Joined: 06 Dec 2004 Posts: 5333 Location: Tahoe City
Posted: Fri Apr 22, 2005 6:12 am Post subject: TR 4/20/05: Bloody Mountain -- the Y-Not Chute
Yesterday, a day after a pretty good April powder storm, I soloed Bloody Mountain again (12,400') via the Y-Not Chute. Obviously "Not" the same as the Y Chute shown in my last Bloody TR. Had to park at 7,300' down on the flats of Sherwin Creek; the mining road up Laurel Canyon is far from melted yet. In short, it was one of the most beautiful backcountry ski runs I've had, both the ascent and descent. Blue skies, a very windy day fading to a warm/still/quiet summit, and POWDER.
This report contains a closeup analytical description of how I dealt with two minor slab slides, so you may find it worth reading for technical curiosity in addition to the scenery.
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR Full-Size VERSIONS except where noted.
^ Looking down after the first 1,000 feet and a mile and a half. My truck can be seen in a small, orange, elliptical force field way out there in the flats. Looks like a pain in the ass? Fortunately it was totally ski-to-the-car, no rocks, no bush hopping. That's the famously desolate Highway 395 in the background, which passes by hundreds of mountains like this on its way across eastern California. Farther in the background, the White Mountains divide California from Nevada.
^ Hmm. I think the civilization before us left granite breast sculptures lying around. Fine by me.
^ This was the only gap in the snow on the way up or down. Four miles, 5000 feet, one gap, April 20th, no problem! Note the cactus in the foreground. I like how the eastern Sierra has cactus next to snow.
^ It's often just like this when you're skiing an eastside peak in Spring. Mountain Mahogany, often fire burned; granite; incredible background scenery; Mongolian-style valleys stretching out below.
^ First view of Bloody Mountain, looking up the Laurel Creek canyon. Area of interest shown in light ellipse. I was heading for the right (looker's right) branch of that Y-shaped chute. The right branch is known as the "Y Not". Note: the 11,000' peak on the right is my absolute first choice for a tele free-ski/extreme competition. Some time I'll show you some more direct photos of it, and I swear you'll want to build a judge's stand right then and there, out of aspen and fir trees.
^ Closer view. That's the Bloody Couloir on the right against the dark cliff. Moving left you see the wider version with the more casual entrance. Then there's the hanging snowfield of death which leads to nothing but air. Left of that is the Y-shaped chute, with its "Y Not" right branch providing safe exit from the hanging snowfield. There has also been speculation recently about a higher, much skinnier right branch, tentatively labeled "Y the Hell Not". There are more good runs farther left of the Y, but if you go too far over you end up in not a chute, but a general area known as "Y Bother".
Now 2 miles and another 1,000 feet go down before the next photo.
^ It was Bloody windy (click for larger image and check the snow banners off the top). Here we're almost around the corner of upper Laurel Lake, a half mile from the foot of the Bloody Couloir. Thus begins a terrible case of visual foreshortening -- it may not look it, but the summit is more than 2,500' above us here.
^ Did I mention it was windy? And the wind was causing spindrift avalanches all around the jowls of the rock Walrus at center. The Bloody Couloir is really cool with its big rock cleavers down the middle, giving the skier a choice of angles and widths. The Couloir proper almost touches 50 degrees for a short while at the top, then spends some time in the 40s before mellowing to the 30s, and the wide open skirt is like 20 degrees.
^ But I wasn't heading for the Bloody Couloir. To do that you want to be dropping in between 11am and 1pm when it's in the sun. I didn't even leave the car until 11, knowing that for the Y-not Chute such a late start would work beautifully.
So check out all these features! That hanging death field is sending a powder sluff off its 80 foot cliff. The Y is obvious, the Y-not is hidden until you look carefully behind that one rock rib. My theory was, it points so far east that the morning sun went by before it could melt the fresh pow (it was a cold and windy morning). This worked out beautifully. Left of the Y is almost a complete carbon copy of it, just not as deep (and often gone by May, some years). I think it's called "Y ask Y".
^ Looking back from halfway up the canyon. In the background are Mono Lake, the Mono Craters, highway 395, and you could see my truck if not for a big terminal moraine.
^ Now you almost begin to believe there's some steepness here which the wide-angle distance photos just don't capture. The face of the Walrus here was apparently the original inspiration for the gates of Moria, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Just kidding, but seriously, there actually is a deep tunnel into the earth right at the foot of the smooth rock face front and center -- it's an old mine.
^ This one's supposed to show four things. The cool stripe in the rock; the way the Y-Not tucks in (steeply) behind the tower of rock; the nice powder streamer that was surfing off the hanging-snowfield-of-death cliff like a dry waterfall; and how every ounce of snow in sight is soft and light as feathers! Okay, you can't see that last part, but I can tell you it's true. Things were getting steep enough for fun, this is where I switched from skinning to booting.
