Red Slate Mountain (#50), Mount Izaak Walton (#51), and Red and White Mountain (#52)
Day 44, Red Slate, Izaak Walton and Red & White
Choosing a practical way to link up Red Slate Peak, Mt. Izaak Walton, and Red and White Mountain was tricky. The most efficient route would involve carrying over Red and White. However, its steep east face is an impressive and excellent ski line, which I was eager to tick. In the spring, east faces have the best conditions mid-morning. I could either climb Red Slate and Izaak Walton in the dark to get perfect timing on Red and White, miss out on skiing the face, separate the trip into two days, or ski the face in the late afternoon, hopefully when it had frozen just enough to be safe, but not so much that the skiing would be horrible. Timing the last option would be tricky, but I decided to give it a shot.
Starting just before sunrise, I headed up McGee canyon past picturesque, frozen lakes and snowy peaks, heading towards Red Slate first.
Best known for its striking North Couloir, Red Slate also hosts twin south couloirs which can provide fantastic, fairly moderate corn skiing.
However, contrary to the sunny forecast, I climbed the peak under a thick cloud cover. I hiked up moderate talus to the summit, peering down the steep, rocky, and, unfortunately, out of condition north couloir, then turned my attention back to my line.
Despite the cool and cloudy skies, I found the snow in the couloir had softened just enough to make for very fun, fast skiing. I flew down the line, then continued west down the valley, arcing turns and dodging boulders.
As the terrain began to flatten, I contoured my way south, towards Rohn Pass and Izaak Walton.
Thanks to the cloud cover, the snow was still firm, and I threw my skis on my pack and began walking across the alpine basin on the supportable crust. I climbed up a short, steep pitch and emerged onto the col, where I was treated to my first good view of Izaak Walton, a remote and obscure peak.
My planned route, the third class NE ridge, did indeed look enjoyable, but my attention was fixated on something even more striking. A perfect, steep couloir split the peak’s rocky east face from just below the summit. It was short, only a few hundred feet, but very steep, looking to be sustained at close to 45° for its entire length, and never more than 10 feet wide. It was a total surprise, and I was eager to get a closer look. I skied towards the peak in eager anticipation, and as I got closer the line looked better and better.
I climbed the north east east ridge, carefully navigating the snowy and exposed scrambling. Before long, I reached the top of a snowy gully that quickly dropped out of sight off the ridge. I ditched my skis and pack, and clambered up to what I anticipated would be the summit.
Upon reaching the rocky outcropping, I looked down on the true entrance to the couloir that I had spotted. The summit was still 100 feet above me, and I had dropped my skis in the wrong place. Slightly annoyed by my carelessness, I finished the climb and tagged the summit.
After a few minutes at the summit, I downclimbed to my skis and climbed back up the now very familiar middle section of ridge, back to the entrance of the couloir.
The overcast skies had prevented the snow from softening too much, and as I dropped in to the steep line, I found perfect conditions, soft but edgeable. I slashed fast turns down the slot, tips and tails of my skis mere inches away from the vertical rock walls. As I neared the exit, I lengthened my turns, picking up speed, rocketing out of the bottom of the chute and onto the mellow snowfield below as if shot from a cannon. It was a fantastic little bonus run!
I retraced my route back and over the pass, then began the final climb of the day up Red and White. Once again, I was grateful for the overcast, as the skinning was still easy and efficient in spite of the late hour.
I reached the peak’s north shoulder, then scrambled up steep, snowy rock.
By the time I was on summit, it was late afternoon, and the face had been in the shade for some time.
I eyed my line, noticing an obvious crux section where an exposed rock sat in the middle of a narrow, steep section. From here, it looked like I could sidestep over it, and so I dropped in.
I found the snow to be surprisingly good -- slightly refrozen, stable, and fun. My timing was perfect. I reached the crux, and found that the rock was far too big to step past. The line was very steep here, close to 50 degrees, and safely taking off my skis to downclimb past it would be nearly impossible. I painstakingly scraped my way over the rock, ski tips catching on the narrow walls, desperately clinging to the icy rock below me as I inched my way down it. After a few minutes that felt like an eternity, I lowered myself back onto snow, then pointed it out onto the face.
It was a treat to ski an open face that was so steep -- such lines are rare in the Sierra. Open faces such as this tend to get scoured by the wind. However, the perfect combination of aspect, elevation, and surrounding terrain enable the existence of this 1000’ tall, 45 degree, wide open sheet of snow. I carved wide turns back and forth across it, digging my edges in hard, racing my sluff, feeling like I was ripping an Alaskan line in a ski movie. What a party! I rocketed out onto the flats below, then turned to admire my handiwork.
Heart pumping, I let out a whoop of elation. To top it off, the fun wasn’t over yet! I still had a long, mellow run of great corn on the exit.
I had started the day expecting 1 decent run, 1 sketchy, funky run, and an ok scramble. What I got instead was 3 fantastic and unique descents in great conditions. It was one of the best days of skiing of the season, and certainly one that will stay with me for a very long time.
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