For months, since moving to June Lake in early July, I’ve looked out my window each morning at the east aspect of Mount Wood. I also learned how to ski this year.
Now, let your imagination wander, like mine tends to do.
Mount Wood isn’t mega. There are numerous larger, more technical, more mega lines in the eastern Sierra. But seeing it from my window makes it feel a little like my mountain.
Still, it’s generously proportioned. 12,657’ at the summit, and 5,500’ of prominence down to the base at Grant Lake, only three miles away.
What’s pizza? What’s a wedge? My first time on skis, opening weekend at a resort nearby, went as you’d expect. The possibility of skiing Wood before the end of the season—within a couple months—seemed slim to none.
The road paralleling Silver Lake closes during the winter. Avalanches rip down the paralleling ridge, continuously burying the road with runouts leading past the shoreline. The winter approach adds several miles.
But in the spring, a brief window opens. The road is plowed, but snow no longer falls, and the berms remain several feet high.
A cold group of stand on the snowy shoulder of the 158. The Rush Creek trailhead parking lot isn’t yet clear, but this will do. Boots on, snacks packed, toes locked, off we go.
The spring thaw, while not fully in swing, has already made noticeable impact at lower elevations. Dirt patches are showing. Our first steps are on snow, but connecting between us and the Parker bench requires several small bets.
A wrong turn to bridge a thirty foot snow gap is, ultimately, a small inconvenience, but stakes feel high to an obsessive mind. Large wet sloughs of isothermal sludge pour out of chutes above the bench we’re climbing.
The proceeding days have been warm. Slides make good visual cues to mind rising afternoon temperatures.
Suggesting Lucas’ dog, Spot, is just along for the ride would be inaccurate. No, he runs far ahead of us, sniffing out the best skin track. Occasionally he darts back, ensuring we’re not farming it.
My setup is super light, optimized for the uphill, but it’s no match. Four legs outfitted with nature’s crampons is way faster.
Stopping to take a break, spot runs circles around us, barking insistently, “Snowball! Snowball!” After climbing out of the a depression in the bench towards the main event I’m feeling good.
Locked into an existing fresh skin track, and moving fast. The responsible party comes into view ahead, climbing a gulley. Looking back, my group has a more relaxed approach.
Entirely understandable—two of them are coming from sea level, and what’s the rush anyway? But sometimes when feeling good it’s fun to push, and today is that day for me.
I pause to enjoy the view, and soon they’ve caught up. “Is it cool if I push ahead, hit the chute, link back up with you, and climb it again for a second lap?” “Yeah! No problem.”
After a few passable kick turns booting has greater efficiency. Decent steps from recent past ascents, fortunately, remain decently intact.
Up, up, up the gut.
The party ahead drops, traversing south and bypassing the chute I’m ascending. Sierra summits stretch on behind them, horizon to horizon. Smiles stretch all around, ear to ear.
Steep steps ease into a rollover. A few hundred feet remain to the summit—loose rock, annoying in boots, and something I’d need to repeat shortly. The majority of the good stuff below, this seems a good spot to transition for lap one.
From here I have direct line of sight to my window, where part of my emergent winter morning ritual includes staring at this point while pouring a coffee.
Stop for a second to appreciate the moment. The early doubt in my ability, and being grateful for friends across the east side in mentoring me, and all the invitations to go level up.
A ski line is a unique mark. The snow uniformly masks underlying complex terrain. Scree and talus become perfectly interpolated planes. Entire cliff-bands are filled in from wind loading. It smooths it all out.
So when the surface is marked by a line, it’s really defined.
Snow drips like molasses, gravity slowly pulling the mass down. It also shatters like glass when unable to support a load. All of this makes lines incredibly ephemeral. They don’t last. A few days, at most.
The line captures movement over time.
A form of imaging. Motion projected on the landscape. A series of micro-decisions, delicate muscle movements, electrical and chemical reactions firing. Working with and against gravity. All in response to the terrain.
A moment when the temperature and wind was just so. The sun at that exact angle. The winter’s history captured in layers of interlocking granules—some strong, others weak. This season’s atmospheric patterns, captured; warm moist air from the tropics, cool dry air from the poles.
And you’re interfacing with it all, mind and body.
It lasts a few minutes, then you look back at the line. It’s like a dream, but you see the mark—perfect documentation of it all.
I rejoin the group at the base of the climb, where the bench steepens into a climb. After briefly skinning, I follow Lucas up the boot pack for my second lap, still in a daze from the first drop.
The wind is driving as we approach the summit. A few hundred feet to go, then we’re standing on top. Looking over the backside of Wood; Algers lakes below us. Rogers, Lyle, and McClure to the west. The Minarets and Banner to the south.
The three of us drop, leap frogging down the gulley. Three-thousand feet of the good stuff. Turns soon zig-zagged across the broad slope, each of us contributing our marks.
Slope angle mellows, bench soon underfoot. Towering mature trees, their neighbors buried beneath the record snowpack, embarrassingly masquerade as small shrubs, like miniature evergreen icebergs as we zoom past.
The return to the car was similarly dreamy. Long lazy party turns, all of us weaving in and out. Silver Lake rushed to meet us. Reversing the puzzle connecting patchy snow fields.
Each soon arrived back at the van, a defining day of the season behind and above us.