Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Memorial on Mammoth Mountain

Getting air on the final day!
It has been awhile since I made a blog entry. I hoped to have many backcountry ski adventures filling the pages this winter to share. The fact is, this winter was pretty bad, so bad that I thought I was not going to ski at all this year! The good news is that I took up mountain biking as a substitute and now I am hooked on yet another sport I once enjoyed as a kid.

As my 42nd birthday approached, my buddy Jason, who also was bummed we had not gotten a chance to ski and board this year, asked me if I wanted to do something on the Memorial weekend. He and I did Mt. Shasta for my 40th birthday and we have a habit of planning some great adventures together. We asked another friend, Alex, who had a birthday coming up at the same time if he wanted to do something, anything, and he was onboard as well. After throwing a few ideas around we decided we would head to Mammoth and try to ski, mountain bike, shoot, off-road, hike and whatever else we could squeeze into 3 days!

To get the adventure started right, I had them meet me at my house at 2:45AM on Saturday morning for a 3AM departure. Nobody liked getting up early but I knew we could have a full day in Mammoth if we did this. As promised we arrived in Mammoth at 8AM, just in time for some breakfast. It was a cold morning in Mammoth. Clouds clung to the mountain and the lakes basin but the town was sunny. The most interesting part is that snow was falling even though the town was in full sun! We got checked into our cabin that Alex had arranged for us and I let the guys know that I really wanted to go riding as I have never biked with snow falling and I really wanted the experience. It was new to them as well so we quickly got ready in our riding gear and headed out.

Mountain biking in the snow, wearing shorts!
Alex finishes the descent on the Mammoth Rock Trail.
Since I summer in Mammoth every year, I am quite familiar with the area. A quick ride, uphill, from our cabin via Old Mammoth Road would take us to the Mammoth Rock Trail which I had hiked before. The uphill portion was overly difficult as we had just arrived at 8,000 ft. having left sea level about 7 hours prior. We made it to the trailhead and enjoyed the fact that it was snowing, there was some snow on the ground and we were about to head out on a great trail. I was a typical Californian and was riding in the snow wearing shorts! What a great experience. The trail was great, not a riding trail but a hiking trail so it was rough, challenging and raw. Just the way I like it! The views as we descended down along the Sherwins looking across the caldera toward the White Mountains, capped with snow, was incredible. It was difficult because I needed to keep my eyes on the trail in front of me yet I wanted to take in the incredible view all around me at the same time. I found a balance and enjoyed both.

Jason and Alex enjoy our outdoor oasis in the Village, in the snow!
We rode back into town and headed to Starbucks and then hung out in the Village for a little rest. The large patio furniture around the fire pit in the Village became our outdoor living room for the next three days which we retreated to often for a break after an awesome ride on the mountain. There we were, sitting around in the bright sunshine, having our beverages and relaxing all while it was still snowing! This was a great experience and after our long morning it was very relaxing. We talked over our options and decided to head back to the cabin, grab our swim suits, and head off to the hot springs for a nice afternoon dip in the natural springs that run on the other side of hwy 395. It also meant we got to do a little off road driving which is always a favorite of mine.

The trip out to the hot springs was great. Once there we saw we were not the only people with this idea and it looked quite crowded. As I got ready to head over I took out my wallet, and my KEY, and locked them in the truck. As soon as the door closed I got that horrible feeling, why did I just lock my key in the truck?! Well now we had to figure out the next issue. I called AAA from the nearby hilltop where I could get reception and spoke to them. They gave me the number of the local place that could help and asked if I had a pen. I told the lady to go really slow as I needed to use small rocks to write out the number with rocks on the dirt in front of me. She laughed and took her time with me. In the end I could not reach the lock service so we just opted to attempt to break in. The guys were good helpers though, they made quick friends and scored a beer for all of us as ours were locked in the car, more motivation to get in! Between a u-lock, a tent stake, a rock and my very long arm we managed to get in. Now we could finally enjoy the hot springs!

