As I drove homeward past the June Lake Loop north on Route 395 after skiing The Thumb, I couldn’t help but notice the narrow streaks of snow running down the east face of Mt Wood and wonder whether I might have an opportunity to ski one of them before the long winter came to an end. After Brian’s plans fell through the following weekend I was quick to invite him on the trip and glad that he was eager to join! We met up in Lee Vining Friday evening and made our way toward the trailhead, arriving just at sunset and completing the drive as twilight set in. We arrived at a swampy section of road which was soon overtopped with running water. Without tow strap or any means of extrication we decided to turn around and camp (as well as start the next day’s hike) from a nearby dead end above Grant Lake.
We woke at 5 am to a gorgeous sunrise and started cross country up the slope at 5:30. The hill was steep but it was easy finding a route through the low chaparral. Grant Lake slowly became illuminated below us.
We quickly gained 500 ft before an aspen forest impeded our way. Brian found a route through the forest following the meadow for a ways before we no longer had any option but to wade through the dense foliage. The terrain made for slow going and the skis on our backs only helped to catch on tight and low hanging trunks.
A seeming eternity later we emerged from the forest on a broad plateau of sagebrush and made our way toward an abandoned forest service road, following it south for a ways. We kept our eye toward Mt Wood’s east slope, trying to decide when to start the hike uphill.
We saw two notable stretches of snow which appeared to run from the summit nearly to the road and decided that the slope on lookers left was the best option. We struck cross country westward toward the snowy slope
As we approached the slope, we agreed that we’d prefer to climb the rocky ridge to the right of the slope if possible, only transitioning to bootpacking the snow if necessary. We climbed the steep rock along a mostly class 2 route, with only a small stretch of class 3 scrambling, although if we were more picky we could probably have found a less technical route.
Some easy scrambling brought us to the top of the snowline and we had expansive views of the Yosemite Crest to the north. From here we found that this was actually a false summit. We traversed west across a small patch of snow, still in our trailrunners, arriving at the summit at 10:15.
The view south from the summit, with the Mammoth, Sherwin, and Wheeler Crests stretching eastward and the hulking summits of Mt Ritter and Banner Peak seeming impossible large and looming.
There was no register but we took our time on the summit, enjoying stellar views of the crest stretching to the north and the south, of Yosemite to the west, and of Mono Lake to the east.
Parker Peak was remarkably nearby to the west — Mt Wood surely had less than 100 ft of prominence from this nearby neighbor and it seemed odd that Mt Wood would even be considered a peak in and of itself. Being such a warm and late date, Brian and I didn’t discuss continuing to the nearby summit, instead quickly returning to the false summit to evaluate the descent.
We had a short discussion of the hazards, mostly worried about potential wet loose slides and rockfall and I started down the slope first. The snow wasn’t ideal, but it was delightfully slushy and fun! We traded leads down the slope setting off several wet sluffs. We frequently found the sluffs to be better skiing than the adjacent consolidated slush!
We encountered some old avalanche debris and a few old ski tracks as we exited the steepest portion of the chute. As the slope angle eased, the snowpack became suncupped and made for some raucous skiing. We took a detour left down a minor gully and towards the cars. The snow came to an end and we stepped out of our skis for a short downhill hike to the next patch of snow before some more skiing.
Brian continued skiing fall line while I made a strategic traverse skier’s right across some rocks to a larger patch of snow. I stepped out of my skies and laid my wet gear out in the sun to dry, radioing my location to Brian while having a leisurely lunch. It was a glorious late-spring day! After a few minutes Brian arrived and we retraced our steps to the abandoned road.
Rather than wade back through the dense aspen forest, we opted to take the more circuitous route along the road. The route was definitely less direct, but it was easy to follow and we soon found ourselves at the flooded section which had deterred us Friday night.
The flowing water was more than 8 inches deep in places and although we probably could have made it through, we were glad to have made the conservative decision. We arrived back at the cars at 12:30 pm. With plenty of time left in the day, we made a short trip the Aeolian Buttes, scoping out some bouldering and climbing the high point before meeting up with Pete at June Lake Brewing. As we enjoyed our beer, we could look up at the highest visible point and see our line!
- No evidence of overnight freeze
- No noticeable corn
- Snowline very terrain dependent, starting around 9,500 ft
Elevation Gain: 4,900 ft