Sierra trip continues…
Matt had the idea of linking up two awesome looking couloirs on Mt. Emerson: the Zebra Couloir and the North Couloir. Both seemed pretty simple, with a mellow approach and ‘boot straight up’ strategy. We also kept open the idea of adding on some lines to the north: Checkered Demon, Kindergarten Chute, or the Wahoo Gullies on Mt. Locke.
We drove to Bishop Park Campground (there was a plowed pull-out) and began touring at 4:50 AM. We wanted an early start to leave the door open to extending the day. The approach to the Emerson drainage was very straightforward and chill…some sidehilling and low-angle skinning. Within a few hours we were right beneath Emerson, staring upwards at the massive couloirs.
We opted to boot up Zebra first, as it was the closest to us. The ‘zebra’ rock, the namesake of the line, was stunning.
The couloir was wonderfully direct, consistently steep, and dramatically carved into the mountainside. Booting up took a while but was overall pretty straightforward. We had nice chalk, with a few inches of boot penetration.
The top few turns of the Zebra were awkward, grabby chalk. On one jump turn I got thrown off-balance and backseat, to the point where I leaned too far back on the tails of my skis and snapped one of my skis behind the heel. SHUCKS! I was able to continue skiing down, making cautious turns leaning forward into the shovel of the ski. I had less effective edge, but overall the skiing was okay.
At first, my knee-jerk reaction was to bail out to the car. Skiing on a broken ski seemed like a sure-fire way to hurt myself. However, after skiing the Zebra (which was pretty consistently 40 degrees), I felt like I could ski on the ski as long as I was cautious and leaning into the front of the ski. I really wanted to keep going, since the snow and ambience was so good. I figured that as long as there wasn’t bad fall potential on the lines we were going to ski, it would be okay?
I opted to ski over to the north couloir and at least ‘take a peek’. It looked similar to Zebra: straight up and down. I really wanted to keep going, so I opted to ‘rally’ and see how the ski would hold up. Thankfully, the snap was behind the heel and not completely de-laminating. I figured that as long as I didn’t crash, the ski would hold up the rest of the day.
The North Couloir was similar snow to the Zebra, but had more tracks in it. The tracks were stale and wind had cleaned them up. Similar chalk, firm and supportable. We topped out the couloir but opted not to go to the summit. We had more skiing to do!
Skiing the North Couloir went surprisingly smoothly on the broken ski! Having to lean into the front of the ski emphasized proper jump turn technique. I was pleased with my decision to keep going.
Once we skied North Emerson, we were stoked to keep going. The temperatures were such that south aspects were still firm and not yet overcooked. We figured we could gain the south slopes up to Kindergarten Chute. Matt really wanted to check out ‘Checkered Demon’; with my broken ski, the 55 degree slope of Checkered Demon seemed too aggressive, so I would opt for Kindergarten Chute and then the Wahoo Gully on Mt. Locke. I’d be able to ski both of those with less-than-ideal gear.
The climb up to Kindergarten Chute was very simple; a little bit of booting to gain the broad slope up to the ridge. We peered into Kindergarten Chute and it looked similar to Emerson: straight down and consistently 35-40 degrees. More chalky couloir skiing!
Again, Kindergarten skied chalky and consistent. Lovely! Matt continued towards the base of Checkered Demon to check it out; I turned around at the base of Kindergarten Chute to boot back up towards Mt. Locke. A few hundred feet up I notice Matt coming back up towards me. He said that there was a bergschrund at the base of Checkered Demon that he preferred to not climb up but felt okay descending. He’d boot up Kindergarten Chute with me and then we’d split up, him going to Checkered Demon and me going to Locke. I was glad to have another person to help with the booting!
Matt and I split ways at the top of Kindergarten, agreeing to meet back up at the car. I was only a few minutes from the top of the main Wahoo Gully. It is NE facing and I hoped it would have softened by 2:30 PM or so, when I got to the top of it. Unfortunately, it had not; winds throughout the day had kept it firm. I wasn’t the most thrilled to be skiing a 35-40 degree couloir in firm frozen corn, but I felt comfortable enough to continue on.
Cautiously, I skied my way down the main Wahoo Gully. Near the bottom old sluff provided some softer turns, but overall it was pretty hard. At the bottom of the gully, I looked back up…the line pretty cool, with big rock walls.
From the base of the Wahoo Gully I was able to ski traverse almost all the way back to the car. I had to transition once to gain one more bench, but overall it was very smooth. Matt caught up with me on the last climb and we linked back up. He reported that Checkered Demon was pretty chewed up by a few skiers before him that had side-stepped/side-slipped. I was pretty glad that I forewent that with my broken ski.
Overall, the linkup was smooth (albeit the broken ski) and featured great couloirs!