The Mt. Abel Bike-n-Ski trip has appeared in the schedule for several years in a row, but for various reasons (mostly due to lack of snow!) it has not gone on for some time. With over 40 inches of rain in the valleys and many feet of snow in the local mountains this year, we hit Mt. Abel in its prime with wonderful spring skiing conditions. The trip was also the first co-sponsored Mountain Bike Committee/Ski Mountaineers Section trip, which incidentally involves the oldest Outings section of the Angeles chapter (SMS) and the newest Outings section (MBC).
Ten adventurous spirits set out from the Apache Saddle trailhead with skis, boots, skins and poles strapped to their packs, helmets on their heads and feet on their pedals. We posed for several group photos while the neighbors looked on with amusement to see the skis and bikes going out on the same trip. The trip participants were: Mark Angevine, David Baron, Rich Henke, Scott Koepke, Keith Martin, Nancy Mathison, Greg Scarich, and Mike Seiffert, with me doing my first provisional lead for the Ski Mountaineers and Reiner Stenzel assisting.
Riding uphill with heavy packs and big skis sticking out is quite a workout, especially at high elevation, as we soon found out. The single-track junkies Rich and Greg could not resist trying to ride uphill in every patch of snow which covered the road, and provided entertainment when they stalled out. The rest of us took the conservative route through the early morning ice and snow and got off our bikes for short snow portages.
After 2.5 miles and about 600 of elevation gain, we reach a hairpin turn where the aspect was north facing and the road snow-covered, and we could abandon our bikes and head up on skis and skins. At the 7000 level, we skinned up through the mixed conifer forest of pinyon pine, Jeffrey & Ponderosa pine, and white fir. We headed up in a southwest direction on firm snow and then made our way south to access the sunny west ridge of Cerro Noroeste. By noon, we ascended the ridge to the large campground Campo Alto. In summer one can drive to the summit, but in winter it is 12-mile round trip cross-country adventure, made much nicer on skis.
The picnic tables at the camp made for a nice lunch stop before we headed out to tour the flat-topped peak. We headed southeast out of the campground toward a radio tower and were pleased to find the Mt. Abel (8286) summit register under a pile of rocks, with views toward Reyes Peak and the Cuyama river valley below.
We then headed toward the other nearby highpoint which looks up toward Mt. Pinos and down to the Puerta del Suelo (Gateway to the Bottom). In the 1800s, Spanish sheepherders used to run their sheep from Ventura to the San Joaquin Valley and graze them in the high country through this route.
It is said that the missionaries blazed a cross on an old Jeffrey pine somewhere in the campground where they held mass for the shepherds, but we did not find the cross. However, the tour on top was pleasant and the sun stayed out for the rest of the afternoon. Back at the picnic tables, skins were removed and we started our descent the way we came.
A couple of enthusiastic skiers started heading down the northern aspects, which had very good snow, but unfortunately funnel steeper and start traversing along rocky cliffs. We had to catch one and climb back up to the ridge while the rest of the group yo-yod for awhile practicing their turns. Once back on the ridge, we found silky sierra-quality corn! We enjoyed many nice turns and wound our way down through the forest, catching open areas with the most sun and best snow.
We quickly descended the ridge and then back through the forest until we hit the Mt. Abel road, where our bikes waited patiently for our return.
Once packed up, we had a fun coast down the road, and were pleasantly surprised that much of the early morning ice and snow had melted out, making the bikeride down a cruise. We had great camaraderie, wonderful spring snow, and excellent attitudes from everyone willing to give this unusual bike-n-ski thing a try. Thanks to everyone who participated and made my first provisional SMS outing really fun!
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