Skiing the Wahoo Gullies on Mt Locke

10-11 Apr 2004 - by Reiner Stenzel

Mt Locke is a peak located 1.5mi SE of Mt Humphreys in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. It is unofficially named after the climber and skier Bob Locke, but marked on the Mt Tom topomap only as peak 12,634'. It is famous among ski mountaineers for its many couloirs, the "Wahoo Gullies". The central one is an almost 3000' couloir from summit to base and a challenge to ski down. The Ski Mountaineers Section (SMS) did it 7 years ago and it was time to return. Besides, we wanted to explore some of the other fine couloirs between Mt Humphreys and Emerson for future trips. Most of these trips can be done as day tours with car camping in the upper Buttermilk area.

On Sat, 4/10, 6am, we met at the intersection of the Buttermilk Rd and Hwy 168 about 7.5 mi W of Bishop. "We" means Wally Drake, Angel Ocana, Brian McElwain, Leslie Hofherr, Heiko Knapp, Brad McHose and co-leaders Randy Lamm and Reiner Stenzel. We drove up the unpaved road to close to the McGee Creek, consolidated into two high-clearance 4WD cars which made it across the stream and close to the end of the dirt road. From there we hiked a short distance through brush to the snowline at about 9400'. Some skinned up, most continued to hike. As we climbed into the Wahoo Gully we used boot crampons on the hard snow. Ahead of us were two skiers with a dog. It took about 2 hours to climb the Wahoo Gully. At the top we crossed a band of rocks, then ascended the SE facing snowfield to the summit.

By 12:30pm six of us made it to the top. The views from the summit were outstanding: Mt Humphreys with its large snowfields, Mt Emerson with its famous N facing couloir, in the distance the White Mtns and many fine Sierra peaks were all in clear sight. Although it was sunny a cold wind was blowing. We did not find a register on this unlisted peak. So we made a small cairn and placed a plastic bag with a signed sheet into it. We took many pictures, relaxed, ate lunch, and talked to the others by radio. By 1:30pm we descended, being sure to have now soft snow in the gully. But the cold wind and shallow angle to the sun never softened the snow. Thus, it was a tough ski run down on crusty snow with obstacles from old boot and ski tracks. The randonnee skiers had it easier than the telemarkers. But the lower half of the gully was fine and we had a great time skiing out of it. We regrouped and enjoyed the afternoon skiing on fine spring snow. Then we retraced our route to the cars and were back by about 3pm. Since we planned to ski in the area the next day we car camped on a dead-end dirt road near the McGee Creek. We had a relaxed afternoon and evening.

On Sun morning, after a chilly 15degF! night, we returned to the Wahoo Gullies "trailhead" and started hiking by about 9am. Our plan was to explore the Checkered Demon chutes and the southeast facing snowfields east of Mt Humphreys. We ascended along the north side of Mt Locke over moraines to the N face of the Checkered Demon, which is marked as peak 13,121' on the topomap. There are two impressive couloirs, the wide "Kindergarten Gully" and the steep (45+deg), narrow "Checkered Demon Gully". Its upper part is double-black diamond terrain for extreme skiing. The two are separated by a colorful rock face. While we were waiting for the rest of the group to catch up, three of us decided to ascend the Kindergarten Gully. Heiko blazed a switchback trail, closely followed by Angel and Brad. They were pleased to find soft powder snow in 70deg shirt-sleeve weather rather than crust in the gully.

Turn-around time was 1pm and the three had a blast skiing down which we captured in a movie. Then the whole group skied the large bowl ESE of Humphreys. Some had excess energy and reclimbed the long southeast facing slope east of Pk 13,151'. There was nothing but wonderful corn snow. We all enjoyed our turns down some 3000 feet of corn snow. It was some of the best skiing terrain. After a short hike we were back at the cars by 3 pm. An hour later drove down the Buttermilk Rd to Bishop, where some of the group feasted at the Taqueria, and the others found themselves five hours later back in LA. It was a great weekend of spring skiing with a group of strong and enthusiastic skiers.

by Reiner Stenzel and Randy Lamm

Click on the pictures below to enlarge:

Locke route map Locke hero shot Locke black diamond Locke Wahoo Gully

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