poking around at a secret spot (if I tell you I'd have to kill you), we actually found some soft sugary snow! Almost Pow. Semi-pow. Sweetness.

Dropping in!

Our snowboarder friend finds some goods.

And a nice sunset to boot!

The snow was surprisingly good on sheltered north and east aspects, probably due to the low sun angle and cold weather we've been having. Nice! With a couple more inches of cold snow, it should remain good. So there is hope for the future! (Pray for snow). My stoke was totally replenished.

Get out there and get some!

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