Labeled summit pano

A single ski day at Mammoth Mountain now costs $210; a day at June Mountain, its smaller neighbor to the north, costs $190. Even skinning up Mammoth will set you back $80. Those of us among the 99 percent with a bit of energy therefore head farther north to Mount Wood, the people’s ski resort, where a day of skiing costs about $2 in peanut butter sandwiches. Wood boasts about 5000 feet of skin-served vertical directly off the June Lake Road, with a number of runs of varying difficulty on its east face. Skiing Wood will not give you the same bragging rights as skiing Red Slate or Laurel, but it is actually fun enough to do more than once.

Carson from the skin track

I drove into the June Lake Loop road relatively late and found that, consistent with the CalTrans website, the road was gated three miles past the “town.” I was worried about being forbidden from sleeping at the gate — as the number of people doing that here has grown, so has the prevalence of “no camping” signs — but there were already two other cars with skiers obviously bedding down, so I pulled off the highway, prepared my pack, and set my alarm for “early” to catch the east-facing line in good condition. I ended up starting out before the others, walking about a mile of road before putting on my boots and skis to skin directly from the trailhead just past the mobile home park. The snow was fairly crusty, and there was some slide debris to navigate, but I managed to make it quite a ways up before switching to boots, and was pleased to find supportive snow.

Wood bowls

I continued up and northwest toward the plain between Wood and Grant Benchmark, eventually spotting the main bootpack in one of Wood’s bowls. The steps were sometimes uneven and usually too small, so I had fun finding rhythms of skipping steps on the way up. The climb did not look long from below, but it gains about 1800 feet to the ridge, so it took me awhile. Where the bowl was interrupted by some wind-scoured talus, the bootpack headed left to join the south ridge below the summit. I continued booting up, dropping my skis at the end of the snow to cross some rocks to the tip of the south ridge. Wood’s actual summit lay farther west along a wind-scoured plateau, and I had already visited it during the Sierra Challenge many years ago, so I did not bother walking over to touch it again. I did, however, realize that I wanted to ski a softer and steeper chute directly down the east side, so I had to walk back and fetch my skis.

Ritter Range

I clicked in right on the crest, then made some tentative turns into the upper bowl to test out the snow. The top was still a bit too firm, but the snow became pleasant lower down as the chute narrowed. Unfortunately this line was close to melting out in the middle, with one pinch between rocks only a bit over a ski-length wide, but most of it was enjoyable, and I reached the bottom with plenty of time and energy for another lap. Another pair of skiers was just switching from skins to boots at the base of the stairs, but I slid in ahead of them, not bothering with crampons on the well-established tread. This time I skied from where the bootpack reaches the south ridge, finding the snow still not quite ready on top, but perfect lower down where I passed the others. The lower 3000 feet were almost pure fun on moderate slopes, with the corn only becoming sticky and thin in the final few hundred feet.

Mono Lake

The road had been closed when I left, but there were non-official cars on it when I returned, and I immediately realized that my timing had been off by a day. The loop road was open, and people were parking along the shoulder to take pictures of mostly-frozen Silver Lake. I thought about switching back to my running shoes, then decided to just clomp back to the car in boots. Partway, I caught up to a friendly guy out for a walk, who struck up a conversation. He was a salesman from near San Diego, who regularly came up to the Eastern Sierra, and was impressed by this year’s record snowpack. Things were going normally until the conversation took an abrupt turn into the religious ditch. I tried to gently steer it back on course, with no success, but he was friendly and well-meaning. We all have our obsessions. At least he was much easier to listen to than the naked right-wing conspiracy theorist at the hot springs. Who knew that circumcision was the first step in the Jews’ plan to turn us all transgendered?

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