Location: Buttermilks above Bishop, CA or access from Aspendale
Elevation Change: …
Recommended Map: Mono Divide – Tom Harrison
The North Couloir of Mt. Emerson starts the butterflies twirling in your stomach when you see it from the top of Peak 13,112′ or Mt. Locke. You never get a sight of this 2000′ off-camber 40 degree line from anywhere else. Mt. Emerson just looks like a wall of formidable granite from the highway. Most people will camp in the Buttermilks in a sweet meadow near the McGee Creek crossing. You’ll need good clearance and 4×4 to park closer than that. Look for my 92 Ford Van transmission plug when you’re out there at the creek crossing. Skirt Mt. Locke and go find Emerson hidden behind it with the obvious ski descent you came for. I have also been shown the sneaker traverse from the town of Aspendale 8500′, at the winter gate closure on hwy 168. We skied a Piute Crag Couloir and stayed one night, but Emerson was socked in the following day and skied a little sketchy breakable crust.
I’ve been up there a twice but didn’t climb to the summit. I should have, but I was younger and had little rock climbing experiences. And there were butterflies. Go figure, both times it was bad snow conditions and crappy ski gear, with very little room to get the skis on at the top of the couloir. It’s fairly narrow and off camber in the bad way, where a fall would just send you into the rocks at the steepest angle. You will most likely skip the summit too and just decide to get down in one piece. There isn’t much room to hang out up there, maybe one person can sit down. On one trip up there with my BC ski friends and now heroes John, Kip, and Glen, they scooted up to the summit without me in ski boots like it was no big deal, so I assume it isn’t a big deal. Secor’s guide doesn’t mention any route harder than 3rd class to the summit. I’ll be back!
There are a few other cool looking north facing couloirs right next door on either side, and the south facing slopes behind you on Mt. Locke and Peak 13,112 could be a great consolation prize if the couloir snow is wind ruined. Try to camp out and ski other peaks. From your Buttermilks Basecamp you’ll be in good striking range to ski Mt. Humphries, Mt. Locke, and Peak 13,112′ which all have numerous ski descents each with both steep and mellow choices.
On that first day skiing Emerson in maybe 2002, I chose to AT ski for the first time after tele skiing for 10 years. Previous to tele skiing, I was an east coast, low angle, hip swivler on skinny straight skis. I hadn’t even tried these AT boots or locking the heel down at the ski area first. I did some kind of awkward up-hill stem- hop for most of the couloir to ensure I didn’t blow a turn and disappear into the side of the thing. At the bottom, Kip Garre told me how rad it was watching me ski so well. I thought, dude, I sucked. In fact I went back to tele for another painful 10 years after that day. That guy threw positivity and compliments at everyone and made you feel great. He would come into the shop and always ask me what I just did, when meanwhile he was doing more elaborate ski mountaineering trips far from home. RIP Kip and Allison. The two most smiley faces of Truckee. Obviously I write these guidebook entries at night while smoking weed late at night and winging it. Now I realize I’d like to finally go and ski where they last did to remember them a little more.