Bloody awesome with Dunderberg

26-27 Apr 2009 - by Will Mollandsimms

1. Dunderberg Peak from the Virginia Lakes Road (see waypoint VIRGRS)

Dunderberg Peak is not one of the most well known peaks in the Sierra. It is not overly high in elevation, nor does it have any classic routes to its summit. It does, however, offer great skiing in the springtime and is very easily accessible once the Virginia Lakes road is plowed (usually before fishing season commences during the last Saturday in April).

After spending the night around the campfire in Bishop I headed towards Dunderberg in hopes of placing some nice turns in the rapidly melting sierra snowpack. The Virginia lakes road was plowed all the way to the end of the residential housing and the fishermen were out in force, fishing through the thin ice into the chilly trout infested waters. The entire area is a relative goldmine not only for fishermen, but also backcountry skiers as moderately angled snow covered slopes can be found in almost all direction from Virginia Lakes, with the most attractive lines being off of Mt. Olsen to the south and Black Mtn. to the southwest. My goal though was Dunderberg and the impressive SE bowl coming of its lower, eastern, summit looked like quite a reward for a relatively short hike up.

I parked my car in one of the plowed turnouts, strapped my snowboard and other essential items to my back, and headed through snow covered back yards toward the bowl. The ground was mostly still white with snow and even with my late 11:30 AM start was still firm and easy to travel over. Soon the terrain grew slightly steeper as I approached a shallow spine of rocks jutting out from the bottom of the bowl. This spine was snow free and I elected to ascend it as it would probably be faster than kicking my way up the snow in the chute to my right. I climbed this spine for about 600 feet to where it ended and the broad bowl began. From this point I had a choice. Did I want to ascend the bare ridge to my right and attain the summit on dry ground or kick steps up the bowl and summit via the snow slope? My choice had actually already been made for me as a group ahead of me had kicked steps all the way up, exiting the bowl just left of the summit. So I followed their lead and slowly made my way up the steepening bowl, which got quite steep during the last 50 feet or so, and eventually found myself on the ridge connecting Dunderberg's eastern peak and the true Dunderberg summit to the west. I scampered up the ridge to the eastern summit, dropped off my board, and did a quick quarter mile jaunt on the ridge to the western summit, a mere 100 feet higher than the eastern one. On top I took in the views and, to my surprise, found out I was the first person to sign the summit register this year. After a few pictures and a quick snack I cruised back to the eastern summit where I quickly strapped on my snowboard and headed down the bowl. Unfortunately, the snow was not as good as I was expecting. It had snowed four inches two days previous but that four inches had turned an inch of relatively hard crust on top of 2 inches of powder. So as I cruised the main bowl I broke apart the crust on the surface and got pelted with small crusty snow blobs careening their way down the slope at about the same speed I was. Towards the bottom of the bowl the snow got softer and the angle more mellow which made the going extremely easy and also quite fun. Navigating the final section was a bit tricky as the snow became sparser and the trees/rock much closer together. After unstrapping and restrapping into my board twice I was able to ride to within 100 feet of my car after a fun 2600 vertical feet. Although Dunderberg may be a bit of a slog in summer, in spring it's ripe with good lines and fun terrain. After I got off Dunderberg I drove south towards Mammoth for my next snowboarding challenge, Bloody Mtn.

2. Bloody Mountain from Laurel Creek (see waypoint LAUREL)

I had heard from many that the Laurel Lakes road was quite rough and that only the mightiest of mighty cars/trucks could make it all the way up. After turning onto Sherwin Creek Road, a mile or two past the Mammoth Lakes turn off, I was getting excited about giving my car a good challenge. After a few hundred yards the Sherwin Creek road turns into a decent dirt road and about another mile or two after that the Laurel Lakes road begins on climb a hillside to the south. As I turned onto it I mentally prepared myself for what this was going to be like. In no time I was dodging rocks and boulders and ruts the size of bathtubs, sometimes larger. I came to a cattle grate which had a 6 inch lip from many other cars scouring the dirt off the road leading up to it, but it was no problem for my 8 inches of clearance. I kept going. I knew my car could make it. My car can do anything! It wasn't long though before the road got rough, really rough. Soon the road looked more like a collection of massive rocks and boulders than something you could drive a car down. I had to give up. Luckily there was a turnout only 50 feet behind me so I back up, parked there and set up my tent. I had made it 100 yards up the Laurel Lakes road. In my cars defense though there was a large snow bank that blocked all progress less than a half mile ahead so I wouldn't have gained than much progress anyway.

