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Buck Mountain 12,861′

Buck Mountain: 12,861’

Location: Big Pine, CA

Elevation change: 5061’

Map: The Palisades Trail map – Tom Harrison

 

The date on these photo files says February 18, 2008. This peak isn’t in the guidebooks and somewhere I heard it called Slide Mountain. Check it out on Google Earth like I just did to write this tonight. Where was cool website beta like this when I was younger. Secor’s High Sierra Guide calls it Buck Mountain, or Peak 3914m. He writes Norman Clyde made the first ascent in 1925. Not surprising since he lived near the base of it for decades and made more first ascents in this area than anyone. Not on skis of course, nor did he ski the peak named after him behind it which boasts one of the most aesthetic semi extreme ski descents in the Sierra. The Big Pine Creek trailhead is the most incredible launching pad in the Sierra for skiing, climbing, and hiking. I’ll explain…

You can park at this 7800’ trailhead year-round. In winter it may be temporarily snowed in but not by much. This is the second highest trailhead you can park and ski during early and mid-season, outside of Aspendale (above Bishop). Although the town of Mammoth is at 8000’, so my theory is a bit blown up with that fact. However, BIG Peaks tower above the car like Buck and Kid Mountain, providing amazing views of the Palisade Crest just to the West. This stretch of the Sierra Crest hosts six of California’s 14ers and famous ski descent lines like U notch, V notch, Norman Clyde Couloir. You can also ski tour some beautiful alpine loops using Southfork Pass and Contact Pass. I have a few tours to re-load this month into this guide including Mt. Sill, Norman Clyde Couloir, U Notch, Kid Mountain, and a two-day excursion where I used Southfork Pass to ski Balcony Peak and Mt. Bolton Brown. I must say that the summertime is even more unreal in this zone. Last summer I climbed a few rock routes with Danny Shimmon from a 2-night stay at 3rd Lake. We climbed Venusian Blind on Temple Crag and the Swiss Arete on Mt. Sill. We saw one person in three days. You can expect the same thing if you go skiing from this trailhead. You will probably have it to yourself, or maybe see one party to highfive out there.

My posse on this day was Vince Sosnkowski, John Crus, Scott Shield, and Kristen. We were looking for corn snow due to high pressure and firm old crust everywhere, so we chose a low wind day, and I remembered seeing this big south face. Well…. a HIGH big south face in February probably isn’t going to be super soft and corny, but the middle was actually just that. The upper slope wasn’t too steep, so we enjoyed some turns with the amazing Middle Palisade Crest as a backdrop. We were all telemark skiers, so it was a party of course. Oh yeah, John was on Fritchis. We let him party too I guess. When we re-entered our little southeast couloir near the bottom the snow was either re-frozen, or maybe it never softened…it was rock hard and gnarly. That was the first time I saw a tele skier rip on concrete snow. Vince is still doing that today….one of the last backcountry Telemark holdouts.   

Looking at photos from Kid Mountain, I can see there is a north facing option on this peak which drop to the saddle between Buck and Mt. Alice. I have never skied Mt. Alice but there are southwest facing chutes that look like a fun mellow big ski. There are extreme lines that don’t go through easily on the southwest side and I’m not sure where you see the north facing terrain from without whipping out more maps and pictures. Anyway, this is a big, worthy, accessible peak to ski that you will have all to yourself, any day you want it. I remember being super confident about the obvious route up the mountain, and then being totally confused where we should bang a right and climb into it when we got there. John Crus steered me in the right direction. You don’t see the terrain the same way from the bottom. Just use your tech. We had a map but that didn’t show enough detail to pick out the access couloir at the valley floor. And don’t go ski this big open south facing terrain after new snowfall. Want to hire a pro mountain guide to explore the Palisade Region or any Big Pine Creek Trailhead adventure? Summer or Winter? I recommend Howie Schwartz, owner of Sierra Mountain Guides in Bishop. He used to live in Big Pine and guides this terrain regularly.  Howie is IFMGA of course and really a great instructor and fun person to get out there with.

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