Alex and I had been talking about going backcountry skiing in the Sierra for the weekend, but a worsening forecast had us both talking about alternatives such as a surf trip to baja or Joshua Tree, or maybe even a nice latte (Alex's favorite drink) and maybe a little political discussion. That all changed on Thursday night.
We saw Steep, an incredible new film documenting some of the most badass ski descents and ski mountaineering pioneers in history. As soon as the credits rolled, Alex looked at me and siad something along the lines of, "well that settles our plan for the weekend". After getting the oil changed in my car, we left San Diego on Friday afternoon and headed up to Bishop, making the standard REI gear return/purchase on the way. We rolled onto Buttermilk rd. around 845 pm and drove as far as the Subaru would take us, which turned out to be right at the main bouldering area in the buttermilks. Here we bivied in the snow next to the car.
We woke up at 545am to merciful 30 degree temps with no wind and low but heavy cloud cover. By 715am we were cross country skiing towards the base of Basin Mt. whose East gully (class 4) was our objective for both the ascent and descent.
According to Alex's GPS, we had to gain approximately 2000 feet of elevation before we reached the beginning of the red line in the picture above. From there, things got steeper. After about 3 hours of cross country skiing and some steeper skinning up the initial slope of Basin Mountain's east face, we were rewarded by a breathtaking view of the Owen's River Valley blanketed by clouds, blue sky, and high altitude sunshine.
Snow conditions combined with rapid altitude gain, made the going pretty strenuous. I struggled in many places to maintain my skiis' grip on the sometimes icy snow pack, and both of us had to switch between ascending with skis and carrying them on our backs for sections which required kicking steps. I trailed Alex by 10-20 minutes for most of the way, sweating profusely while moving, and quickly chilling when I was forced to stop. At about 11,700 feet up the east gully, I failed to get traction with my skis and slipped about 40 feet, while Alex disappeared up and over a small slope. For the next 25 minutes I struggled to regain that ground, and essentially used up what little energy I had left. Frustrated and exhausted, I decided it was time to change from splitboard mode into snowboard mode and start riding down. But Alex had other ideas. He continued up the Gully to about 12,200 feet where he said he encountered poor avalanche conditions and worsening snow. In the hour or so it took him to get up to his high point, I waited on the small ledge I had built with my shovel. I lost all feeling in my fingers and had to warm them in my armpits in order to gain enough dexterity to convert my skis back into a snowboard. Had it not been for the glorious view and the fact that Punishment equals Glory, I would have been very miserable. I snowboarded down about 300 feet to a point where I could see the breadth of the gully and, hopefully, Alex. I did not want to go down before I was sure Alex was safely on his way skiing down the gully. By the time Alex got down to where I had been waiting, my body was sufficiently warmed and my mind was more than psyched for the fresh tracks that we had worked so hard all day to earn.
The ride down was less than ideal, due to a shitty crust layer on top of the snow, but I could not think of anything else I would have rather been doing. I was able to ride the snowboard to within about 1.5 miles of the car before I had to change it back to cross country skis for the rest of the way.
We got back to the car around 430pm and headed into Bishop for some Mexican food. Over enchiladas and Ibuprofen, we decided that since the weather was going to be crap the next day, we should head back to SD. We got back to SD around midnight and I passed out, very happy with the day's accomplishment.
I woke up around 10 the next morning and began thinking of what I was going to do. My body felt fully recovered and ready for more punishment, but my mind was in lazy mode. As I formulated a plan, which was to get stoned and watch movies all day, my phone rang. It was Alex, AKA "the harbinger of punishment." He asked if I wanted to go for a "run." Now when I think of a run, I think of a 3-4 mile jog on the beach, but Alex had something else in mind. He came to pick me up and casually told me that we'd be running up Cowles Mt., over to Pyle's Mt., back up Cowles, then down the long dirt road back to the car. That's roughly 8 miles with 2000 feet of elevation gain. I don't know if it was the pouring rain, my sweet new iPod shuffle, or the fact that I was back at sea level, but I felt great the whole time, although I still could not keep up with Alex. After about 2 hours of running in the cold rain, we met back up at the car and headed over to Vertical Hold for some indoor wankery. A big dinner back at my house put a nice end to our weekend o' punishment. I love my life!
Link to the rest of the photos (some of which were taken by Alex): http://mountainroad.smugmug.com/gallery/4247669#248789396