by Josh Daiek
(Please check out Josh’s blog for many other great adventure report: Josh Daiek)
I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel and give up on winter for the season. With a rapidly melting snow pack and phenomenal dirt for mountain biking, why fight it? I began settling into my summer routine when mother nature sneak attacked with a nice little thunderstorm. My first thought was of how good the mountain biking would be, but as the storm got colder and flakes began falling my mentality instinctively flopped to skiing.
I jumped on my computer to research snow reports and web cams trying to figure out how much snow actually accumulated at high elevation. Results didn’t looking too promising with Mammoth reporting a mere 2-4 inches which seemed like just enough for some dust on crust. On the other hand if the snow fell wet enough it might make for some nice creamy pow turns. At any rate there was fresh snow on the ground and this would surely be my last chance at pow turns for the season. So why not go for it and see what happens? I put in calls to a number of friends trying to rally a posse, but the only response was from my good friend Daniel Durkin, he was down!
We decided to head south and explore new terrain in the Eastern Sierra (new to us that is). We discussed various options but ultimately decided on a classic ski off Bloody Mountain, the Bloody Couloir. That night we loaded the car and drove south with anticipation of blue skies, steep pow turns and our first ski on Bloody Mountain! When morning finally arrived we were disappointed to wake to the pitter patter of rain on the roof top. We sipped down our hot coffee and laughed at how well our gore-tex wouldn’t hold up in the rainy conditions. After a brief debate on weather and snow conditions there was only one clear choice…Sack up and go for it!
We drove away from Mammoth hoping to get a glimpse of our objective and praying the weather would clear as predicted by forecasters. Unfortunately the closer we got to the mountain the worse the visibility became. We slowly crawled through the rain bouncing over slick rocks and boulders that form the passage to Laurel Lake. Nearly a mile in on the gnarly 4×4 road we bumped into a man carrying skis and boots on his pack. The man was soaked and had another 3-4 miles of slogging through the rain before he would reach the base of the mountain. Daniel pulled over and offered a ride, the Austrian man graciously accepted and hopped in the back of the truck.
After a solid 45 minutes on the 4×4 road we finally arrived to the snow line. We quickly organized our gear, threw on our packs and blindly wandered into nothingness. Due to lack of visibility and the fact that neither Daniel, myself or our new hitchhiker friend, Mark, had ever been to Bloody Mountain before, we were kind of lost. Visibility was about 100-200 feet which made it real tough to get our bearings. “It’s a straight forward hike” I was told the day before by a friend who frequents Bloody Mountain. Apparently not the case when you can’t see anything. With no real land marks or idea where to start our only option was to begin hiking up.
We stumbled up what appeared to be the apron of the mountain with a disoriented vertigo feeling. Fumbling over our footsteps we began climbing up steeper terrain wondering if we were headed in the right direction. Luckily a thin patch in the clouds allowed enough visibility to reveal a giant shark fin of rock. Matching this “shark fin” to a picture in our guide book confirmed that we were on the right track for Bloody Couloir. We entered the mouth of the couloir surprised to find 6-12 inches of velvety pow! We took turns leap frogging each other stepping in the steep boot pack. Visibility was still non existent so we cautiously proceeded slogging our way toward the summit.
It was tough not knowing where we were in the couloir or when we would top out. On multiple occasions we thought we saw the top but upon arrival the mountain continued to climb. The snow continued to get deeper, the pitch got increasingly steeper and our anticipation grew higher as we reached the top.
We took our time gearing up and discussed different safe zones for our descent. Dropping in one at a time we milked as many pow turns as possible making our way through the dense cloud and to our safe zones. When we reached the bottom of the couloir the sun poked through and we were able to see the mountain for the first time. We gazed up admiring our tracks painted on the mountain and realized we skied the chute just right of our intended objective. Perfect! I thought, “let’s go back up and ski that for our second run!” The boys were spent and decided to hang back. I was excited and anxious for more though. I frantically threw my skis on my pack and ran up the boot pack for my second run.
I traversed to the top of the Bloody Couloir where the pitch rolled steep and out of sight into the valley floor. I clicked in my skis just as the sun broke through lighting the way down the couloir. It was the perfect moment! I dropped into the couloir and greased effortless pow turns down the 2000 foot descent. What a perfect way to end the season!