Ski Mountaineering

Mt. Baldy Resort and San Gorgonio

Saturday, March 24-25 2006

Alvin Walter

Mt. Baldy Resort : The knowledge that a new, cold storm had born down on our previously dry local mountains always brings out the drive to make 1st tracks my highest priority. Considering that the brunt of the storm was to be hitting Saturday, the choice to spend the day at the Baldy Ski Resort to thoroughly explore the snow conditions for the next scheduled day of skiing the ridgeline from Thunder Mountain to Telegraph to Timber to Ice House Canyon a top priority. Getting up the steep, icy road at 7:00 am was a challenge in itself, considering the wildly swerving skid-marks and tracks that I had to by-pass with my chained vehicle to get there.

The chair 1 lift opened early and I was on my way to the Notch as I admired the wonderful work Mother Nature had done to paint the tress and terrain with her lovely, white powder brush. At the top of the Notch was the mandatory and appropriate cautionary sign warning “Experts Only – Exposed Rocks Below”. There was no way I could resist the untracked steep, powdery slopes I had just been transported past, so down I went! And what a joy it was to ski down those steep, long, unobstructed 6-inch deep powder chutes without seeing a sole giving the first run a true wilderness experience. Toward the lower end of the run, where it begins to flatten out, the earlier rock warning sign was proving its validity as my skies bared through the new, thin powder and scrapped, banged and jerked on the rocks below.

On the next run, I decided to ski the upper part of the mountain from Chair 3. There were many exceptional, untracked powder runs throughout the day, from South Bowl to the north edge of the resort. There also were many terrain features and aspects where the hard, brown and black matter below the thin layer of new snow ripped and tore at my skis turning them into gnarled shreds of what they formerly were. Mid-day, through the many bottom scrapping runs, it was obvious that the snow base I thought would be there from the heavy snowfall the weekend before had melted away from the warm, midweek temperatures and that the ridgeline loop ski that I invited others to do with me was not going to be feasible. I had to contact the others to recommend moving the ski trip on Sunday to San Gorgonio, where I knew there was adequate snow from having spent the entire previous weekend there. I was only able to leave a message on one answering machine and hope the word would get passed around.

The last highest lift from Chair #3 left at 4:15 p.m. and I caught it, then the #2 lift that takes skiers out of the dead end canyon to the hump above the Notch at about 4:30 pm. A last run to the bottom of chair # 1 was irresistible and I ended an 8-½ hour resort ski day by 4:45 p.m. The snow was, again, coming down heavily when I got to my car where 4+ new inches had just accumulated. A short way into the drive down from the Resort, the traffic stopped and I knew it would be a long time before I would get out. My cell phone was useless; so, I just parked, ate the food I had with me and sat it out. By 8:30 p.m., I was at the bottom and able to reach Ellen to ask her to send an email for me requesting that everybody planning to ski Sunday now meet me at San Gorgonio’s South Fork parking lot a 7:00 am due to inadequate snow coverage at Baldy. That turned out to be a very good choice.

San Gorgonio: At 7:00 a.m. Scott, Cedric, Brad, Dan and Bob met me at the South fork parking lot, where I had spent the night. The snow base from the previous weekend plus the new snow from the latest storm made it possible to start skiing right across Jenks Lake Road from the parking area. The initial ascent up to the lower end of the major avy paths that come down from Mt. Charleton was smooth and easy including the route that goes up through the trees directly to the lower end of Big Draw. At that point, the upper slopes of the east facing chutes of Mt. Jepson were beginning to show through the windows between the Lodge Pole and White Pines. After a short break for lunch from a vantage point that gave us a broad view of the entire, pristine and untouched upper bowl, we set our sites on laying down first tracks in the full range of aspects from San G’s west facing shoulder to Mt. Jepson’s northeast facing flanks.

As we set our ascending course to the upper rim, the half dozen or so natural, mini-avy’s that textured the chutes of Mt. Jepson’s deepest and steepest added to the dramatic photo opportunities we envisioned as we were planning to photo shoot straight across opposite sides of the large cirque using our walkie-talkies for maximum position to show the best of the best lines. As we gained elevation, the wind and clouds grew in motion and size. The mood of the area seemed to change rapidly from a sunny, bluebird day to the foreboding darkness of another storm. When we approached the last few hundred feet, we split up with Scott, Brad and Cedric ascending straight up with skis on packs and kicking steps in the vertical snow, while Dan and I continued to traverse over to the cornice. The headwall at first appeared to have a skiable bench to the top that turned out to be deceptive due to the variable light conditions. The only option was to take off the skis and use my self-arrest poles to climb a nearly overhanging, hard packed headwall. At the top, the wind was ripping and the visibility a virtual whiteout.

Via walkie-talkie, we agreed to re-group above the cornice. From there, the challenge was to find our way off the edge. Dan inadvertently lead the way by sliding off the edge that none of us could see. Cedric managed a decent entry while I fell through the curl of the cornice that I couldn’t see. Brad and Scott both found sweet spots to enter through. At about 25 feet below the top, visibility increased and our perspective became clear. We had the entire, untracked powder bowl below us. Needless to say, we savored hundreds of powder turns. Brad at one point took a full throttle slalom run over undulating powder terrain. It was a thrill for all of us. Our decent took a somewhat different course back through tree areas where we nailed a steep, powder pitch that was near champagne-light that sent off hoots and shrieks of ecstasy. Oh, for the joy of wilderness skiing!

A short while later, we got in the trail that leads back to the cars. It had frozen up nicely and it was like taking an E-ticket wild mouse ride at the Magic Kingdom all the way back to the cars. What a blast!

Such magical weekends at our own Magic Kingdom in San Gorgonio aren’t always the norm, but that didn’t stop us from quickly making plans for the next one! With another March miracle of snowfall, we’ll be looking forward to many more Spring Time ski days this season.

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