In an ongoing goal to climb and ski new routes and mountains at every opportunity, I planned to lead an SMS trip through Goode Canyon in the Mt. Baldy area after having made a solo exploratory trip to the top of the waterfall that drops into the challenging lower portion of the canyon. I know of no one who had ever done it and only one person who insisted I shouldn't try it, which is all I needed to cinch it as a 'must do' in my book.
I advertised it as suitable for experienced ski mountaineers with a "Spirit of Adventure". This drew my co-leader Angel Ocana and participants Cory Harelson and May Adachi who were willing to participate using the Baldy Hut as a base for the weekend of February 7-8, 2009.
There had recently been a substantial cold snowfall making it possible to begin our ski in 1 ft of new snow right at the trail head in Manker Flats. After climbing 2,000 feet to reach the hut, we took a short lunch break, left our overnight gear and headed to the top of West Ridge. In order to get a sneek preview of Goode Canyon, I suggested we make a powder run straight down to the waterfall.
The powder was awesome and we got drawn further to the south and deeper into the canyon than I had planned in order to follow the best powder line. When we regrouped and I checked the altimeter, it was clear we were well below the waterfall and we needed to head back up the sidewall of Goode Canyon. The way we just came down was far too steep to go straight up in the deep powder; so, we headed up the most reasonable way to our right that should have brought us into the main gully of Goode Canyon.
The sky had darkened a bit and some new, tiny grapple-type precipitation had begun to fall. As we skinned higher, the slope steepened substantially and I packed my skis and lead a boot track up a 45 degree slope that crisscrossed a main chute that had turned into a steady river of flowing grapple that also was spilling off many ledges, giving us this feeling of being in a very fluid, albeit dry, medium.
When I reached a high prominent point and checked the map, I realized we were far west of where we wanted to be and the end of the daylight was drawing near. We were at the elevation we wanted; so, we began a long contour that took us late into the night. Fortunately, the sky cleared and we traveled by the light of a nearly full moon until we reached West Ridge and saw the blinking beacons set out for us by Brad and some others at the Hut. From West Ridge, we all took turns carving first tracks on a pristine powder slope under the light of a brilliant moon that lit all of our spirits in the high adventure we all sought.
Sunday was to be the day to complete the Goode Canyon loop; however, the weather had deteriorated and the group was happy to do more first tracks in the bowl then ski all the way out to the cars via our track in. It was a great weekend, yet it left the Goode Canyon loop open to complete.
Saturday, Feb, 28, 2009 I got a few friends together to attempt the Goode Canyon loop in a day. Dr. Scott Bornheimer, Cedric Ma, and Heiko Knapp were enthusiastic and ready. We were blessed with good weather and still had plenty of snow from 3 weeks earlier. Scott paced out ahead and by the time Cedric and I got to the Hut in less than 2 hours, Scott radioed back that he was on West Ridge and going for a run on the Dare. I positioned myself below the Dare and got an excellent movie of his run that would have made a nice scene in a Warren Miller movie. By the time I got on West Ridge, Scott caught up and was headed to Girley Man's chute for another run. Just as he was ready, I broke out my little movie camera and caught another descent down the 50 degree slope -- from the top this time; and again, it would have made a fine scene for the big screen.
Our scheduled route for Goode Canyon was to top out at West Baldy Peak, head south along a ridge, then drop in one of the classy tree-speckled side slopes into Goode Canyon.
We all met a the top for a snack break and the fine view out to Catalina and San Clemente Islands and, of course, the spectacular-looking backside of Baldy that we would have to save for another day. A slight breeze kept the top cool while the sun had ripened the snow to perfection. The long rolling run along the ridge in totally untracked terrain that we had all to ourselves was like savoring the strawberry and whipping cream of an ice cream Sundae knowing there was still much more good stuff to go.
When we reached our Goode Canyon drop in point, I bolted out ahead and hooted in ecstasy as I took in all the sensations of the wilderness, terrain, snow and good company. Then I finally stopped to film Scott, Cedric and Heiko in each of their distinctive styles racing toward me - then beside - then beyond and below me. I know that if I ever wanted to be a cinematographer, I was certainly in the right place and right time to film a scene that would be enjoyed by anyone who had a passion for the mountains. Our selected drop-in offered changes in aspects and corresponding changes in snow texture that was like adding more of your favorite toppings to that already delicious strawberry Sundae. About _ the way down, Scott, Cedric and Heiko headed over a rib into a slightly different drainage while I headed straight down to the top of the waterfall area that I knew. From my perspective, the cascading waterfall route I was taking was totally ski-able as long as I worked my way slowly around the obstacles and soft snow. Then I checked via radio with the others to find they were already 700 feet below me on firm snow. When I caught up with them, I saw the nice tracks they left on the solid old avy debris slope.
From there we made our way through more avy fields and some soft areas on south-facing aspects that were pulling apart, giving them a glaciated look. A little further down, we were almost waterskiing and creating waves of slush as we pulled our turns until we ran out of snow at about the 5,500 foot level. At that point we packed our skis and did a little trail blazing for the next 100 vertical feet until we reached Baldy's San Antonio Creek and headed back up through some lush areas until we reached the road where it was a short 15 minute walk back to our cars.
For me, I was very satisfied to do something that most would never consider and for my friends, I believe that they got to experience that "Spirit of Adventure" that brings out a much fuller satisfaction of life in all of us who have made the mountains a part of our lives.