^ I think someone will ski-jump this cliff one day, maybe after shoveling up a good landing ramp (the landing's not steep enough for the drop as is). It's way bigger than I will ever consider, but it's in the range of things people do, and it's so photogenic with this type of rock, not to mention the view from far away with the hanging snowfield leading to freefall. I want to be there one day to hold the video camera.
^ Here's a better side angle. Okay, the landing's not so flat, but it's still too flat. And that cliff is higher than it looks; I think about 70 feet at the lowest notch. What colors...
^ Turning the corner into the Y-not itself, i found air under snow. Thought it was just a little air gap next to a rock, but it turned out to be a good sized moat. Note the apparition of the virgin Mary on the rock inside. A minute after this photo I stabbed around some more and the hole tripled in size and looked way too deep. I had to climb around it with feet and hands on rock to avoid stepping right out into the middle of the chute.
^ Looking back after clearing the moat. Yeah the snow was NICE. I was starting to be pretty psyched for the quality of the descent.
- continued -
Last edited by Eric O on Fri Apr 22, 2005 6:34 am; edited 4 times in total
Joined: 06 Dec 2004 Posts: 5333 Location: Tahoe City
Posted: Fri Apr 22, 2005 6:15 am Post subject:
^ Looking up 400 feet of Y-not. Still windy (raining spindrift on me) at the top. Despite its surface texture, this snow was shin deep and when I kicked steps it was knee deep. Thoughts and assessments at this point:
44 degrees, about 15-20 feet wide;
ascent quality of snow is really good, no need for crampons;
boot toes kick through an old strong crust layer leaving perfect stirrups to stand in;
the old buried crust appears much too strong to break as a slab;
therefore the main concern is whether the surface snow is strong enough to act together as a dangerous slab, or if it's soft enough to only sluff instead;
at this point it's definitely too soft and unconsolidated to form a slab, but as I ascend higher in the chute I should be alert for areas where wind pressure or sun could have built up slab strength -- i.e. one location's decision does not hold for the whole chute.
avoiding the center in case anything unexpected comes down from above; sticking to the right wall which is slightly more off the fall line than the left.
willing to abort the climb if the boot contact with the good surface under the new snow decreases; or if the underlying surface turns icy or otherwise slick; or if I manage to climb up out of soft snow and into slab.
^ Reaching the junction of the Y chute and the Y-not. What an awesome neighborhood! Visible to the north are Mono Lake (at right), June Mountain (center), and behind June are the big peaks south of Tioga Pass including Wood, Lewis, Gibbs, Dana.
^ Back to work in the upper chute. It's looking to be a very fun descent; the surface has been powder-over-medium the whole way. Snow assessment at this point still requires critical honesty: the powder layer is getting thinner and the edges of my kick-steps are getting more distinct. Seems like the same snow supply that made a 12" deep layer lower in the chute is windpacked, here, into a somewhat more compact layer; it's time to start looking for any hints of a slab. For example, if the snow becomes dense enough underfoot that I begin to have a tough time kicking in; in other words, if the fresh upper layer of snow starts supporting my boots instead of allowing me to kick right through it into the old layer. If that begins to happen I'm turning around happily without another step. If it doesn't, great, I get to ski more of it.
^ 40 feet from the top and it's still breezy above; the air is quiet inside the chute. I stop and put on goggles, kneepads (shoulda had them on before switching to bootpacking), shell jacket, anything else I don't want to deal with up in the wind.
Note the very subtle smooth stripe of snow, about five feet wide, running vertically above me and just slightly to the left: just an area with a little less surface texture than the rest of the chute. This will turn out to be a wind-deposited slab insufficiently bonded to the firm layer below it -- stay tuned. Suspecting as much, I intentionally work the far right side of it, careful to neither step completely on the slab or fall into any air gap that may be present near the rock wall.
^ Looking back 20 feet later. It was almost bad news. There were about six steps during which I was seriously considering calling it off. The chute had not changed angle, but the snow where I predicted a small slab was turning out to have enough strength for an area of it to move as a whole. My decision was to stay right of it and keep very in touch with my feet. If the top layer had been any deeper (it was about 7-8 inches at this point) or if this had happened any further from the top of the chute, I would have turned back, for fear of the quantity of active snow above me at the same time as treading on imperfect ground. As it was, instead, I was not far from the top; the slab was neither wide nor deep; and I was able to keep halfway out of its way since the slab conditions didn't extend all the way to the sidewall of the chute.
^ So, uh... DAMN. When I had bypassed most of the small slab, when I only had 20 feet left to the rollover at the top of the chute, the rest let go above me. I watched an area five by 20 feet by about 7-8 inches deep split with cracks and gently slide on by me, and partly around me. Then not so gently.
As it was moving I heard my voice curse sharply out loud. You can't watch even a small slab move and break up into segments as it slides, without being inspired to involuntary comments. I was in very good deep bootsteps and I leaned hard into the moving snow. It piled up against me as it slid; soon it was piled up above my center of gravity. Some part of me had this random thought: "Wouldn't it be right to fall over about now, and tumble down the hill? Am I defying physics by not falling?" And then of course I thought "hell, i'll just hang on right here if you don't mind."
