Excelsior Mountain

18-May-02

By: Reiner Stenzel


This report describes a fine ski mountaineering weekend in the eastern Sierra Nevada. The original plan of this joint SPS/SMS trip was to climb/ski Dunderberg and Excelsior. But Dunderberg was not skiable and no SPSrs “needed” it so we left it for another year. Instead, we attempted Leavitt Pk, only to be blown off the ridge by an incoming storm. Here are the details:

On Sat, 5/18, 6 am, a group of 10 participants met at the Virginia Lakes trailhead. These were R. J. Secor, assisting for Randall Danta who had a sprained ankle, Ted Lenzie from Sacramento, Jim Crouch and Ted Sledzinski from San Diego, Joy Goebel, Diann Fried, Leslie Hofherr, Chris Lohman, Maciek Malik and myself from the LA area. We hiked up the dry trail past the Virginia Lakes (9,800’) and hit skiable snow above 10,000’ near the Frog Lakes. Switchbacking up a great snow slope we left the trail where it descends northwest toward Summit and East Lke. We headed southwest toward a second ridge 0.5 ml northeast of Peak 12,126’. The east facing slopes had excellent snow coverage but on the ridge and on southwest facing slopes it was hiking time. After climbing a third slope we reached the 12,200’ ridge north of Excelsior and scrambled up to the summit (12,446’). It was a pleasure to sign the register as the first group in 2002. However, judging from old ski tracks, others must have been on the summit without signing in. A cold wind blew over the top and we huddled in the rocks on the lee side. The views were superb: Blue Mono Lke, white Saddlebag Lke, endless snow slopes and peaks in Yosemite and further south. With some imagination we could see our fellow SMS’rs ski False White Mtn below us. By 1 pm we retreated from the summit and started our ski run down on mostly corn snow. A few places of unconsolidated snow did not stop the fun. But on the lower slopes the sunbaked snow was soft and balls began to roll and grow when turning. It was time to get off the slopes. By 3 pm we were back on the trail which disappeared from time to time under the snow. Another hour later we reached the cars, looking back at the nice slopes where we left many visible ski tracks. Everyone had enjoyed the day. Since brown Dunderberg was no match for the next day, we relocated to Sonora Pass with the goal of doing Leaviu Pk on Sunday. We camped just below the pass where Sardine Creek crosses Hwy 108. Happy hour, fondue dinner and a good Chardonnay made a fine end of the day.

On Sun we got up at 5 am, packed and drove up to Sonora Pass to start climbing by 6:30 am. The day started with a bloody red sunrise, high winds and low clouds over the ridge. A storm was forecast for Monday but seemed already on its way. Two participants joined in the last moment, Ruth von Rotz and Angel Ocana. We ascended the ridge on hard frozen snow which turned R. J. back. Only those with ski crampons could ski this snow. On the dry ridge it was hiking time. We proceeded along the ridge to Pk 11,245’. From there we could see Leavitt Pk (11,569’) drifting in and out of the clouds. Since it was probably another 2 hours to the summit, dark clouds to the west indicated snow at any time, and we had lost one leader it was time to call it quits. We waited for the sun to soften the east facing slopes and enjoyed skiing the bowls below Pk 11,242’. The energetic team had several runs on eventually fine corn snow. More skiers came up to this popular telemarking terrain. We skied till noon, then packed up and went on our long drive home. High winds turned Owens Valley into a dust bowl. Thanks to R. J. for assisting again. We all had an adventurous ski mountaineering weekend.


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