I awoke the next morning to the sound of a bigger, stronger SUV rumbling its way the road towards Laurel Lakes. I ate a leisurely breakfast and then headed up the road towards Bloody Mountain, which was currently out of view. The road, as one would imagine, was very easy to follow. It crested the ridge, then dropped into the canyon behind it which contained a very long and, I imagine, very beautiful canyon in the summer time. Now though it was covered with bony aspen trees, snow patches and a slightly grey creek. I continued up the road to where it began to zig zag high on the hillside before disappearing under the snow and contouring towards Laurel Lakes. I stopped for a break here and was able to pick out a group of 3 that was ascending the NE ridge of Bloody Mountain with skis strapped to their backs. I was hoping to be the first person laying tracks in the Bloody couloir today but they were far ahead of me and were going to net that honor. So I strapped crampons on my feet and continued to follow the roads general path towards the base of the couloir. It wasn't long before I turned the corner around the large slope leading to Bloody's NE ridge and saw the beautiful and still frozen Laurel Lakes below me and the large bowl and impressive couloir leading to the summit of Bloody Mountain. The bowl itself is huge, much larger than I had thought it would be and the couloir seemed absolutely tiny from this perspective. Without delay I started up the large bowl and towards the steepening couloir.

As I slowly gained altitude I was relieved to find that the couloir is actually quite wide, it only seems narrow when viewed with a big snow bowl in front of it. Now I could easily point out the two main features in the couloir. First is a cliff band located directly in the middle of the couloir which is about 200 or so feet long and perhaps 50 feet tall. Behind that band of rock is another cliff band shaped more or less in a Y. To the right the couloir narrows into what is called the Bloody couloir and to the left the couloir opens up and leads to the summit. From the base of the couloir it doesn't look like it's that far to the top, but it's actually a ways up there.

I slowly made my way up the couloir on snow that was becoming deeper and softer the higher I went. Here the snow had little to no breakable crust, it was just soft powder. This made going up slow and painful but would make going down simply amazing. Slowly I got to the first cliff band in the middle of the couloir. As I kept going up I began to hear gleeful screams coming from above me and quickly realized those 3 skiers had begun their descent. As I neared the top of the cliff band they came into view. I took a break and watched them carve beautiful telemark turns into the steep soft snow. I said hello as they cruised past me with big grins on their faces and then it was back to slowly making my way towards the summit so I could have my turn. They had thoroughly torn up the previously untouched snow in the Bloody couloir so I went for the virgin left fork and pressed onward.

By now what had begun as perhaps two inches of powder at the base of the climb had turned into knee deep powder and was murderously slow and painful to get through. Also, the terrain had gotten steep, really steep. I had noticed an increase in the incline as I made my way up but now, as I looked back down the couloir, it had gotten astonishingly steep. They say that the Bloody couloir tops out at 50 degrees with the left fork being more like 40 degrees, but it certainly seemed steeper than 40 degrees to me and nothing I could see in the Bloody couloir was steeper than the left fork, although I could not the very top. Either way, they're both really steep. Once I got above the steepest section of the couloir the angle eased and after a long battle with the soft snow I was finally standing atop Bloody Mountain. The views were simply stunning with snowcapped peaks, frozen lakes and beautiful scenery in all directions. If it hadn't been so blustery on top I would have stayed for much much longer. As it was though I was getting cold very quickly from the brisk westerly wind so I strapped on the snowboard for the last ride of the season.

I had originally planned to do the Bloody couloir but being able to carve fresh tracks soon took out that option and I went down the left fork. From the top the ride is simple and goes as follows: See the couloir, be the couloir. After carving a few nice turns on the upper slope I came to the start of the steepest section of the left fork. I can only define it as absolutely terrifying. It is quite a feeling to look down a super steep slope and realize that this is your only route to the bottom. So I did what any slightly freaked out person would do on a snowboard and began to snowplow my way through the steepest section. Soon though I realized I did actually know how to snowboard and that this entire route was on powder. I began to streak left and after I stuck the first turn it was game on. First off, I don't believe I have ever had a better ride on a snowboard. The first several hundred feet in the couloir were steep and I was flinging powder 8 directions with every turn. As the couloir opened up and the terrain got mellower I was able to carve huge and fast S turns into the snow as I shouted out with joy. About three quarters of the way down my legs began to tire so I had to stop for a second. Once I stopped I gazed back uphill and just laughed and the absurdity of that run. So steep, so soft and so perfect. I got back up and finished out the last and best ride of my season. From the base of the bowl it was just a long 5 mile walk back to the car via the Laurel Lakes road and then a drive back home completing this two day, two peak backcountry snowboarding expedition. If there was more snow I would have probably attempted another ski descent but with a marginal snowpack and relatively warm spring I think I'll just wait for summer.

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