Skiing Mary Austin

2-4 Apr 2004 - by Jim Crouch

Mark and I set out Thursday afternoon from San Diego in northbound I 15 traffic. Then on the I 215 north of San Bernardino we encountered stop and go traffic due to an accident over the pass at Oak Hill. We eventually cleared the traffic and Friday morning we joined the other participants at the trail head (2175m or 7136' on the Onion Valley Rd). They were Leslie Hofherr, Brad McHose, Angel Ocana, Stefan Schiede, Reiner Stenzel (co-Ldr on this joint SPS-SMS trip), Mark Vogt, and I. (Tele skiers were outnumbered by randonee 3 to 4.) Under partly cloudy skies the group set off hiking on the old mine road (2175m or 7136' on Onion Valley Rd) past Sardine Canyon and to Little Onion, CA (2380m) were we left the road for bushwhacking through manzanita, sage, and ultimately stream crossing through willows. After crossing we went up the middle of the relatively flat valley aiming for the climbers left side of the first bench in the canyon. After again crossing the stream we found the bottom of a chute with enough snow to get our skis off our backs. As the chute slowly steepened the snow became harder. Exiting near the top brought us to easier terrain, but still very hard snow. After more climbing we arrived at the last stand of trees in the canyon (elevation 3270m, 10,730') under threatening skies for our camp. The four tents were quickly setup and a luxurious snow kitchen dug -- camp was established. The kitchen gave a pleasant venue for dinner and getting to know each other or catching up after our approach and climb to altitude. Friday night the wind blustered and five to six inches of snow accumulated at camp.

Saturday morning, after breakfast we set out at about 8:00 am under cloudy skies, through snow flurries, and at times very limited visibility. The route is up canyon to the Parker Lakes and then to the hanging valley on the north side of the main canyon. From the valley we climbed to the saddle west of Mount Mary Austin. There was new snow covering the rocky slopes. The ridge east to the summit was Class 2 covered by one foot of fresh snow, exposed to more winds and still the low visibility. At noon six of us gathered on the summit. After an unsuccessful search for a register we signed in on a sheet of paper and left it in a plastic bag under a newly constructed cairn on the 13,048' summit in hopes (expectations) that the next party would put it into the register. Our descent was the way we came. Along the ridge we got glimpses through the clouds of the slopes of Acrodectes and Baxter Peaks to the north. The strong skiers had a blast skiing down the bench to the Parker Lakes. From the Parker Lakes we made a short tour to the end of the Little Onion Valley to the impressive south face of Black Mountain (13,291'). The waning storm gave us some tantalizing looks at blue sky and even, briefly, our own shadows. The return to our camp was an easy run from the end of the canyon.

Saturday night we again got snow, but little wind this time. Sunday morning we were treated to clear skies and sunshine. Early in the morning (before breakfast!) Brad, Angel, and Stefan had signed out to ski some of the chutes tempting them up in the canyon. We remaining four enjoyed breakfast in camp then packed up and skied out. We were treated to gentle bowls and new, very nice snow. Our skiing was burdened only by our heavy packs. We descended a different chute than our ascent and found it to be the preferred route. It is to climber's right of the obvious chute, behind a rib at the bottom of the bench. The willows along the stream below 2600m (8530') were budding what a difference from our wintry camp. Our way out kept to the south side of the canyon which gave somewhat better travel conditions no escaping the willowy stream crossing, however. At Little Onion we took a break and adjusted clothing for the higher temperatures of the hike out on the mine road. Soon we arrived at the cars, changed clothes, reset our watches/clocks, and departed for our homes.

This was a challenging, but enjoyable outing. Thanks to all participants and to Reiner for his help.

MaryAustin routeMap

MaryAustin descent

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