15/03/2022 8:50:00 pm, Nathan

Mount Morrison (#28)

Day 23, Mount Morrison

I set out from Convict Lake into the pre-dawn darkness. My objective for the day was a ski descent of Mt. Morrison’s east face. Morrison is a very striking peak, it’s immense and foreboding north face towering above the lake. The east face is more moderate, although it still makes for a fairly steep and engaging ski.

I hiked through the darkness, surprised and a little bewildered. It was just so… dark! I had started at 5:20 and the sun should come up a little after 6, surely there must be at least some dusky glow by now… I pulled it my phone to check what time sunrise was -- 7:08. Then it dawned on me -- I had fallen prey to my lifelong nemesis, daylight savings time. Truly, it is one of the single most impractical and unnatural societal norms we impose upon ourselves. Oh, well. At least that gave me some extra time to climb and ski the face before the warm spring sun turned it to a dangerous pile of mush.

As I wrapped around the base of the peak towards my line, the bottom part of the face seemed impenetrable, guarded by rocky cliffs.

I knew that a southeast facing gully supposedly provided passage to the face above, but it was completely impossible to pick out. I kept traversing below the face, straining for a glimpse of my route. Suddenly, it appeared!

A perfect little chute connecting to the base of the massive, hanging snowfield above. Fortunately, it was indeed a moderate route. Unfortunately…. It was utterly devoid of snow. So much for a clean, continuous descent. I hiked up to the base of it, took off my crampons, and clawed my way up the 300’ of loose, muddy talus. It was far from ideal, but at least the face above had adequate snow coverage. The quality of the snow up high, however, left some to be desired as well -- patches of deep, wet new snow lay dispersed among the more consolidated spring snowpack. I did my best to avoid these patches, but inevitably I had to wallow through many of them, upward progress difficult and taxing as I sank to my knees and further.

The rising sun began to warm things up quickly, and I knew I had to hurry up and down before dangerous wet slides became an issue. I slogged my way on up to the summit and enjoyed the new perspective on a familiar area.

My favorite part of the view was the striking Pinner Couloir on Laurel Mountain, my favorite ski line in the Sierra. Impossibly long and narrow, it winds for thousands of feet between immense, sweeping, multi-colored cliffs.

It just may be the most aesthetic ski line in the world. Nearly as stunning is the North Couloir of Red Slate -- a line at the top of every aspiring Sierra Ski Mountaineer’s to-do list. Unfortunately, it requires a deeper snowpack than we have this year to safely navigate the incredibly exposed entry traverse.

I took a moment to enjoy the lofty position and sign the summit register, then it was onto the skis and down the steepness!

Given how manky it seemed on the way up, the snow actually made for decent skiing, and all too soon I found myself back at the snowless exit chute.

I gingerly removed my skis on an insecure perch at the border of snow and loose talus, then hobbled down the awkward terrain to the glorious apron waiting below. After successfully, albeit clumsily, navigating the chute, I clicked back into my skis and ripped huge, celebratory turns down to the flats. I spun around for a look back up at the face, often the best part of skiing a big line.

After that, I cruised fun, funky snow all the way back to the van. I kept the speed up as the snow became more and more sporadic, dodging brush and rocks. When I was almost back, just a few turns from the parking lot, I caught a ski tip on a stealthy sagebrush and was sent sprawling, narrowly avoiding impaling myself on my whippet (ice axe-ski pole combo). Oh well -- I suppose I have to be kept humble and cautious somehow!

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