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Location (general area)
Road conditions to area
clear (no clouds)
Calm (smoke rises vertically)
up to 38
Boot/ Ski penetration
Activity, recent avalanches
Whumphing noises, shooting cracks. collapsing
Obvious avalanche path
March 29, 2017
Report by Tony Bird
Photos by Jenny Lo
Baden-Powell proved both disappointing and dangerous on several counts this day, some of them our own fault.
The mountain still has plenty of northside snow, so it ought to be ripe for descents at least a couple more weeks to come. However the snow is gone from The Snake couloir, reported here a couple weeks ago, and although snow still fills the upper North Couloir, the exit is bad news, as we found.
The only good descent is one which I call Avalanche Couloir. Since avalanche danger is close to zero, don't let the name dissuade you, although that could change. I observed an avalanche there in early May one year, triggered by some aggressive skiers in the party ahead of me. It was a healthy sluff-slide--eight inches of fresh snow on top of the winter hardpack. No one hurt, the runout only about 18 inches deep, but potentially dangerous for physical injury. If it gets fresh snow, beware.
For this trip, Avalanche Couloir would have been the key to a much better ski descent. Another party on the mountain did it right, ascending the couloir from Angeles Crest Highway so they could find their way back to it through the dense forest above it.
The beginning of Avalanche Couloir is easy to find: hike about a half-mile up the highway from the closure point at Vincent Gap. You will round a bend, encountering steep cliffsides most of the way. Keep looking uphill. Avalanche Couloir currently has snow down to about 200 yards above the highway. Up above it you will see a wide, steep snowfield with sparse coverage by young trees, its starting zone. Continue a hundred yards further down ACH and you find the obvious drainage, now a lively creek, of Baden-Powell's main North Couloir. Both of these north-facing features are visible from Antelope Valley. If you come that way, study them on your way in.
I suggest avoiding North Couloir at all costs. It took some real rockclimbing skills--in ski boots on crumbly rock--to get through the exit and its waterfalls without slipping. We were glad we started early enough to get out before dark.
We had ascended the regular hiking route from Vincent Gap. No snow coverage for the first half mile of trail and then rather difficult conditions thereafter. I found the snowpack disappointingly hard--could not kick deep enough for good support on my tele boots and wound up edging most of it. It was well after 12 pm when the snow became more penetrable. We both employed whippets on one of our ski poles and made use of them several times. Due to difficulties in the ascent, which admittedly included experimenting with some equipment options, we did not go as far as the summit ridge.
We started our descent shortly before 2 pm a bit below the summit ridge, intending to find Avalanche Couloir, staying just east of North Couloir but eventually being tempted down into it. It apparently had plenty of snow, but that changed abruptly after a short bit of pleasant skiing.
After we finally got out of this little nightmare and started down ACH we looked up at Avalanche Couloir, a mere hundred yards east of the North Couloir exit. We felt like kicking ourselves--what a pleasant ski run that might have been!
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