This weekend was the scheduled "annual" Rock Creek Intro ski trip that Mike and I had been doing for the past couple of years. Due to this year's low snow, and complete lack of snow at Mosquito Flat at the end of the Rock Creek road, we decided to move things north. We were pleasantly surprised to find Tioga Pass road opened for the weekend, as well as the Lake Mary road, which makes the approaches for these day tours much shorter.
Mike and I drove up Thursday night and set up camp at the top of the French Camp loop near Tom's Place. It tends to be quieter there as fewer people bother to drive to the top. Plus, it was Mother's Day weekend so probably this contributed to fewer fishermen. The camp is warm compared to Shady Rest and not very windy, and has a lot of birds in the pinyon pine trees in the camp.
On Friday, before the rest of the group joined us, we drove to Tioga Pass and set out for FalseWhite proper. We started at the Saddlebag Lake road turnout, crossed a bridge, then crossed a shallow creek (Mine Creek) carrying our skis. From there we had continuous snow to Falsewhite. We climbed a route that Owen Maloy had taken us on several years ago which heads west from Bennettville up the Mine Creek drainage. It is a nice gully to ski up (and down as we later found out). We reached the upper meadows, mines and little lakes and continued climbing until we reached a saddle which led down below Falsewhite. We had to descend ~200 feet to avoid the rocks and the steep traverse to the Falsewhite ridge. The snow on the north facing slopes was not yet ripe corn, but had strange wind-formations and was pretty firm. On top of the ridge, the wind was howling and there were a lot of rocks and deep ridges in the snow in the Falsewhite bowl. We traversed into the bowl and picked our way around the bumpy snow down to the slopes above Fantail Lake, where we finally had good corn for about 700' of vertical. Then the vertical run was over and we made a loop with the long slog out back to Bennetville and finished our tour. Bahram had turned us on to the idea of showers at the Mono Vista RV park, so we hit that place next to get cleaned up. The temps were in the 50s during the day with a cold wind on top, and the snow froze hard at night.
Back at camp, Bahram Manahedgi and John Anderson drove up shortly in the early evening. The next morning, we attempted to get an early start, and were meeting the rest of the participants for the trip: Bahram, John, Fred Reed, Ruth von Rotz from Truckee and Tony Ramon from Carson City. Tony got his first initiation on backcountry skis on this trip, as Ruth had sold the trip to him by saying, "It's ONLY the Sierra Club!" which is fairly amusing considering the challenging trips that Ruth has participated in which were only the SMS after all. We all met and were on the snow around 8:40am, and then made our stream crossing of Mine Creek. Having scouted the route the previous day, we got to the upper meadows above Mt Gaylor around 10:30am when the corn bomb was starting to go off. We continued climbing until a saddle which looked into the Falsewhite bowl, but decided that the snow was so much better on top than on Falsewhite that we would descend the way we came up. We did a run off of a small peak on the ridge (topping out around 11,500') while Tony relaxed in the rocks. We had some lunch and then started our descent around 1pm. We had very nice although slightly heavy corn snow all the way back into the Mine Creek gully. The gully was pretty fun - narrow but not too steep and just wide enough for swooping turns. We got back to the cars around 2, and then spread out all over the parking area with drying skins, coolers, beer, and snacks. From there, most of the group headed to the hot springs for a soak, but Mike & I had RV park shower tokens burning a hole in our pockets, so we went back for a hot shower instead and met up with the rest of the gang (minus Fred, who was staying in Mammoth) in camp.
We had a nice happy hour with guacamole, chips, veggies, dip, and then had a campfire and everyone cooked salmon with vegetables, wine and beer. It was a great day and great camaraderie.
On Sunday, 6 of us started out for Blue Couloir after packing up camp. We got a late start due to the slackers in the morning, having leisurely breakfasts. But, since Blue Col was a north facing run and the road was opened to Lake Mary, we thought we'd have plenty of time. We were wrong! It was no problem hiking with skis across intermittent snow to the top of Coldwater Campground loop, where the traditional route to Blue Col starts out from, but then we spent hours picking our way through the trees in search of continuous snow! We finally ended up in Gentian Meadow, crossed a creek, and then had a beautiful steep north-facing bowl above us with continuous snow. Tony was a very good sport, being his first weekend of backcountry skiing and dealing with the low snow and plenty of stream crossings, but he decided he would wait for us at the bottom of the run and take a nap in the meantime. The rest of us skinned up the steep bowl. Mike, Bahram, and Ruth arrived first, with John and I trailing in next. At the top of the bowl, to get to Blue Col we had to take off skis and hop over a 30 foot section of rock bands. Sigh! All of this skis-on-skis-off-stuff gets to be exhausting! We had continuous snow up to the base of Blue Col, but by that time the snow had started to soften. It was a warmer day with no wind, so we decided to just have lunch and ski the two nice north-facing runs back down to Tony. We had a lovely time in the corn with great views of Lake Mary and the bare south face of Mammoth Mountain. At the top of the final steep bowl, we each took turns, cautiously at first, but then let it rip as we got through the narrow crux. We met Tony at the bottom, who was beginning to wonder if we'd left him there forever, and then found our way out. Mike did an excellent job of navigating back to Emerald Lake, and then managed to loop around and have continuous snow all the way back to the Coldwater loop. It was a terrific weekend with great friends and new friends, and nice snow despite the low snow year. Thanks to everyone for participating!
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