Location: Convict Lake – Mammoth Lakes, CA
Elevation Change: 7850′ – 13,163′
Recommended Map: Convict Lake – Tom Harrison
The bulk of these pictures are from my first trip up Red Slate Mountain to ski the North Couloir March 10, 2005. My friend John Morrison took me up there to ski into the line from the summit, which is quite committing. He had done it 5 times I think at that point, and many times since. In my following trips I just booted up the couloir, falling short of the summit and missing the super exciting traverse from the top. I remember one section in the traverse above a huge drop, where my entire ski edge wouldn’t touch the snow due to the curve of a very exposed and steep part of the slope. And we did this in a moment of deep snowpack with newish snow. You wouldn’t want to drop into this line from the summit in firm or low snow. However you can still enjoy the peak in many ways if your not following a pro in front of you proving that ski edges will really stick.
Both South and North sides of Red Slate Mountain are steep wide paths of snow that in their own right, are worthy ski mountaineering objectives leading to the summit. Most people aim for the beautiful North Couloir and boot up to the moment where it ends. You are maybe 500′ below the summit and definitely not going to like what it looks like to continue to the summit from here. It would be more of an alpine climb where most people would want a rope and set pro for a belay somehow. Snow coverage and penetration is everything when you climb or descend through exposed and rocky terrain like the summit of Red Slate, and I’ve heard of people climbing up and through to the summit. There is an alternate entrance couloir near the summit on the north side as well I’ve heard called “married men’s entrance” in one funny online discussion. The main North Couloir of Red Slate is a solid 2000′ of consistent and manageable 35-40 degree angle, and is fairly wide and comfortable for skiing.
Finding the mountain is easy. Skin or walk around the north side of Convict Lake, which is right near highway 395, a mile or two south of Mammoth Lakes. Enter the narrow and intimidating Convict Creek Canyon and follow the drainage to beautiful Mildred and then Wit-So-Na-Pah Lake. There is a nice small bonus couloir to ski dead center below the peak requiring a very short hill climb that you’ll notice on the way in. There are a slew of amazing ski tours to do from this paved parking area, which is plowed year round. Check them all out in the Nate Greenberg/Dan Mingori guidebook for Eastern Sierra Ski Touring that we sell at the shop. I remember spending about 5 hours getting to the summit, but that was a bit fast because I was chasing John as anyone must do to ski with him. Getting around the lake can go a bit slow as there isn’t much snow usually, and there is some flat terrain to bang out along the way. Plus you’ll go slow at high elevation, so start early for this one. If the lake is frozen you will certainly save a bit of time in the morning. I remember being pretty nervous skiing back across the lake on this day with it’s warm afternoon march clearish glimmering ice. I have since generally only crossed frozen lakes when there is snow on them. That’s when they are likely to be solid for sure. I am not a frozen lake expert though, good luck! I do know you want lake ice to be about 4″ thick everywhere to cross.
Not sure you want to ski Red Slate? Go up Bloody Mountain and check out the view from there. After that moment, your doin’ it for sure! And on the way in to Red Slate, take note of the Mendenhall and Pinner Couloirs on Mt. Laurel on your right. Check out Mini Morrison and Mt. Baldwin on your left. And the view from the summit of Red Slate is unreal. You are fairly deep into the range, and get a 360 view of really impressive and attractive ski mountaineering terrain in every direction. Hire a guide to ski any big peak with exposed steep terrain like this. Most AMGA certified Ski guides will be awesome. One of the best is Howie Schwartz (not related to me), owner of Sierra Mountain Guides in Bishop. Or if you want to support the homeboys in Tahoe, call Alpenglow Expeditions and jump in the car with some really solid and fun AMGA ski guides.
Did you ski Red Lake Peak? add a few pics and words below please!