The sun was shining when 16 of us met at 7 a.m. just off Highway 395 at the top of Conway Summit for a ski tour of Dunderberg's northeast slopes. Clouds were building in the south and west, but clouds can be good when the predicted high is 70 degrees.
We drove about 4.5 miles up the Virginia Lakes road, turned right on the Dunderberg Meadow road, and went another 1.6 miles to intersection 9272. Then we went left on a 4WD road about 0.2 miles to an intersection with another jeep road and parked in sagebrush at the edge of some trees.
Mark Goebel had planned this trip with help from scouting trips by Owen Maloy. When Mark was unable to attend due to an eye infection, Gerry Holleman signed on to colead with Bill Lingle. Neither leader had skied this area before, but we had great expectations for north-facing slopes behind the thinly covered ridge in front of us.
After introductions, the group began hiking up a 4WD road through intermittent patches of snow. Tracks in the gravel told of one last snowmobile trip perhaps a week or two earlier. At about 10,000 ft on continuous snow we contoured to the west around the broad slope northeast of subpeak 11,712, and skied up the gully between 11,712 and the east peak of Dunderberg. About 500 ft above the unnamed lake at the head of Dunderberg Creek we stopped to regroup. Clouds were sometimes obscuring Dunderberg and a chilly wind was blowing with sporadic sprinkles. That plus several hundred feet of bare rock on the ridge leading to the east summit convinced us to leave Dunderberg for another day.
Reed Moore was doing his usual scouting ahead of the group so we watched when he began skiing from about the elevation of the 11,600+ saddle just west of 11,712. Reed's cautious jump turns on the firm rutted snow caused about half the group to stop at this level and ski the wide gully down to an unnamed lake. The other half (Bill Lingle, Alvin Walters, Wally Drake, Randy Lamm, Craig Connally, Bahram Manahedgi, and Reed again) went up towards the saddle.
The snow softened closer to the lake and everyone decided the bumpy ride was good enough for an encore. After 2 or 3 runs the snow had softened in spite of continuous cloud cover, and it was possible to punch a pole through the crust. Fortunately skis stayed on top. A contour traverse back around the ridge brought us back to the cars by about 3 p.m.
At the end of the day neither the weather nor the snow had been great, but everyone enjoyed being out in the wilderness away from lift lines. The terrain on the northeast side of Dunderberg is excellent with options that run from easy to steep when there is enough snow. SMS should lead more trips to this area.
Other participants were: Ray Smith, Bob Crosby, Jan St. Amand, Paul Harris, Dan Jamieson, John Kornak, Jeremy Cole, and Pat Holleman.
After about an hour of discussion at the roadhead, Gerry, Pat, Paul, Wally, Craig, Randy, and Jeremy decided to camp at lower Lee Vining campground, and the rest joined Reed and Alvin at the San Diego ski club lodge in Mammoth. $15 a night for a bed and a hot shower is a great deal. The trip to Dana would depend on the weather the next morning.
At 7 a.m. Sunday morning 11 skiers appeared in the parking area next to the Tioga Pass entrance station.
The snow on Dana looked very patchy, but the weather was sunny and it seemed impossible for Dana to not be skiable two weeks before Memorial Day, so off we went. Leaders, Bill and Gerry, and skiers, Reed, Dan, Bahram, Jeremy, Jan, Pat, Randy, Paul, and John. Bob, Ray, and Alvin either skied Mammoth or succumbed to Motherąs Day guilt and went home. Wally and Craig signed out to ski an icy Dana Couloir and then, we found out later, climb back up Solstice Couloir so they wouldnąt miss the great skiing the rest of enjoyed on the northwest slopes of Dana. A clear night sky had dropped the temperature to freezing so the snow was very firm. Just as the previous day, about half the group carried their skis and half put them on.
The traverse under Lion Head was mostly rock so our route angled farther south than usual as we worked up the steep slope coming out of the trees. With careful attention to the route it was possible to find continuous snow to about 12,500 ft on the upper cone of Dana. From about 11,600 ft there was a light dusting of new snow on a base that got icier as we ascended.
At the top of the snow we left our skis and climbed mixed rock and snow to the summit to enjoy the view and see dark clouds in the southwest. The usual cornice on the summit was almost nonexistent. Jan, a budding peak bagger, was happy to get her eighth Sierra peak. For Pat and Gerry it was about their 17th ascent of Dana.
When we started skiing back at about 1 pm, the snow was still very hard down to about 12,000 ft. From there we had the wonderful ride Dana is known for until we got back to tree line. Then it became a game to find continuous snow around rocks, trees, and streams. Reed and Bahram found a route all the way to the cars on snow, and there were several comments about how much fun it was to bob and weave through the trees on minimal snow. Everyone was back by 2:30.
While we were packing up, a few snow flakes in sunshine seemed to indicate mother nature would miss the end of ski season as much as we did. On the way home, San Joaquin appeared to have good, but probably bumpy, coverage from Fern Lake to the peak, and Bill was ready for one more weekend, but most of us waited for a new season.
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