Fourteen enthusiastic skiers showed up to try their luck at Tioga Pass in a year when good snow was hard to find, on a weekend when the SMS had two trips scheduled. This trip had been scheduled for Bishop Pass, but a month earlier it was already clear there wasnąt enough snow for that trip. Good reports were coming from False White however.
From the rest area just below the Yosemite entrance station, we crossed the road and started up the northeast slope of Gaylor Peak. The sun was bright and the sun-warmed slopes foretold of rotten snow later in the day. We skied over the ridge from Gaylor, dropped down to the upper Gaylor lake, and contoured over gentle terrain around the north side of bumps on the ridge that eventually becomes False White. Owen Maloy issued several radio warnings that the north-facing slopes skied the best, but this group would have none of that. It was False White or bust. Eight skiers completed the traverse to False White and descended its soft, east-facing slope with a few face plants for good measure. The rest skied the firmer, north-facing slopes. We all met on the same lunch rock where the options were to climb a hundred feet to return to our entrance route, or to take Owen's advice and continue down north-facing slopes.
This time Owen prevailed, and we skied down soft, but not rotten, snow, toured out past mining community of Bennetville, and returned to the parking lot by 3 p.m. The forecast for Sunday was strong wind, so after an hour of refreshments and discussion, we decided to tour to Blue Couloir on the Mammoth Crest the next day because most of the route is protected by trees.
The next critical decision, where to eat, sent us to the Tiger Bar in June Lake, but it was packed, making the next stop for most of us Giovanni's in Mammoth. Ruth von Rotz and Angel Ocana opted instead to drive to Sonora Pass to join Reiner Stenzel's trip. Tom Marsh and Mike Rector elected to make do with their steaks in camp instead of joining us for pizza.
Fierce wind greeted us at the Twin Lakes bridge the next morning. We drove up to the south end of Lake Mary and walked up the Coldwater road, which had remnants of snow drifts here and there. At the end of the road, we skinned up and basically followed the summer trail to Emerald Lake, easily skirting occasional bare spots. Just below the lake, we removed our skis to cover about 50 yards of rocky terrain, and then climbed very nice slopes to the base of the Blue Couloir.
At the top of the couloir, the surface turned into hard, wind-blown bumps, but there wasn't much wind. Threatening clouds stayed to the north while we enjoyed an early lunch and hoped the top of the couloir would soften just a bit. After a couple tentative turns at the top, beautiful corn appeared and Don Pies, Mike Seiffert, Lorene Samoska, Pat Holleman, and I had a great ride back to the Coldwater road. The rest of the group--Mike Rector, Dan Jamieson, Evelyn Fleeg, Rosalie Frankel, and Jan St. Amand-elected to join Tom on a loop around to Duck Pass instead of skiing the couloir. It turned out to be a great Sierra weekend in spite of limited snow, and ended with all of us looking to squeeze in at least one more back country ski trip before a too short season ended.
Added Notes by Owen: There is a somewhat easier route than we have used in the past that does not involve as much sidehilling. See map. Go to the west above the Granite Lakes cirque and ski up the gradual slope. There is a rock rib here that may not be skiable higher up (spy it out first). There are rocks on top of the hill that tend to block the way. The gully just below the saddle is shown as a permanent snowfield. The snow has been better consolidated here when I have skied it in May, because it does not get as much sun (earlier in the season the opposite might be true).
Because of the cold dry weather in Jan-Feb 2002, the south-facing slopes on the climb were rotten, with poles sinking through a weak layer. Skiing back along the ridge would probably have been interesting (using David Brower's rock-climbing definition of "interesting," namely, "One grade higher than I care to do right now;" he defined "fascinating" as, "One grade higher than I care to do ever.")
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