My favorite place! A week long work conference in Vegas provided a unique opportunity to get over to the Eastside, which is usually such a long drive it's not possible for the SF-based weekend warrior. The Eastside is an outdoor enthusiasts dream: tremendous access to all sorts of climbing, skiing, fishing, running, and other activities. Mountains rise directly up from the earth, with no foothills to speak of, and it is often possible to drive immediately up to altitude access points.
I loaded the car with tons of gear, not sure which sports I would be partaking in, and set off into the wild.
Through traffic, a long evening drive over Tahoe, and endless miles at night I settled into a dirt road just outside Bridgeport, drifting to sleep and excited about the next day's impending activities.
Dawn was there soon and I started up towards the trailhead. Luckily I'd been in this area last winter on a mountaineering trip, which was nice to have a familiar spot to try on my first day, especially since I was solo and *ahem*, lacking in a ton of backcountry ski experience.
This initial approach provided a few new complications for me. Most of my backcountry experience had been in awesome winter powder with straightforward up-then-ski-down lines. I quickly found myself attempting to climb steep frozen snow in my skis, which led to a few embarrassing slips and falls. At the first major hill, I climbed myself into a sketchy predicament where I could no longer go up, and everything was too frozen to safely get my ski crampons on. Instead I bumbled around for a while, almost losing a ski, and eventually tossed them on my pack to boot up. Not my proudest moment.
Just beneath the major bowl I caught up with another party from San Francisco who was going to head up the East Couloir. We chatted and refueled a bit in preparation for the steep part. Adding insult to injury I realized I'd forgotten my crampons, making the ascent in icy conditions particularly dangerous. Not wanting to waste the opportunity I figured I'd just head up and if conditions weren't great for booting I could turn around.
Getting started the conditions weren't too bad. Things got steep fast and the snow alternated between hard pack, crunchy, and ice. Lots of debris filled the chute, but eventually I got to some old bootpack that had refrozen and was filled with windblown snow, but made for easier going. I continued up and things started getting icier and steeper with each step.
Soon things were really steep, and realllly icey. Not having crampons really started getting into my head, as each step required a lot of kicking and frontpointing into ice without any kind of spikes to stabilize me. Things started to get a bit sketchy when I could barely pierce the ice with my ice axe to self belay, and I immediately began to regret getting myself into this situation. While not fatal, a fall on the ice here would be really bad and likely result in some serious injury off in the backcountry. I talked to myself a lot (a combinations of prayers, curses, and profanities) tried to relax towards the top. After what seemed like an eternity I pulled over the top and collapsed on the ridge, totally physically and mentally exhausted, realizing I'd gotten in WAY over my head.
Unfortunately, it wasn't over, I still had to ski down. This realization began to gnaw at my already frazzled psyche. What I'd just come up was steeper than any slope I'd ever skied, and it was totally iced out. The entrance wasn't too bad but the steep upper section would require some commitment. Wanting to get everything over with, I decided to just get after it and head down. What resulted was a looooong amount of side sliding, a total of maybe 2 turns (both of which I barely completed without wrecking), really sore legs, and an eventual yardsale at the bottom. The couloir and bowl stayed icy the entire way down, never really melting out enough to get some good turns unfortunately, but I sure learned a lot on that first day. Type 2 fun for sure!
To be continued...