Onion Valley, located off highway 395 on the
eastern side of California's southern Sierra, is a backcountry
skier's candy store. Treats for the adventurous abound. We go
every year and explore the goods below University Peak, Kearsarge
Pass and the surrounding bowls and chutes. One of my favorite
overnight trips involves a quick high and light hike up to a
group of lakes that sit right underneath a broad, north-facing
bowl off of University.
This last trip we wanted to do something close
in, as the weather was pretty crummy. A very light rain had driven
us into the van the night before at the trail head campground,
and the clouds further in looked like they held the promise of
more rain. That morning, standing in the parking lot at the end
of the road, we looked to the south and saw that the sun was
out and shining in that area, I recalled a chute that I had done
part of once before, and would really like to do again. We headed
off to climb the above pictured shot off of Independence Peak.
Above: Car camping above 9,000 feet. Right: Our goal, the
big main chute off of Independence Peak.
The climb up was, like most chute climbs,
a seemingly endless succession of steps upward. We traded leads
breaking trail, the snow became softer and the posthole factor
increased as we got higher. This is unusual and was probably
a result of the light rain the night before. By the time we got
to the top section we were sinking in pretty far. The wet snow
was a concern, from an avalanche safety standpoint, but the snow
pack had checked out OK earlier so we continued up, all the while
keeping a close eye out for signs of instability. Here is an
mpeg of Joemandoo in the lead, check out the fast moving clouds
above the peak.
Link to Movie for best clarity I like to
right click the image and choose 100% from the Zoom menu
Below: Joe climbing, so near yet so far! Right:
Scott and Big Tim resting near the top.
After resting up top for awhile, the clouds
started to move in, we quickly finished lunch, mine a Power bar
and in Big Tim's case a mega sandwich (Big Tim didn't get to
be Big Tim by eating Power bars for lunch!), and geared up for
the descent. I shot mpeg movies all the way down, to see one
from our descent go on over and check out the clip now playing
on TeleVision. Suffice it to say that we had a sweet time skiing
down. The chute would close in and widen out, over and over.
Widely spaced trees dotted the shots off to the skier's right
side which would funnel back into the main chute.
By the time we got back to the car, the clouds
had moved in for good and more rain had begun to fall. As we
drove down the road and stopped to take the picture at the top
of this article and look back up at the chute, we smiled Cheshire
cat grins, knowing that we had schralped it and dodged the rain
bullet thoroughly. Life was good, very good!
Heading down 395
Information: The easy access to Onion Valley
is one of its great points, just drive to the town of Independence
on Hwy. 395 (South of Bishop, north of Lone Pine) and turn west
at the post office. The road winds up into the canyon and ends
at 9,200 feet. Check out the topo map "Kearsarge Peak"
or take a look at this map
Go prepared or don't go. These are big mountains
with constantly variable weather and the thin air over 10,000
feet is always a factor. Be aware of both avalanche and rockfall
danger and try to go with someone who has been there before.