Four Gables (#32)
Day 26, Four Gables
Another day, another summit! On tap for today was Four Gables, a rather unremarkable, flat-topped peak tucked away behind Basin mountain. Many people mistake the much more aesthetic (and taller) unnamed peak just north, which is visible from Bishop, as Four Gables, but it is not so. Why this one qualified as an SPS peak while the other did not is a mystery to me.
I planned to approach from Pine Creek, as this route would provide the best chance of being able to ski from near the summit. I was unable to find any information on the route up the north couloir, aside from one trip report from a party that tried and failed to ski it last winter, in part because it was completely stripped bare.
Secor’s guide mentions 6(!) routes up the peak, but not a word about the north couloir. Looking at the topo map, it seemed perfectly feasible, and like it should hold snow… I set out for it, hoping for the best, but with my trail runners in tow in case I was presented with snow-free third class choss.
The Gable Lakes Trail winds steeply up out of Pine Creek Canyon, and coverage was patchy. On the way up, the snow was frozen solid, and required constant removing and replacing my ski crampons, first to traverse the steep ice, then to pick my way up sections of dry, rocky trail. Progress was slow and frustrating, and I knew it would be nearly as tedious on the way down. I felt tired, annoyed, and wasn’t very interested in hauling myself and my skis up thousands of vertical peak to ski garbage snow, or no snow at all.
Thankfully, just as my frustrations reached a tipping point, I emerged out of the steep, narrow canyon and into a glorious, open, alpine basin filled with snow and lined with incredible granite buttresses. I immediately decided to put the angst of the approach behind me and give myself a fresh start, full of optimism and stoke. I cruised up the basin, the progress now much easier and more enjoyable.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the snow was smooth and soft, a far cry from the rough, choppy, firm windboard I had been finding in other areas. To make it even better, there were a few inches of light, velvety powder, miraculously untouched by the wind. I quickened my pace, eager to get to the summit, then back down to the goods.
Ahead, I could see the gully I hoped to ascend. My high spirits sank -- It was indeed full of bare, unforgiving talus. It seemed I was in for a miserable summit climb and descent. It wasn’t until I was directly below the couloir that a perfect strip of snow running its entire length appeared, as if by magic, tucked along the skiers left wall. I eagerly booted up it, and found excellent, egeable chalk -- perfect snow for a steep descent. Needless to say, I was stoked. Couloir booting is hard work, and the day was fairly warm, so I had my coat unzipped and gloves off.
Suddenly, as I crested the top of the line, I was blasted by a fire hose of icy spindrift, accompanied by a gust of wind so forceful that it nearly knocked me back down the couloir. I was instantly soaked, my coat full of icy shards and hands numb. I dropped my pack and frantically stumbled across the plateau, blinded by the blowing snow, searching desperately for the summit.
I clambered onto one rocky knoll, then noticed another that looked higher just a little further away. I continued onto that summit, then realized that, in my haste, I’d left my Inreach behind in my pack. Oh, well.
I snapped a couple photos and a short video, then made a beeline back to my skis, ready to escape from the gale back down into the couloir.
I stomped into my bindings and dropped in, welcoming the relief from the icy weather. The skiing was indeed amazing, first the steep, stable, predictable turns in the couloir, followed by the glorious powder in the basin below. I whooped and laughed as I linked wide, fast turns below the towering peaks.
Those brief, wonderful moments made all the frustration of the approach so, so worth it. I rode the wave of ecstasy all the way back to my van, and having to take my skis on and off 38 times (yes, I counted) on the way out did little to dampen my spirits. I even found some more fun, slushy turns!
What I had expected to be a frustrating, tedious slog turned into one of the best days yet. Onward!
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