Friday, January 20, 2012

Sierra Lemonade

Mt. Whitney in early January 2012.  photo: Alex Few
Well I always thought lemonade was a summer brew, but as it turns out California lemons tend to ripen in the late fall or early winter. I learned this thanks to a stubborn airmass called the Hudson Bay Low. This atmospheric feature decided to park itself for the long term this winter. This may have worked out well for Alaska skiers so far this season, but it has left us high and dry. 

One year after the raucous start to what became the biggest winter in Mammoth Mountain’s history last year, we now sit at less than 14% of normal snowpack. Indeed, a fine citrus harvest of one gigantic, ripe lemon of an early ski season. What I mean by that is: the Reno area had the driest December since 1883 and recorded a drought of 56 days without measurable precipitation until it got a dusting North of town, Tioga Pass stayed open until January 17th- later into the winter than it has since the 1930’s, people have been hiking in shorts, road biking, and sunbathing shirtless in the darkest part of winter, and climbing 14’ers in Winter like it is July.
Ice climbing on Drug Dome, Tuolumne Meadows, Dec 2011

Depressing this may sound, call it “June-uary” or “November 78th" if you will, but the truth is that it has been an early winter for the history books like nothing I have experienced in the Eastern Sierra, and we may never again. I say this in a most positively uplifting and gracious way. Nature reminds us from time to time that some things are unexpected and beyond our control. Those times actually present the greatest opportunities for us if we are open to seeing them. The critical ingredient – sugar – transforms a sour liquid into a sweet and delicious taste sensation.

Summit of Cathedral Peak, Winter Solstice 2011
I want to thank my local friends, clients, and adventurers in the greater online community who have embraced the Sierra drought in the last month. I have been inspired to enjoy steep, sunny sport climbing in the Owens River Gorge, boulder with my 15 month old son in the Druids, climb sunny alpine rock in Tuolumne in the sparking low light of solstice, learn to ice skate and experience the unforgettable ambience of backcountry alpine ice skating in the Palisades, climb legendary, ephemeral ice formations in Yosemite that are rarely in condition and normally take days to approach on skis, mountain bike after work with my family.  These are experiences that have created lasting memories I will always be grateful for. The 15 ski runs so far I have taken this season on Mammoth Mountain, not so much.

Ice skating with the family on Tenaya Lake. January 14, 2012
Am I ready for snow? Yes, I am. And it is coming very soon. I will no doubt savor the cool and refreshing lemonade we tasted through the early winter though, even as the cold February powder hits my face and my mind obsesses once again about ski lines and snowy adventures.  - Howie

Check out this trip report for the last ice climb we had in Yosemite, finishing just moments before the Tioga Pass Road finally closed for the season…

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mt. Whitney Winter

Indulge me a bit here, if you will.  Usually I try and post SMG trip reports here from the guests' perspective.  What made this trip special for him or her?  What did he or she bring to the trip that made it so enjoyable?  How did he or she rise to the challenges our beautiful Sierra offer? Believe me, Jason had an excellent time on Whitney, going above and beyond his own expectations.  An early January Whitney summit is a big deal for this fine-art carpenter from Brooklyn.

However, I can best describe the trip in my own terms.  Never before have I seen so few people on Whitney.  Never have I been so pleasantly surprised by travel conditions in the mountains.  Most importantly, I am utterly blown away by how this foray to the hills has cooled my wicked case of "snow fever."  Like virtually all US skiers right now, I am feeling in my very bones the lack of snow.  This snow sickness is a brutal beast.  It drives us crazy when the snow doesn't come, and leaves us distracted and overwhelmed with joy when it does.  However, tromping around in a clean and crisp and icy Whitney Zone has left me appreciative of all the options we have here and thankful for the flexible mountain athletes that come to SMG.  During those 3 magical days (and over a subsequent week of crampon-clad day-tripping) never did the insidious depression of a snow-deprived soul rear its head. Check out some pictures.