The huge snow year of 2023 makes many lines in the eastern Sierra ‘fatter’ than normal. Mt. Tom’s SE Face is one of them.
Mt. Tom stands high above the town of Bishop, towering 10,000′ above the low desert. From almost anywhere in town, you stare directly at the SE Face. It has a number of chutes and descent options.
John, Jonathan, and I wanted to get on Mt. Tom and left open the idea of skiing something on the neighboring Basin Mountain as well.
We were able to drive up the Buttermilk Road to the intersection of the Buttermilk Road and FS 7S04. From there, the road was washed out so we just walked until hitting snow around the Horton Lakes trailhead. The low snow coverage and overnight re-freeze made travel quick and smooth to the Horton Lakes drainage south of Mt. Tom.
We opted to climb the S Face of Mt. Tom, thinking that we’d ski the S Face and then link up with a line on the north side of Basin Mountain. The broad bowl up the South Face of Mt. Tom was re-frozen and quick to ascend. I opted to just crampon; John and Jonathan skinned with ski crampons for a few thousand feet, before transitioning to boot crampons as well.
Near the top of the broad bowl, the South Face constricts into a series of gullies. Only one of them goes clean to the ridge. We followed this gully to the ridge crest, where we booted/scrambled to the summit. The snow on the south face was hard and not softening as we were climbing up it. Enough of a breeze was delaying corn formation on pure south aspects. We feared the south face might not soften, so we discussed going to the summit and then skiing the SE Face, which would have gotten more hours of sun.
From the car, it took us roughly 7 hours to summit. We stood on top of Tom and gazed out at the Owens Valley below.
We audibled to ski the SE Face, knowing that it would be softer and that we could sneak back into the Horton Lakes drainage by turning skier’s right out of the main gully feature. There were 2-3 tracks on the SE Face from days prior. The snow was soft and a bit loose; I skied it first, kicking off a few wet loose slides here and there. Jonathan went second, then John. The snow was warm and mushy; it had certainly cooked in the morning. We cautiously skied one at a time through the constrictions, making sure not to kick off wet loose debris on one another.
The SE Face drains all the way back to the Horton Lakes trailhead area, but we wanted to curl back towards the Horton Lakes drainage just to the north of Basin Mountain. There was a way we could climb up and over the southern ridgeline of Mt. Tom and ski down. We had to boot up one short pitch to connect to it. Once we were on the south side of Tom, we skied RIPPER corn down to the drainage below Basin. It was soul skiing at its finest.
Once back in the Horton Lakes drainage, we waffled over what to do next. We had entertained the idea of curling around the NW side of Basin Mountain and dropping the Basin Couloir. We also entertained the idea of booting up one of the north facing couloirs right above us. Ultimately, I opted to exit for a few reasons: it was exceptionally hot with no breeze and I was feeling concerned about how wet and loose the snow might get. John and Jonathan (and another guy we met on the climb up) opted to go and check out one of the north facing couloirs on Basin. I parted ways, agreeing to meet back up in Bishop later that day.
On my exit out, a breeze picked up and I started to kick myself a bit for exiting early when the snow was probably going to be fine on north aspects. I opted to skin up a mellow pitch on my exit out to milk some more corn turns. The slope led me directly back to the Horton Lakes trailhead, where I picked up the shoes I had stashed and walked back to the car.