Prior to this trip out to California, I haven’t done much solo skiing. I have solo hiked in the past, and have done plenty of solo runs. Generally, I prefer to ski with partners; this trip, though, I’ve found a nice rhythm to solo days on spring snow. I can throw on a podcast, music, or just tune out to the sound of the wind. I can go my own pace, make my own decisions, and just roll with the day.
I’d been hemming and hawing about what to do with my solo day; I saw that a friend had skied a cool line on Basin Mountain the day before and had reported really good conditions on east and south aspects. I figured it’d be good to have a day where I had some beta, being solo, so I opted to repeat his tour and maybe add on an additional run-or-two.
I drove up the Buttermilk Road the night before and planned for a 4/4:30 AM start. Alex had texted me that the East Face Couloir heated up quickly in the morning and that I’d want to be dropping no later than 9:30 AM. It was about 6k’ of climbing to the top, which I figured I could cover in around 4.5-5 hours. I started in trail shoes and walked the road for a mile or two, before transitioning to skins and making the flat trek across the plateau beneath Basin Mountain and Mt. Tom. I listened to a few podcasts and watched the run rise over the Inyo range.
The climb to the basin on Basin Mountain (no pun intended) went super smoothly, and before long I was at the bench beneath all the couloirs off the east face. I had marked on my map the base of the couloir that Alex had skied; it took a few looks up-and-down from my map to pick out the right one. I transitioned to crampons and began to gain the couloir, which snaked left, then right, the back left to the top. The upper 1,000′ of the couloir was very sheltered and still held chalk/powder.
I was glad to be climbing up the couloir early in the morning; Alex was right, it was certainly heating up fast. The snow in the lower couloir was already pretty warm and soft; once I turned the corner into the last 1,000′, it was shaded and I got out of the oven.
The couloir steepened in the upper pitch to an ‘interesting’ level. Probably 45-50 in spots, but it felt comfortable enough to ski solo given the good snow.
I topped out just before 9:30 AM; timing was pretty spot on. I was glad to be descending when I was. The upper pitch was chalk in the shade; as soon as I turned the corner, it immediately turned to corn. There was very little BS skiing down; there was some chunder/debris, but it was avoidable and for the most part soft. A great start to the day!
Near the bottom of the couloir I ran into 3 others who saw me heading up the couloir and wondered ‘what line is that?’ I chatted with them briefly and they planned to follow my route up.
It was just before 10 AM at this point and I was eager to keep going. I transtioned to skins, skinned briefly up to the next bench where the wide ‘Basin Couloir’ begins, and then booted up to the top of the Basin Couloir (which connects with the South Face). In my head, I considered going to the summit (which would involve some rock scrambling), dropping the S Face and heading over to a peak called ‘Peaklet’ and skiing the NE Couloir, or dropping the Basin Couloir and then climbing back up. Looking over at Peaklet, the west face I had planned to climb looked really ‘dirty’ and rocky; I wasn’t that stoked to be doing that solo. I opted to drop the Basin Couloir, which I knew had a booter (since I climbed it), and then drop down the south face. I’d need to be efficient with my time, since that’d put me on the South Chute probably around 12-12:30 PM, but there was a breeze on the south side that was keeping things under control.
The Basin Couloir was super wide and low-angle; it honestly didn’t feel like a couloir but more like a wide open bowl. I skied down the 1,200′ to the bench directly beneath it, transitioned, and then climbed back up. I made it to the top of the South Chute by 12:30 PM; looking down it, it looked like a great corn run.
The south chute was great planar corn; super smooth and fast! Near the bottom it turned into a chute proper, with rock walls lining it.
After skiing the south chute, I hemmed and hawed about what to do next: should I exit? should I take a peek at the NE Couloir on Peaklet? I didn’t want to climb up the west face, but booting up it wasn’t out of the picture. I figured I could at least go and take a look at it booting up it…see how far I get.
Being solo, I had to set all my own booters. I made it about 1,200′ up the Peaklet Couloir before running out of water (and being a little tired). I was content with what I’d done thus far. Time to go home.
The NE Couloir on Peaklet was great warm chalk; below, the slopes to the Buttermilk Road were lovely ripper corn. A nice ski all the way back to my shoes, then a chill walk back to the car capped off a great solo day in the hills.