Sunday, April 24, 2011

Middel Pallisade - 14,016' & Polemonium Peak - 14,200'

In what has become a winter to remember, the 2011 ski season keeps rocking on here in the Sierra. In Christian Pondella’s and my continued ‘Big Game’ hunt, we ticked off another couple of big lines on Friday. Our primary goal, the NE face of Middle Pallisade (14,016’) had not been in condition since 2006 and we were psyched to give it a go. Three weeks ago, a visit to the base of the face revealed a proper amount of coverage for a decent ski, but the snow surface was tattered by the wind and by slides. We decided to wait for the ‘right’ kind of storm to resurface the face before we skied it.
Thursday brought 11,000’ snow levels and wind from the due west, a perfect combo.  I picked up Christian from his house in Mammoth at 8:30p and we hit the road planning to get a good night’s rest at the trailhead and a pre-dawn start. Our day commenced a touch earlier than we considered ‘civilized’ thanks to a nudge from some fellow skiers aiming to ski the same mountain. Though our 3:30a start hurt a bit, it quickly became our blessing in disguise.  A ¾ moon lit the way perfectly as we ascended 4000’ or so to the base of the climb.  Up on the glacier, Christian rattled off photos in the pink morning light and we soon stood at the bergschrund, and readied for the climb.
Climbing was fairly easy thanks to a supportable layer under the foot or so of new snow. The new snow bonded well with the old and showed no signs of weaknesses or wind affect. We were psyched! We encountered a couple of ice cruxes along the way that were sure to offer a challenge on descent. At 8:30a we stood atop Middle Pal and clinked our poles together as we buckled down for the ski.
The first turns off the top were in glorious Sierra pow, followed by a bit of rock and ice navigation, which led to the main face. We arched turns down the face at a cautiously fast pace due to exposure worked through a bit more ice and rock and jumped the cliff at the bottom. At the schrund we met Ben and Shane, our fellow climbers/skiers, thanked them for getting us started an hour earlier than we had planned and the chance to climb and ski first. We wished them luck and descended the glacier and valley below back to 10,000’.
Now 9:30a, it seemed far to early to return to the truck and snow conditions were perfect up high. We discussed our options and decided to head for the V-Notch on Polemonium Peak (14,200’) for an afternoon ski. This meant heading directly up the South Fork of Big Pine Creek to a notch on Mt. Sill (14,162’)at 13,800’ and a descent of Sill’s NW Couloir. Skinning was easy and the breeze kept us cool. At 12,500’we ran into Bishop’s Dan Mingori and joined forces for the skin to the notch.  At the notch Dan decided to drop back into South Fork and we parted ways pointing our skis down the NW slope. A few scratchy turns led to perfect creamy powder and we knew our senses had led us in the right direction. As we traversed further North onto the glacier, I looked up in awe at the amount of snow stacked in the V-Notch.
V-Notch April 2005
As predicted for the afternoon, the blue skies had turned to grey and a light snow began to fall from above. As we cruised towards our intended line, I called to Christian, “That doesn’t look like the V-Notch I’ve skied.”  He responded with a very positive grin and we pulled or skins out for the climb to the bergie. The snow was of perfect gradient density and conditions seemed almost to good to be true. As we climbed, the skies continued to darken and the scene began to turn from bright and happy to dark and eerie, a welcomed tone for the afternoon ski.  Before we knew it we topped out, and battled the wind and driving snow to 14. A quick buckle of the boots and a jump off the cornice and we were off carving perfect turns down the creamy 50 degree slope laughing the whole way. We took the run well out onto the glacier, scoped the other lines in the area, clanked our poles together in celebration. I called out a few yodels and listened in disbelief as they bounced over and over again off the hulking walls of granite that surrounded us.
Less than an hour later we were back at the truck clinking a toast with our fellow climbers/skiers Shane and Ben as they too had enjoyed success with a ski of Middle Pal. We reveled in the glory of the moment and congratulated each other on a day well played in the mountains. Off to Bishop for tacos and tequila! Christian and I had now ‘officially’ completely skiing all 14 CA 14ers from their highest skiable points and it was time to celebrate.