Prologue: I was pacing the house after a recent trip blew up (two people turned back and the remaining one twisted his knee). I knew I'd feel better after being in the high country for a few days. Of course, no one else was free mid-week so this turned out to be a solo trip.
On Wednesday, I flew over Carson Pass on wonderfully dry and deserted roads, spending about 6 hours from San Francisco to Mammoth. The McGee Creek road was clear of all snow (including the shoulders - it was BARE) to the trailhead.
It was about an hour's walk to where snow first covered the trail. Another hour later you needed snowshoes or skis in the afternoon, but the morning snow was hard as a rock. The truly skiable snowline was around 9000' and by 10000' all the streams and lakes were buried in an amazingly thick blanket of snow. Of course I lost the trail as soon as it entered the trees, but the going was pretty easy with climbing skins on the right (north) side. Don't stay too close to the stream, but watch out for the rocky ridge that points toward Grass Lake... too high and it becomes cliffs. Anyway, this is a very scenic approach, with much more snow than I saw in the Convict Lake drainage once I got to the summit.
I wound up at my anticipated campsite around noon, so decided to camp higher (11000+ near Little McGee Lake) where there are no trees but plenty of soft windslab from which to cut snow blocks. I built a snug wall around my bivy bag and settled in for a nap just about when the wind kicked up. The next four hours were fairly unsettling - clouds raced in from several directions and wrestled directly overhead. They shredded each other and regrouped for another waive of kamikaze attacks while a higher layer darkened the sky. Oops? Nope. It was just a reminder who's boss: the clouds slowed down and drifted away just about as it got dark, but I had fair warning.
Friday (summit day) I was walking by 6am, at McGee Pass by 730, and on the summit of Red Slate by 9am. I wasn't going to wait for the return of the clouds! It turns out, however, that I could have left my skis in camp and taken only crampons. Dicey icy on skis! I used skins and tried to stay off the edges, preferring to go straight up the center of the drainage on heel blocks. There was no sign of any avalanches anywhere along my route, but there were some snowballs that had rolled off the rocks and made hash of the upper slopes. From the pass to the summit I left the skis and just kicked steps. Some places required two or three hard kicks with plastic boots to get a firm foothold, but the styrofoam would have been perfect for self arrest had I slipped.
The register is somewhere under what looks like 5 to 10 feet of snowdrift. It should burn off quickly in the spring sun and wind... Did I mention the wind? I climbed in three layers of polypro and full coverage gortex, gloves, face mask, cap, and my hood pulled tight around my face. It was windy, and it was below freezing, but a spur of the summit ridge got me out of the wind for close to an hour of gazing and relaxing. Once back down to the saddle the clothes flew off and the late morning slush made for an easy ski back to camp. I should repeat that there appears to be NO avalanche danger in either the McGee or Convict drainages, but that's just my observation (the steep cliffs are bare, and the less steep ones don't have any slumps or slides). Use caution.
I saw some yo-yo-skier tracks, and two people had been in the area on snowshoes, but no one was around while I was there. Peaceful, mostly warm, no rain or snow, no traffic on the roads, just what the doctor ordered. Stopping in Mammoth for food and gas reminded me of what I had gone high to escape - crowds and noise and impatient people.
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