Saturday, March 28, 2015

San Gorgonio via South Fork snow chutes

I summited San G in 6.1 hours from the South Fork, following my unsuccessful attempt two weeks ago. The main reason for the superior outcome this time was the far more consolidated snow at the base of and in the chutes. The freeze-thaw cycles (daytime highs in the 60s °F) seem to have greatly compacted the snow, making snowshoes unnecessary during the entire ascent. I was able to walk on top of the snow at the base without punching through. Once I hit the chute, I started kick-stepping and duck walking up the slope. This time I maintained a slow pace, counting one-two to keep a one-second interval between steps. I wanted a low level of exertion that I could sustain for hours, not pounding effort that leaves me gasping every eight steps. At 10,900' I put on crampons. There were a few snow slabs that looked a bit questionable that I avoided, perhaps unnecessarily. I topped out then walked over to the summit, hitting the rock at 13:31, and walked back down. The descent was mixed glissading and plunge stepping until I reached the bottom. It was late afternoon, and the previously firm snow had softened to 3' of puffed up slush. I was punching through every step. I put on snowshoes and only sank in 10" versus the 20" with boots. Made it to the edge of the ramp from Dry Lake, stowed my snowshoes and walked briskly back to the trailhead. Car to car time was 10.7 hours with average ascent rate 754 ft/hr.

Other things different about this hike:
  • I took an iron supplement the day before and of. I used to always do this, but wasn't sure it helped with elevation, so I stopped. Maybe it aided this hike, or maybe I had some acclimatization from the two times I'd been above 10,000' in the past three weeks. Or maybe it was something else. I'll continue taking them since I've got a bunch left, and it doesn't seem to hurt anything.
  • I brought more real food. For a carb snack I brought a banana-nutella-peanut butter sandwich on white bread, and ham and swiss for the top. These tasted great but made me quite thirsty. I felt like I had more energy during the descent, but my descent speed was a little slower than average.
  • Wore a Buff to protect my neck from the sun. Those things work great. Put sunblock everywhere else, including under my nose, because of snow glare.

Switchbacking up the chute.

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