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Mt. Bolton Brown 13,538′ & Balcony Peak 13,840′

Mount Bolton Brown: 13,538’
Balcony Peak: 13,840’

Location: Big Pine Creek Trailhead 7800’

Map: The Palisades – Tom Harrison 

I have explained some other ski tours from Big Pine Creek Trailhead on this website like Kid and Slide Mountain, right above the car. Norman Clyde Couloir is a up at the crest not far from the trailhead as well. Mt. Sill North Couloir, Thunderbolt and U Notch are World Famous for steep skiing and rock climbing. This tour was equally amazing even though it was not in a guidebook. I had heard of Southfork Pass 12,560’ as an important keyhole to grand multi-day ski tours, so I was curious what the terrain would look like on the other side. This pass is a 4300′ skin up and over a ridge on the south end of the Palisades Crest. I was content with the possibility that we might not find a peak to ski from a summit. This was May 9, 2010 and the snow was going to be smooth corn snow everywhere in sight. If we only skied to the pass and back, this tour would be a worthwhile adventure. And it was. The ski descent back from the pass the next afternoon was amazing, but we did a lot more than that.

Roger and I brought gear to bivy for one night. I doubt we started super early, and the skinning was easy. We walked in some patchy snow and rock for the last few hundred feet to the top of the pass and saw plenty of white to make tracks beyond there. I didn’t see a reason to put skis on and glide down to the lowest elevation for camp, only to climb back up with all our gear the next morning. We found a nice small patch of dry sand around 12,000’ to hunker down for the night. Some wind and snow flurries annoyed us that night. I should say they annoyed Roger. I was in my Bipod bivy, which is a tiny fortress. Roger borrowed my extra bivy, which doesn’t cover your head. I don’t think he got wet, but it’s hard to sleep with anxiety of a storm increasing. I wasn’t surprised that he slept in a little and urged me go ski without him in the morning.

After a little breakfast in the sun, I skied down into the lakes below the peak I picked out to ski. The lowest spot in sight to put my skins on was a little unnamed snow-covered lake at 11,630’. The biggest peak in the area with a reasonable snowfield to ski from the summit turned out to be Bolton Brown. It looked like a fair distance away but how hard could it be? The summit was less than 2000’ above the lake. I also liked the look of the obvious fat Y couloir in my pics. The snow looked to be scoured by wind down low, and the summit was far away from the top of that nice couloir.  I chose to climb to the peak rather than just do this attractive looking nearby run.

I glided fast down to the lakes on the frozen snow and skinned up to the North Face of Mt. Bolton Brown. I make a bunch of switchbacks with ski crampons and don’t recall it being too difficult to reach the ridge on skis. I could have started skiing back from the the top of the ridge right there, but I remembered snow connecting very close to the actual summit further south down the ridge. I carried my skis and climbed all around the blocky granite up top, while feeling a little bit of elevation gain in my southward movement with fun class 2. Eventually I reached an obvious summit and walked down to put my skis on the highest point of snow. The corn had softened enough, and the ski back was easy and fun. The slope was certainly not as steep as it had looked from across the basin near Southfork Pass. Mission accomplished and more! A new peak for me on an exciting mini adventure that felt familiar to me. I skinned back up to Roger to grab some lunch and plan the rest of our day.

Before skiing back over Southfork Pass and down 4300’ to the car, we decided to climb up the nice big south facing ramp of snow at the pass which forms the start of the Palisades Crest. I thought we were climbing Disappointment Peak, but it turned out to be Balcony Peak. The Balcony is as far as your skis will go. If you wanted to continue, you would be walking into 4th class terrain in mountaineering boots with nothing to ski. There was a nice small pointy top. This peak would be a very worthy one day ski tour from the Big Pine Trailhead. If you went out to just ski this guy, you would be skiing the south face around noon and north facing 30 degree terrain all the way back from South Fork pass in the afternoon. Ideal, right? But if I’m parked at this trailhead, I really want to go deeper. It’s the Palisades Region of the high Sierra! I get it why Howie of SMG used to live here. Bela started Alpine Skills International in 1979 in nearby Lone Pine. Tahoe is cool, but these mountains are amazing.

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