We made quick friends in the hot springs and enjoyed our time there. The muscles sure appreciated the soak and before long we had an invite to a bbq just a few minutes down the road from our cabin. A quick trip to the store and a little cleanup and we were having a bbq with new friends from the hot springs. We finally got to bed at 1:30AM. I am not sure when the last time I had a 23+ hour long day without a rest break, maybe in the Air Force but even they would give us a little rest time so this may have been yet another first!.

Standing on the summit at Mammoth.
I was up fairly early, 5 hours of sleep later to be exact, to make breakfast and get day two underway. This day was to be yet another first for me, ski and bike on Mammoth Mountain on the same day with the same lift ticket! I think we were skiing by 9AM. Jason was feeling the effects of the night prior, sometimes it pays to be the designated driver, lucky for me I guess. We skied the mid mountain for awhile and kept looking at the top. By about 10:30 the top looked like it had softened up enough so we headed up there and skied the black diamond bowls until 1PM when we were ready to ski down , grab some lunch and transition to bike gear!

By 2PM we were back on the mountain in full bike gear and riding the shuttle from the Village up to the main lodge as only the lower portion of the mountain was open for riding. I think we made 4 laps riding from the lodge back to the village via the riding trails. The last run we split up. Jason and I did a black diamond route and Alex did a blue run with a long traverse. Jason and I were flying off of two plus foot drops, landing in rock gardens, flying off of big jumps, navigating very steep, rocky and loose descents and were just plain crazy! Alex found a great traverse and some fantastic sweeping turns as well as some great bridges over a creek and some steep, narrow and shaded single track. We met back in the Village and shared stories from our final run. Alex swore he had the best time on his way down. I asked him if it involved a woman, he looked at me funny and said no. Jason and I told Alex that we found the most awesome route and it had to have been better since the only way he could have more fun would have been some encounter with a fine mountain biking woman. By the end of the day we were beat. It was a much slower paced evening as compared to the the prior. Shower, dinner, movie, bed. We did hold the final day open to either go back and do what we liked best so far or go hiking, shooting, off-roading or all. It was unanimous that we would go back on the mountain for the final day of riding.

Looking at our cabin as we went to bed looked like something out of the norm for a bunch of 40+ year olds.   A few empty growlers of beer, 4 pairs of skis and a snowboard, a couple of rifles, hiking gear, ski boots, bike helmets and three mountain bikes stuffed in the kitchen. Ahhhh, brings back great memories of trips in my younger days with the guys in the Air Force!

Great views on the traverse.

With a GOOD nights sleep under us, we hit the mountain right when they opened at 9AM. This time we took Alex's long traverse ride and he was right, it was great. Awesome views everywhere and some really fun riding. We extended it and even did a little uphill to make a big loop before dropping down to the Eagle Lodge and then riding back to the Village for some lunch. Jason and I then did some additional crazy runs on the black diamond stuff and Alex played on the blue runs. The most memorable portion of the ride for Jason and I was a log. It was about 50 feet long with a ramp on the entry and exit. If you messed up the bailout could be quite painful. I looked at it as I flew past it the day prior and thought it was crazy. I showed it to Jason and he said why not! Well I got him on video doing it and I must say he made it look easy. Now his center of gravity is about a foot and a half lower than mine and he makes even the nastiest stuff look simple but I had to try it. He grabbed my phone to take the video and I headed up to give it a shot. I have the video posted here, it was not a pretty dismount but I did survive it and gained even more confidence in the process. I blew a tire as I came off but it really didn't matter, I made it and gained a lot of confidence in the process.

We were all packed up and rolling out of town at 4PM and got back home at 9:30. We all decided that another trip up there was in order for this summer and we would go when the whole mountain was open so we can ride from the very top all the way back down! My downhill skills definitely improved on this trip with so much practice on tight turns at speed in loose dirt. Good skills to have as they just graded many of my favorite fireroads back here and the conditions are now similar. I have gotten good at controlling a two wheel drift at speed and not winding up in the bushes! Looking forward to my next visit to the mountain.

All pictures from the adventure are available here.