Wineglass Couloir

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Just after getting back from a conference Stefan and I had planned to go skiing on Saturday and Ben and I had planned to go on Sunday while Stefan climbed. Matt and Teddy decided to get rad also so it was radical. I had gotten sick at the conference but I still wanted to go, so directly after getting off the train from Ventura, I packed quickly and jumped in Matt’s van. Ben was planning on meeting us up there on Saturday evening.

We were in the middle of 2 weeks of unseasonably warm weather in the Sierra which delivered near 80 degree temperatures in bishop, which, as you may know, is not good for snow. In the sierra, the two biggest enemies of snow are direct sun and wind. I have found that until the end of February, the sun is low enough in the sky that north facing, narrow couloirs will be shaded all day and therefore can hold good snow for a long time. Furthermore, if the walls of the couloir are high, you can find snow that has not been too pummeled by the wind, powder! Based on these criteria and the fact that there was no snow south of rock creek and that we didn’t want anything too aggressive for the ski with such a big group, we chose the wineglass couloir.

Map of Wineglass Couloir Approach and Ski

I was trying to keep the stoke high as we drove up the 395 and read about how we were on track to match the lowest snow year on record (which was in 2013). So I texted my buddy Sam who is one of the most motivated east side skiers I’m aware of and he snapped back a picture of the wineglass which he had skied the week before and it looked in!

My stoked immediately shot up and I think everyone else’s did too, and then I panicked because I realized that in my haste to pack, I had left my ski boots at home.

After several minutes of panicking, several heroes emerged including Ben, Lori and decidedly not Vatsal. Lori was going to let Ben into my house to grab my ski boots and Ben was going to meet us with the boots at the trailhead and we would all ski wineglass couloir on Sunday and Stefan, Teddy, Matt, and I would climb at the Happies on Saturday.

I continued to be a bad climber while Teddy crushed numerous boulder problems, but it was super fun. On our way out of the happies we ran into Sujung who was just heading up there for an evening climbing session like the crusher she is.

After climbing, we headed down to the hot ditch which continues to be my favorite eastside hot spring south of mammoth, and then we went to the brewery for some delicious snacks. We got to the trailhead at Mcgee creek at 8pm and set up bed. I was still recovering from my conference sickness, so I was eager to get to sleep. I had just dozed off when hero ben showed up with my boots and we all went to bed. We woke up at 5am, put our packs on and were moving by 5:30. There was such little snow that we were able to start at the summer trailhead and still we were able to walk to the base of the couloir in running shoes. We had to do a little creek crossing which lead to some unwanted wetness, but getting to the base was generally easy. As the couloir came into fill view we got STOKED because it was fully in.

Stefan, Teddy and Matt fording the treacherous waters

The wineglass couloir got the name because the bottom half is a narrow couloir and the top half is a wide funnel making a wineglass shape. The couloir itself isn’t that steep, about 30 degrees. The steepest section of the funnel is steeper, more like 35 degrees.

the full couloir

We had done a bad job as a group preparing for the climb, but Ben lent Stefan his crampons and I lent Teddy and Matt my whippets and they booted. Ben and I each had a set of skeats skin cleats which are a cleat for your skis that aid traction while moving uphill. We put on our skeats and were able to skin directly up the couloir instead of booting. Excellent!

skeating up the couloir

I was pretty exhausted by the climb because I still hadn’t completely healed from the sickness that I had acquired the week prior at my conference, but eventually we made it to the top of the couloir. We got a pretty good view of Esha peak which looked pretty good as well and the many couloirs of the Baldwin cirque, many of which looked radical. We transitioned into snow sliding gear, had some delicious snacks, and started skiing down. I was stoked by the first couple turns because they were powder!!!!! I then got stoked and moved into the skier’s right side of the wineglass which was also powder. We all regrouped and descended one by one to a safe zone the snow was excellent. In the couloir itself, the snow was a little icier, but still good and the aesthetics in the couloir were awesome. This couloir is a great option for folks who want to see what couloir skiing is all about and I highly recommend it. Plus, instead of garbage crampons, you can just use skeats to head up it!

Teddy, stoked!
Stefan crushing powder
Teddy chomping at the bit, ben STOKED
looking down the couloir