By: Tim Keenan
After weeks of trepidation fretting over conditions and circumstances affecting the Sierra Club's first couloir snow climb in recent memory --- we were off.
Trimmed at the last minute to five, we were an interesting lot. On alpine touring skis and towing sleds were Brad Jensen and Greg Colley ---just off from Mt Sill on their way to Denali. To keep an eye on these two, Doug Mantle was recruited while resting between Chile and Pakistan. And to keep me company, an elementary school teacher from Claremont, Matthew Richardson, joined in, to complete his SPS membership requirements.
Avalanche transceivers checked and probes in hand, we trundled into Glacier Canyon by almost 9:00 am. Our alpine start was bolstered by an 0700 meeting at Nicely's in Lee Vining, necessitated by Tioga Pass Road's opening earlier in the week. Handicapped by the sleds, the Young Turks were kept within eyesight as our group quickly overtook children skiing up the canyon. By noon, with Dana Lake below us and the Dana Couloir in our Front yard, we leisurely discussed the afternoon's options over lunch, all-the-while enjoying four other climbers kindly kicking steps for us.
With avalanche conditions low, we broke into two groups, with Some scouting and skiing the lower portions of the couloir, while others practiced various roped snow-climbing techniques. Happy Hour found us at Colley's & Jensen's Rock Teetotalers' Bar --- with Sharp's fresh off the sled and a potluck plethora. AAer Doug's demonstration of an ancient Chinese invention --- which diminished none our appreciation of Hale-Bopp --- we snuggled into our bags.
By 5:15 Sunday morning, three stoves could be heard cutting the silence of Glacier Canyon at 11,200 feet. Cast in shadow, the glacier floor crunched underfoot, barely revealing our passing. Crampons were donned and ice axes unsheathed at a rock band just below the thousand-foot couloir, just as its icy dawn glare caught our anxious eyes. Although wind-scoured, the couloir' s forty-degree slope yielded to our ax and crampons as we negotiated the sastrugi, and our anxieties slowly melted. Dana toyed with us 'til the end, however, with harder and steeper snow providing exhilarating moments near the ridge crest, just as our faces finally caught daylight.
A quick bite and breather, then the group pushed to the summit along the east ridge, topping out at 9:30. Squeezing our names into the feathered register, we basked in sunlight, Yosemite's glistening splendor surrounding us. Still, only the thought of bettering snow descent conditions provided group consensus to remain on the summit well over an hour.
Plunge-stepping to the couloir's upper entrance, we found it half in light and half in darkness. Forced occasionally into the shadows of the east ridge, we danced between solid footsteps and sketchy crampon penetration --- where solid self-belays became routine. Stripped of their skis, even the Turks took a cautious attitude to the slope underfoot. Not until the lower couloir, with its softening snow, diminishing angle, and beautiful run-out, were glissades attempted.
With traditional protests of tardiness, we slipped away from base camp at noon, descending quickly to Tioga Lake. Our hearts lightened by the Turks' cool sled tricks, we now faced the final trudge up to our cars, hitting asphalt at 1.30 Sunday afternoon. Our only dilemma left --- pizza in Bishop, or Lone Pine?
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