Scheelite Chute

Lower Scheelite debris

Scheelite Chute is a 6000-foot southeast-facing line in Pine Creek, a couloir and face rising from some old mining ruins to near the summit of Adamson Point. It is famously warm, so with cool temperatures and strong west winds forecast, it seemed like one of the best skiing options for the day. Kim and I had done it before, only to be turned around by softening snow below the final chute, so perhaps this time we could top out. We were not the only ones who had the idea to ski Scheelite: there were two other groups of three and another man by himself on the line. It was large enough not feel crowded to me, but Kim is more accustomed to the quiet parts of the Sierra, and did not appreciate the traffic.

Massive pinwheel

We started out picking our way around sagebrush, then over mountains of avalanche debris from the massive slides unleashed by the solar faces above, then funneled between the sheer granite cliffs of what, in summer, is a popular climbing area. The snow smoothed and the skinning improved above the pinch, and we switchbacked our way up the bowl, ignoring branches and slowly reeling in one group of three. As the slope steepened again, we switched to booting near the largest snow pinwheel I have ever seen, over ten feet in diameter. The previous warm days had unleashed wet slides, littering much of the chute with fresh debris and promising some tiresome skiing. We could see John and his friends ahead, just entering the final left-trending chute.

Morgan and high mine

Continuing up the steepening slope, we had our doubts about this outing, as the ice-balls and mini-sastrugi were not softening. While Kim paused at the base of the final chute, I cramponed up a bit, finding hard snow, a runnel, and side-slip tracks on one side. It looked somewhere between unsafe and unfun to ski, and Kim was having none of that, but I wanted to reach the top enough to put up with some unpleasantness. I motored on up the fresh bootpack (thanks, Sam!), and caught up with John’s group of three just after they topped out. It was comfortable in the lee of the ridge, but cold as soon as one stepped into the open. We spent a few minutes admiring the view over the other side of Bear Creek Spire and its neighbors, marveled at the old mine perched just below the ridge near 13,000 feet, then retreated to have a snack. Adamson Point was only a ten-minute scramble away, but I had already visited this minor bump, and lacked motivation to return.

Bowl and lower choke

I dropped in first, boldly linking turns on the wide top until I was out of sight, then descending via a cowardly mixture of jump-turns and side-slipping. The runnel was narrow enough to cross with a bit of momentum, but only barely. The solitary skier we had seen earlier was still booting up the couloir, but by staying on the opposite side of the trough I was able to avoid pelting him with debris. Fortunately the others held back, sparing me fire from above, until I was out into the bowl. The skiing there was at least open and somewhat faster, but still chunky and difficult, and I frequently stopped to rest my inexplicably dead legs. I dodged left around the worst of the avalanche debris, then found some good skiing above the final piles of avy debris. The valley bottom was melting rapidly, and I had to walk more of the sagebrush than I had in the morning on my way back to the car.

There are multiple directions to tour out of Pine Creek, but I noticed that one of my skis’ bases had started to delaminate, perhaps after a bad encounter with an ice-ball. I drove down to the highway to get cell service and figure out what to do about that — I had planned to buy new(er) skis at the end of this season, but not right away. There are some shops in Bishop and Mammoth, but their selection and prices are questionable. As I was about to head into town, I noticed John parked nearby, and went over to say “hi.” I mentioned my problem, and he promptly offered to loan me the spare pair of skis he was carrying with him! Rearmed, I drove back to the end of the road to try another direction that would hopefully prove more pleasant, and less damaging to equipment.

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