After the big storm cycles we had roll through the Sierras over President's Day, the backcountry was just asking for a visit...after the snowpack stabilized, of course. On Saturday, Brooke, Ed and I headed south to Carson Pass to pay our respects to Round Top. Our prize line for the day was going to be Crescent Moon Couloir, visible from Highway 88. I got to bring the splitboard and skins since Ed and Brooke are skiers; bonus for me!
When we got out of the car at Carson Pass, it was warm, and the wind had already started blowing. Fortunately, the sky was still clear, but our first hiccup of the day had just reared its head: Brooke forgot her skins!
Brooke bootpacking it
The route is mostly flat from the pass to Winnemucca Lake, and then ascends from there.
Round Top, quite the misnomer
Being gentlemen, Ed and I each strapped one of Brooke's skis to our packs; this is a team effort, after all. As we got closer to Winnemucca Lake, the wind started picking up substantially. There was a warm (8000'+ snowlevel) storm forecast to arrive that evening, so we did well to get our early start and beat the storm as best we could.
Ed having a rest; notice the extra ski
From Winnemucca Lake, the easiest route up is to skin up to the ridge west of the summit and to billygoat up from there. We could see where some other skiers had skinned and then bootpacked up the couloir as high as they could go, but there were a grand total of 3 tracks on the whole face.
Ed skinning up the first part of the ascent
A good look at Crescent Face. Crescent Moon Couloir to skier's left (right side of photo), and an off-chute to skier's right (left side of photo).
Crescent Moon Couloir is a line that changes a lot with the snowpack. No matter what, it's heinously steep; 55º+ at the top, then mellowing to 45-50º from there on out. With a deeper snowpack, one can ski most of the way down the hanging snowfield to the right side of the couloir in the photo, then traverse in. With our relatively low snowpack right now, though, that hanging snowfield equates to exposure and death, so the true entry to the couloir is the only way in.
The entry follows the fall line down to skier's right past a rock in the middle (barely visible as a sliver in the above photo). A few dozen meters past that rock in the middle, the whole thing makes a turn to skier's left where the slope eases a bit.
The chute to the left in the photo is a slightly mellower affair. It's technically got a narrower entry, but it's not quite as steep and the exposure is a couple notches lower. It also widens up past the entry, just like Crescent, but its wide part is a bit more comfortable than Crescent's "wide" part.
Not too far up from Winnemucca Lake, Brooke yelled ahead for us to drop her skis; she was having trouble bootpacking through the soft snow, and summiting would be unlikely for her. The wind was at full force now, moving snow around the slopes, and the clouds were starting to roll in.
A view of part of the Sisters, west of Round Top
As we got further up, the switchbacks started on the skin track...I need some serious help on technique for making those sharp turns.
Ed near the top of the skin track
We got to the top of the skin track and rearranged our gear to climb to the peak, only a few hundred feet away. It took me a few minutes longer than Ed to get ready, as I needed to convert my split board back into a snowboard after I took the skins off my "skis." This splitboard, measuring a healthy 170cm, is a true backcountry assault weapon...best of both worlds!
The view to the south from the top of the skin track
Up on this exposed ridgeline, the wind was fierce, and we could see the sky darkening to the west, although we were in no immediate danger of experiencing a storm.
Finally up top, we peered off the edge of the earth as the terrain below us fell away into nothing. A few steps over to our right was the entry to Crescent!
The entry into Crescent Moon Couloir
It's tough to photograph subtle changes in snow, especially when it's shaded, but there's a very distinct break in the fall line right at the entry. Stay to the right, and you're "safely" in the couloir, but get stuck to the left of that break, and you're committed to the hanging snowfield and its substantial exposure due to the shallow snowpack. Gulp.
Ed and I had a good long talk about the terrain, the exposure, the snowpack, and how they all worked together. "Human factors" are a gigantic contributor to safety in the backcountry, and there's simply no room for bravado. When Ed made it clear that he wasn't comfortable skiing Crescent, it meant it was a no-go for me, too. There's no point putting a member of the group in a position where he may have to follow someone else down a tough line, god forbid, to make a rescue.
So we billygoated along the summit ridge to the east to check out skier's right chute.
The entry into the skier's-right chute
This couloir is still a burly line, but it's way less exposed, and the entry is easier to swallow than the entry to Crescent. Ed was more than comfortable with this one, so we gathered our gear and got ready to drop in. By now, the skies were gray with storm clouds, but at least we were protected from the wind; neither of these couloirs have seen a glimmer of sunlight for a couple months, either!
I dropped in first, worked my way down the narrow throat of the entry through glorious snow, and went to the safe pocket Ed and I had identified from above. The next 5 photos are of Ed skiing the top part of the chute.
Ed ready to drop in
Ed in the couloir...
...working the narrow entry...
...showing how it's done in the white room...
...and down to where it opens up a bit...
Safely to our meeting point, Ed was smiling. The snow was spectacular! I handed the camera off to him and watched him ski the rest of the couloir. My turn! This terrain was steep enough to discourage slab formation, but staying out of my slough was my biggest concern. The snow got heavier lower down, but it was still soft powder. What awesome terrain we got to ride...
The next 6 shots are of me in the couloir from below.
Having fun, outrunning the slough...
...checking the speed...
...the end's in sight; let 'er rip...
...home free, throttle open...
...ready for a big heelside...
...a well-earned turn...
...and a gleeful wheelie...
We leapfrogged each other down to the lake, enjoying every last turn through the wind-buffed bowl.
A rock to drop on the way back down to Winnemucca Lake
Once at the bottom, we converted back to skin travel and started out. Brooke had headed back towards the pass with a few snowshoers (who had wine and homemade Ouzo, can't imagine why she went with them), and the skies were gloomy and the wind was strong through the trees for the whole way back.
Reunited at the car, all that was left was a stop for delicious Mexican food at El Charro Avitia in Carson.
For anyone interested, here's a link to another trip report from Crescent Face. The photos in this report do a good job of illustrating Crescent itself and some of the other amazing lines for the taking when there's more snow (pay particular attention to the big air into the right side of the skier's right chute!). You'd all better believe that I'll be headed back there this season after the snow from the next couple of storms becomes safe...
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