I leaned in harder, making effort now. Soon it was up to my shoulders, but now it wasn't pushing as hard against me because the bulk of it had gone by, and I was somewhat protected by the snow cone piled up above me. By the time the snow stopped moving it was piled up to my neck and face. I must have looked pretty wacky standing there, holding up the hill.
Episode over, I dug out and kept going, thankful that I was now clear to finish ascending the chute with no more worried mind.
^ Starting up the final 500' snowfield above the chute. Mammoth Mountain is visible as a hump distant left, and Banner Peak out behind it. Keep these directions in mind if you're ever skiing Bloody's summit snowfield in a fog. The Y-not's better than the cliff.
^ Telephoto of Pyramid Peak and Mammoth Mountain, with the Minarets and the rest of the Ritter Range out in back. Pyramid Peak is home to the infamous Para-Chute, the steep narrow couloir that drops from the v-notch in the top of the peak.
^ This was taken about 12 feet back from where Bloody's summit ridge is sporting an unusual southern cornice. Red Slate Mountain and its righteous north couloir. Don't summit Bloody unless you want to see Red Slate. Don't look at Red Slate from this distance, if you're a skier, unless you're willing to ski it someday. Seeing this sight in person pretty much commits you: thereafter, you can't forget about the damned thing until you ski it.
^ Why I love to ski the lesser-known back (west) side of Mt. Morrison. That one gully provides a 3,500' run to Convict Creek, and it gets sun so late that some days it's not even ripe until 2pm or so (meaning you can have a big breakfast and take your time on the uphill). There's a less exposed ascent ridge next to the gully. It's a fun, not-in-the-book-and-locals-don't-seem-to-care-about-it-either backcountry descent.
^ This is the life. 6pm on the summit and the wind totally disappears. The air is clear, still, quiet, and warm. The powder is soft. I can see my house from here. I wish I had another tin of oysters.
^ Now part II of the slab story. Having skied the upper snowfield it was time to enter the Y-not chute for descent. Carefully ski-cutting it first... the first two zigs and zags didn't do it. I picked a safe zone and shot across a third time and that did it. A 3 to 4 inch slab tore out across much of the chute. It removed some but not all of the powder, leaving a very nice medium-density windpacked powder behind for skiing.
Actually, after about 100 feet of skiing I was down out of the wind-slab zone and most of the chute was powder, deeper with every turn.
^ Mmmmm yeah, definitely powder turns. Next I went left down the ramp following the sluff of the slides. The incredibly soft debris cone left behind was amazing... it was as deep as my legs when standing up, and when I sank into a turn it rose up to my waist. True "bathtub" skiing.
^ Lower down, the debris actually got too deep and variable to ski well, so I headed over to the day-old velvet next to it. The evening light was getting good.
^ Wahoo... big GS turns all the way down the bowl. Bowl and turns are both way bigger than they appear. There was a time when I couldn't imagine making less than 20 turns in this bowl!
^ Magical evening illumination -- the bowl on fire with reflected light from the rocks.
^ A mile down the canyon, the sun began to catch my tracks on the upper snowfield and make them visible. This shot puts the angles of the whole project in better perspective.
^ A Mammoth Mountain sunset from halfway down the canyon, Banner Peak sharing in the glow.
^ Controlled burns in Owen's Valley added smoke to an already salmon-colored sunset on the White Mountains. 1000 feet below, my truck is still waiting on the flats. I'm about to cross the one dirt spot, then ski all the way to my wheels with no walking.
^ Ritter/Banner sunset -- one of the essential views of living in Mammoth. I wish you could see the endless color variations of the brush in the foreground.
^ Aaaand there it all is as seen from Highway 203 into town. Once you ski Bloody, it looks down upon you every time you drive this road, the only way into or out of town in the winter, and you return its gaze, and you know you want to get back up there more often.
Last edited by Eric O on Fri Apr 22, 2005 7:43 am; edited 8 times in total
Joined: 31 Dec 2004 Posts: 254 Location: Melbourne Australia
Posted: Fri Apr 22, 2005 7:16 am Post subject:
great tr. I'm so jealous of all you guys being able to park somewhere and skin/climb straight out of the car....When I come over there next year I think it might take some major convincing to get me to leave!
Joined: 06 Dec 2004 Posts: 5333 Location: Tahoe City
Posted: Fri Apr 22, 2005 12:57 pm Post subject:
BEAUTIFULL photo's and very nice tripreport.
But weren't you pushing it a bit too far?
Kees - thanks, and thanks for the concern. A difficult question, of course. I see it as a problem of description. You'll have to take my word for it that it was safe enough up in there, without being 100 percent safe.
Joined: 06 Dec 2004 Posts: 324 Location: Nederland
Posted: Fri Apr 22, 2005 1:47 pm Post subject:
Don't worry, I believe you. I just remember so well when I was in a small couloir climbing up during a stormy day. Half way up I was feeling very foolish (and scared) and when I almost climbed out some big cracks shoot out around me. It didn't slide.
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