Thursday, March 25, 2010

Baldy Bowl

I told my wife I could be back in the OC by around noon. Thus it was that my alarm sounded at 3:00 this morning. By 5:15 AM, I was walking toward the ski hut in pitch black, guided by my headlamp. Several other hikers started up a minute later, quickening my pace.

More than half of the way to the ski hut was on snow, which was hard and icy. Reaching the ski hut shortly after dawn, I put on my helmet, swapped trekking poles for an ice axe, and strapped on crampons. Anticipating hard, moderately steep snow, I brought my old steel crampons instead of my new, lighter aluminum crampons. Last week on Ontario Peak, the aluminum crampons performed poorly on icy, 40+ degree snow.

Looking up at my route.

Just as the sunlight was illuminating the crest of the bowl, I began crunching upward. It was immediately apparent how much more traction is provided by the steel crampons. My route zigzagged up to a chute terminating near the highpoint of the bowl. After a golfball-sized rock careened off my boot, I kept a wary eye on the cliffs above and forced a steady pace.

Looking down at the route behind my right shoulder.

Above the bowl, and especially on the summit, the wind was strong, relentless, and cold. Five minutes of stumbling around on the summit was followed by a hasty retreat to a warm patch of scree out of the wind. I checked the time: 8:55AM. There I unstrapped crampons and prepared for glissading.

Ontario Peak

The sun had yet to soften the snow, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I sat down and let myself slide. I glissaded for over 1000 vertical feet and learned a few things about glissading on 30-40 degree, hard, icy snow. First, it is strenuous. I had to dig the ice axe spike in forcefully to control the speed and had to flop over several times to self-arrest when the acceleration became worrying. Second, it decreases the lifespan of non-metallic equipment that is in constant contact with the snow. The bottoms of my technical wind/rain pants and backpack got severely scuffed. Third, it is painful. Impacting an immovable chunk of ice with ones butt or passing over a large, solid posthole at high speed hurts.

The descent from the ski hut was uneventful. In fact, it was so uneventful that I risked making it eventful. At around 7200 feet, I crossed a snow-filled couloir that dropped 800 vertical feet to the hairpin turn in the road. I could see the uppermost 300 feet of the couloir and the hairpin, but nothing in between. It could be a good shortcut. It could also funnel into a cliff or be filled with brush. I couldn't resist.

The shortcut couloir turned out to be a great decision. With the exception of 100 vertical feet of rock/scree/brush in the middle (including one spiky plant into which I threw my hand to catch a fall), the couloir was filled with delightfully consolidated snow and deposited me at the hairpin turn.

The shortcut couloir heading up to the right.

The numbers: ~4000 vertical feet, 5.5 hours round trip.


Anonymous said...

Cool shortcut, Sam! Probably won't be there much longer though:(. Say, when you get a chance, see if you can draw in our two routes up Ollestad on your Ontario Peak photo. I'd like to confirm what I'm seeing.
Dave G

S Kay Murphy said...

Sounds like it was a pretty fun ride, Sam. RE: Your question about April snowfall in Baldy--Next time you come up, stop by the Hogan (the snack shop at the Manker campground) and peek in the door. Big Mike has some photos on display of the April snowfall a few years back. Pretty impressive.