Chasing Californian Couloirs @ Kirkwood, Sonora & Tioga Pass – 04/20/14

Casey Cane | BackcountryBackcountry

Although this report was from over a week ago and it snowed around 2 feet in the interim, it should give people heading out into these zones a fair assessment of what they will find…for at least a week given the hot temps.

As of April 29th, 2014:

Tioga Pass – Open from the East

Sonora Pass – Completely Open

Ebbetts Pass – Completely Open

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Given the low total snowfall for the season in California, the ski season is surely going to come to an abrupt ending, yet one positive aspect is mountain passes opening early for your ski touring pleasure. Sonora Pass opened to through traffic on Friday April 18th around noon while Tioga Pass was open from the East up to the Yosemite Park gate. With three days on the agenda, a Kirkwood backcountry (Chair 4 stayed open until 4/20), Sonora Pass and a Tioga Pass day seemed to fit the bill. The weather cooperated and gave us primarily perfect temps and little wind.

On day one, we headed to Kirkwood to hike out to Peak 9795 and descend down Promo Chute followed by a short hike up to Pipeline then down to Emigrant Lake. We found mostly spring conditions under looming thunder clouds.

Just a leisurely walk uphill toward Melissa Coray Peak….

Aaron Miller takes a shoulder

Just a quick rest here as we head to the peak in the distance…

The radio tower…or is it?

Made it to our goal…backside of Kirkwood and Pyramid Peak can be seen in the distance.

Kirkwood Sidecountry

Sierra snowpack still showing some life…

View to the South

Our first line was down Promo Chute…

Aaron Miller ripping a turn

At least once a year for our line on the lookers right…

Promo Chute – Kirkwood Backcountry

Next is up and over down Pipeline that snakes below to skiers left…

Aaron Miller in Pipeline

Now it’s just down here to Emigrant Lake…

Not a bad little line…

Here’s a better view of the North Face of Peak 9795…

Fun zone – Kirkwood Backcountry

On Day 2, we drove down to Sonora Pass, left a car at Deadman’s Creek and began hiking at the top of the pass to end up to the top of Leavitt Peak at 11,572ft. From there we skied the Y Couloir, booted back up the bowl and then skied a sliver of a couloir down the North facing peak off of Leavitt. Snow quality was a bit wintery up on the Y Couloir with a more spring-like corn on the exit to the car.

Dropping our car off for the end of the day shuttle…

Sonora Pass goods looking prime

With a little bit of overnight snow, we were able to keep the skins on all the way to Leavitt Peak in the distance.

Barely a skin track

All you have to do is skin up the bowl and then a short walk to the summit on the left…

Pretty straightforward from here

There’s three main chutes up here with the biggest being the Y Couloir…

Plenty of high alpine options

The author is stoked with the view…

Some nerd on the summit

Frank is the eager beaver in the group and drops into the Y Couloir…

Frank doing the touring binding drop in…

The snow quality was a wintery/spring mix all the way into the bowl…

Making turns down the Y Couloir

Meanwhile, Aaron drops into the Paris Hilton chute…

Sonora Pass Chutin’

Aesthetic line but a bit too firm for Aaron’s taste…

Aaron getting ready for the rollover

I decided to roll into the Y Couloir for some faster turns…

Casey in the Y Couloir

Another boot back up Leavitt Bowl so we can ski the northern aspect all the way to the car…

900 steps to the summit

Aaron and Frank head for the perfect corn in the saddle…

Frank taking few turns as possible

After some rocky down climbing to get a better look, I was 80% sure this line went…(anyone know the name of this one?)

Casey in an unknown chute

Here’s a better shot of this gnarly gem…most of the lines on lookers right end in death. I found the hidden sliver that is out of view.

Closest North facing peak off Leavitt ridge when headed to car shuttle

Deadman’s Couloir still holding snow but too late in the day for us…

Deadman’s Couloir – Sonora Pass

I found some nice last turns down to the road…

Sonora Pass April smoothness

Mandatory stop after a day on Sonora Pass…

Walker Burger – Walker, CA

On the last day, we decided to do another car shuttle on Tioga Pass. With V Bowl and Powerhouse looking abnormally thin, we left a car at Ellery Lake and another at the top of the Pass where we began our hiking. Conditions were a bit firm on the ascent but yielded perfect conditions in the Solstice Couloir (approx 12,500ft) with winter snow on skiers right with spring corn on the left. The ski out of the couloir down into Glacier Canyon could not have been any better…super smooth buttery corn skiing. After a short walk to Ellery Bowl, I took Chute Out down to the car at the bottom of Ellery Bowl while others in my group decided on Z Chute. I found steep & wintery conditions and gorgeous corn on the exit down to the Ellery Lake…SUCCESS!

The Sawtooths outside of Bridgeport, CA saying hello…

Views from Bridgeport, CA

Cocaine, Ripper, etc of the Dana Plateau down into V-bowl…

Legendary CA steepness

We considered leaving a car down below Powerhouse but a bit too burned out for our liking…

Powerhouse on April 20th, 2014

Yep, Ellery Bowl along with Ellery Chutes on lookers right looked like a better plan and better place to leave a car…

Ellery Bowl, HWY 120, CA

We started skinning near the top of Tioga Pass and headed straight for Mt. Dana and the Solstice Couloir…

Frank booting a bit with Mt. Conness in the background

Coverage was good enough to skin all the way to the Solstice Couloir (the notch just before the summit of Mt. Dana)

Approach to Mt. Dana – 13,061ft

A few people showed up for the couloir party…

Skiers waiting to drop in Solstice

The cornice was pretty tame this season…its been massive and scary on some of my previous visits.

Solstice Couloir cornice fun

Frank drops in and finds some wintery turns…

Solstice Couloir – April 20th

I decided to grab the untouched ribbon under the cornice (yes, over a nice icy surface)

Winter turns found?

We met Sam the San Franciscan telemarker skiing corn on the lower portion…

Free the heel, free the mind

Alex, a splitboard enthusiast, follows Sam’s lead…

Corn tuns into Glacier Canyon

From left to right – Dana Couloir, Dana Glacier, Mt. Dana, and the Solstice Couloir…

Glacier Canyon – April 20th, 2014

After a mellow walk up to the top of Ellery Bowl, I dropped into Chute Out after hearing that a guy skied it the day prior.

Chute Out – Ellery Chutes

Until you actually commit to the chute, you will not know the coverage in the crux. On this day, it was just a bit of side hopping and then home free to the car…

Yes, those are winter turns

I’m not going to lie, I really did enjoy these turns…

Chute Out – April 20th, 2014

With beer waiting in a cooler in the car, it was time to let them run…

Corned bliss on Ellery Bowl

View of the Ellery Chutes while wearing sandals at the car…

Ellery Chutes – April 20th, 2014

Frank took an alternate line down Poop Chute

Far lookers right on Ellery Chutes

Frank finishes his day carving to the finish line…

Late afternoon corn slaying

AND THAT’S A WRAP!

Monitor Pass, HWY 88, California

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For a massive report and more pics…


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