Location: Basin Mountain
Summit Elevation: 13,240′
Elevation Change: 5500′
Map: Tom Harrison – Mono Divide High Country
Basin Mountain was one of my first Eastern Sierra Ski Descents in the early 90’s. A common story. It’s the most inviting big peak in a chain of big peaks looming above Bishop, CA. You can see if there is enough snow from hwy 395, and chances are there is! The standard line is the wide east couloir. The Greenberg/Mingori Book describes more options on the north side that you would climb and descend from Horton Creek. I don’t know what kind of view you get a view on top of them, post something here in the reply if you have some pics! Come grab the guidebook at our shop or order it from us on this website. I first read about Basin Mountain in the out-of-print Falcon Guide Ski Touring book by John Moynier. I like to think about these mountain guides hopping around in high sketchy places with three pin bindings and 210 skinny skis with leather boots. We followed all those routes in better tele gear, but now we are all on proper AT ski equipment. It all works, but I’m quite a bit less tired and also skiing better these days, thankful to the evolution in gear from Dynafit and Scarpa. These boots and bindings scared us away in the 90’s but won us back in the last 10 years.
Drive towards Basin Mountain from the Buttermilks Dirt Road above Bishop and just start skinning up the lowest strip of snow. If it looks like you have to walk for a while to reach snow, you are not really timing this peak well and the higher trailheads are likely open at South Lake. But if you want to camp out in the desert and ski big peaks each day, a fantastic dirtbag ski touring vacation awaits you above the Buttermilks. Go in late March or April and ski Basin Peak, Mt. Humphryes, Mt. Locke and Mt. Emerson all from one camp.
Ski crampons will likely come in handy for sun and wind exposed 35-degree slopes like Basin has. Scratch your way up to the top of the couloir for a great view westward into the Humphries Basin. As true for any big peak ascent above tree line, I recommend lightweight ski touring boot crampons and ice axe from CAMP. We sell them. The snow is going to be firm in and you’ll want to continue since you invested so much time getting to the mountain. Axe and crampons let you relax and also save you time. If the idea of using crampons and axe for any of these eastern sierra ski tours is scaring you, higher an AMGA ski guide! You’ll learn a lot and skip the learning curve in the sport. Hire Howie Schwartz, owner of Sierra Mountain Guides in Bishop. Or contact me for other guide recommendations if they are busy. There are only a few permitted ski guide companies in the Eastern Sierra, and I bet they are all great but go with the pros who have been doing it for decades. Howie is an examiner of ski guides, and the AMGA program graduates are what you want. But hey, we survived and never heard of AMGA…so just go with common sense and pick a sunny day in the spring. I bet you get up Basin Mountain no problem. Route finding is obvious at least! Ski from the top of the col at 13,000′. Moynier says walk around to the west ridge to reach the summit, which I have not tried.