Cory Harelson's account:
As far as Baldy . . . it was EPIC, both in the surfer sense of the word (meaning "awesome") and in the climber sense of the word (meaning "a much longer day than intended involving lots of cold weather, headlamps, and adrenaline").
Based on the weather forecast, I was expecting to arrive at the trail head and find miserable rainy weather and a wet muddy trail devoid of snow, at least at the lower elevations. I couldn't have been more wrong. From below, the mountain looked covered in storm clouds, but it turned out they were low clouds, because Manker Flats was actually above them! The trail head was covered in a foot and a half of fresh powder like I would have expected for Mammoth or Lake Tahoe, and the sky was blue without a cloud in it!
In addition, Alvin got a radio call from a friend of his on the Baldy Ski Patrol. They had apparently dug some snow pits that morning and were finding that the snow pack seemed very stable. Good news for us.
Alvin, Angel and I started skiing toward the hut at 7:30 am, quickly shedding layers as we heated up in the sunshine. When we arrived at the hut we met up with a lady named May, who had come up the night before. We were pleasantly surprised to find that she had a bunch of hot food ready so we chowed down on some hot bean soup and some sort of flakey pastry filled with olives and other goodies. It was delicious!
Our bellies pleasantly full, the four of us headed out. Nobody else had been up yet so we took turns breaking trail (as we did the whole weekend). Our plan for Sunday was to ascend the south ridge of Mt San Antonio, and drop into Good Canyon on the west side of the ridge, following that all the way out to the main road, and then walk up the road a ways to our cars. Alvin had the idea on Saturday that we should ski a little ways down Good Canyon to check the snow conditions, which meant that we would then have to climb back out. So we headed down the canyon, skiing some fantastically light and fluffy powder through widely spaced trees. As we descended, the canyon got narrower and steeper, making the skiing fairly technical and challenging in some places. The excellent powder ended up coaxing us farther down the canyon than we had originally planned. Alvin seemed to remember ascending the canyon to the west of Good Canyon a few years back, and thought it would be easier to ascend than the steep terrain we'd just skied down. So we skied down a bit further until our canyon merged with the canyon on skier's right and then started ascending at about 2:30 pm. At some point during the descent a couple of Alvin's friends got to the ski hut and radioed us to see where we were. Right about this time clouds came in and it started snowing.
For awhile it was straight forward skinning up the canyon, but it gradually got narrower and steeper, and after a few hours of fairly heavy snowfall we became concerned about avalanches, and about having to switchback back and forth across the snow covered canyon. So we decided to take off the skis and post hole straight up so we could stay to the side of the canyon. Although the snow here was very steep and about thigh deep, there was a harder layer under the soft layer that you could kick your boot into, which allowed enough purchase to make progress feasible. Alvin did most of the trail breaking during this stretch. It was a fantastic lead, he never seems to gets tired! Eventually we reached a place where we could ascend the ridge on the right side of the canyon, which we thought would put us on the left side of Good Canyon, and only one ridge away from our descent down the Baldy bowl to the hut. We were now at an elevation of about 9200 ft, about 400 ft higher than where we had started our descent. About this time it got dark.
Since we were slightly above the elevation we needed to be at to cross the ridge to get back, we decided to contour around the canyon in front of us and maintain the same elevation. The skinning was straightforward, but we were still breaking trail and by this point we were getting a little tired. Fortunately around this time the snowing stopped falling and the near full moon came out. Combined with our headlamps we could see very well. After going around the canyon and out onto the ridge on the other side we were expecting views of the Baldy Bowl and the ski hut, but what we saw was . . . another canyon, slightly bigger in width than the first.
At this point Alvin's friends got worried and radioed us again. They went out and placed some strobe lights along the path at the bottom of the bowl so that we could find our way in case the fog rolled back in.
"This one must be Good Canyon" I told myself. Nope. Once we reached the next ridge we were once again greeted by the sight of another canyon, slightly deeper and wider. We proceeded in this manner crossing 3 or 4 Êcanyons, each successively bigger than the last. It turns out that the canyon we went up had curved and taken us west, directly away from the hut. As tired as I was I couldn't help marveling at the spectacular sight of the snow and tree covered mountains shining in the moonlight.
Finally we arrived at the ridge above the Baldy Bowl, where we had started down about 10 hours before. We could see the strobe lights and the hut. All we had left to do was ski down to the hut. The slope in front of us was steep, long, and covered in pristine, un-touched powder. I took off first and got first tracks in phenomenal snow by moonlight! That has got to be the most memorable run that I have skied in my life. WOW! Pretty much made the whole day worth it.
We arrived back at the hut at 11pm, making it a 15.5 hour day (with one stop to eat in the morning at the hut). Alvin's friends figured we'd be hungry, so they cooked up a giant spaghetti dinner, complete with parmesan cheese, olive bread, and beers, all of which they had hauled up to the hut themselves. Can you say "generous"?
Needless to say, Sunday we didn't get going real early. I woke up at 8, had a long breakfast including a bagel with peanut butter, hot soup, and coffee. We decided to take it a little easier today. Alvin Angel and I left the hut at 10, got 2 great powder runs in on the bowl (Angel went back for a third), and were back to the cars at about 4pm, after stopping one last time at the hut to grab our stuff and get some warm food. The ski from the hut to the car was fun too. We even managed to avoid skiing most of the road by dropping down the slope and avoiding the long switchback.
We didn't see any other skiers all weekend, Just a few snowshoers. We had first tracks on every run we did, and when we left our tracks were the only ski tracks on the mountain.