Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mount Democrat - 14,148

Mount Democrat from just below Kite Lake - May 30, 2009, Lake Emma Chutes in the left center - orange up, black down (click to enlarge).

Five inches of fresh snow on Saturday morning, May 30, 2009, made the prospects good for a ski ascent and descent of Mount Democrat. I'd already done Mounts Lincoln and Bross by mountain bike. But as there is no MB track to Democrat and I wasn't willing to leave my bike behind, I'd resolved to visit Democrat later. When later came along, the road in to Kite Lake was barred by a formidable snowdrift. Better vehicles than mine tried and failed to cross it during the night, so the dawn found me humping up all of a quarter mile to the start of the South Ridge.

What looks to be Democrat's main summit in the photo above is in fact a false summit. The chill air promised to hold the snow for a while, but this too was false. Especially in the concavity of the South Face I kicked off numerous sloughs on my long switchbacking traverse first right, then back left to intersect the ridge again. Here I met up with two guys who had availed themselves of my broken trail and the more direct line of the ridge to catch up with me. The photo below shows them heading off on the summit stretch.

Set of tracks to the left (click to enlarge): I don't know whose these were - I never saw them. Just at the summit those other guys were hucking off a wicked cornice (below). I hucked off it, too, but it wasn't very impressive.

The temptation was to linger on the summit, where the sun basked everything in warmth even as all around the sky stayed dark. But with the snow going quickly mushy I decided to follow their lead down this side of the mountain instead of the South Face, though I wasn't sure where it would end up. If nothing else, going this way showed a clear line of descent practically back to my truck. Soon I was adding my own S-turns to those already there, down a wide bowl that ended in a line of chutes. Lake Emma Chutes, they call them, and I dealt with them handily using my best side-slip technique.

It had become clear that the snow was gumming up underfoot, sticking to glue residue from the skins on my bases. Only by pointing straight down could I make any speed at all, opting for a wide traverse left rather than a plumb line straight into frozen Lake Emma, where that previous party had had to pop out and walk. Another bench of cliffs lay below the lake, where I carved some more turns before heading for the Buckskin Creek drainage that led down to the road. I only had to pop out once for a short distance before making it to within about 20 yards of my truck. As I packed up to leave I gave the line one last look: my first 14er ski descent.

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