A day among days in a crappy winter of crappy winters
Swirling and squirrelly clouds raged in the upper atmospheric sector, snow came down on the tippy-tops of local peaks, and rain pattered our lake-level rooftop. It was May 22nd, and given our shriveled 250-inch winter I was surprised, shocked even, that a storm was piledriving California only a month from the summer solstice.
We set proverbial sail around six a.m. with Hazen, “Haze Doggy Dogg” Woolson and Anthony “Sir Antoine Kegsworth” Santos. We piled in a mid-90’s GMC beast-mobile and lit the fires south down 395. Our objective was the Bloody Couloir, a long and skinny treat from schralp heaven with an ominous and easily dirtified name, just south of Mammoth resort.
(Vid courtesy Janky Films)
But early on we lost grip of any certainty of getting on snow due to weather. None of us had been on that strip of terrain and we were all learning our way around the humongous Eastern Sierra range. Storm hiking sounded wrong. We thought it was to be a T-shirt and corn run type of day. Anthony didn’t even bring goggles, only sunnies.
Which, really was pretty foolish no matter the weather, when you think about their small and light nature.
We started thinking of plans B, C and Q. Hit Mammoth for the day? Hot tubs and beers at one of the area’s world-class natural hot springs? Drive to Vegas?
Plan X came instead, with a singing siren and a talk with Officer Stricty-Pants who gave Hazen a firm talking to about his less-than-legit registration status. Thus was born a pleasant sidetrip to the Mammoth Lakes DMV and a trolling of the local Mammoth mall scene. Quite nice, really, what with the promenade and quaint shopping.
Afterward, amid slightly clearing skies, we bombed to the dirt road a few miles past the resort, optimism renewed, though still subdued. Miles of twisty, ominous and rock-stewn road lay ahead. We slammed ‘er into four-low and charged, bouncing and hooting and hillbillying over a snarled mess of track, winding around switchbacks, Hazen working the clutch and Santos shouting out “advice” from the passenger seat. This was good sport on its own with no quad-busting hiking to boot. We creeped and crawled then stopped when we saw another pickup and the start of snowline.
After bootpacking from the truck we rounded a corner to gain a view of the 2,500’ line. A few minutes later we saw a black dot of a skier drop and begin making endless S’s down the silvery face.
“Yooo-ooo!” The guy was tossing buckets of snow. This was no corn. This was no slush. This was powder snow. Anthony was a little salty there were tracks laid down that weren’t ours, but I was glad to see someone else do it, and there were a million good turns to be had, so we put a stop to his piddly complaints. Plus there would likely be a bootpack to follow, and that’s always nice.
Two more ant-like silhouettes dropped and hoots-of-joy bounced off the surrounding slabs of rock. At snowline we chatted briefly with the local group and they reported excellence.
Despite all of us bringing only touring setups, we never put on skins. The hike looked straightforward and the chute was always narrow enough to make skinning a time-consumer rather than a time-saver.
A sharp, tall and conical length of rock split the chute in half about 2/3 up, providing a few options. The snow felt soft in most spots with maybe four inches of May cream cheese slathered on the thinning base of a bagel, to keep the food metaphor rolling. Some stretches were crusty and scratchy, but the overall quality kept morale sky high as we couldn’t believe we might be dipping into soft snow.
Click through the gallery for a HD tour del Bloody.
But an eery and thick fog would roll in and out, dropping visibility to storm-day type conditions. The cloudball made the chute’s walls feel they were squeezing us in and smothering us. We were at a good elevation in an unfamiliar setting. Discussions were had on the summit push dilemma. We decided to progress slowly, agreeing to turn around if any of us felt bad about it.
We continued to the summit as confidence and safety felt right, and nearing the ridge the cloud- layer thinned and evaporated, opening up to a blue sky, snow crystals darting around in sparkly happy-times. Off the back another hundred peaks with a thousand lines stared at us, all looking refreshed with the new layer. “This could last us all a lifetime” I thought, though my legs couldn’t really bare the thought of doubling or tripling the workload.
We tweaked and dorked out with photos and GoPros and narrative. The energy ping-ponged as we chose our routes. Fats (Anthony) went skier’s right and Hazen and I chose the main gut.
The snow was creamy and electric. The top pitch was near 45 degrees and I could barely remember better turns the whole season. Working the right side of the tight upper section I tried to echo the hack and glide of a fast pointbreak. Bottom turn…top turn…and repeat. The surf-to-snow comparison was real as rain.
The plankers were ripping and tossing heaps of fresh to the sky through giggles and hoots, even getting big-mountain jibby on a small feature. We emerged from the shadows in the bottom third and the summer warmth had already blasted off the freshies and left a few football fields of low-angle party turns. Pow, a bit of crust, and a sun-affected playground, all in a days work.
Hiking to the truck, we then descended the dirt road like a slow-motion rally course, just escaping the dark as we made it to pavement. We found our free campsite, and whipped up some hot dogs. A natural spa? Had that too.
Famished from the day, we wedged Easy Mac onto the dogs and fired through our food supplies in minutes with New Belgiums and CL smoothies to aid the feasting. We had to visit the hot springs, though exhaustion was taking over. Just three dudes in a small, hot pool of water under a star-studded sky. No big deal.