First Descent: Porch Couloir

Contributed By RealAdventuresby David Huebner
Anyone who's spent time skiing the backcountry knows how on just one ski tour you can spot a lifetime's worth of lines and summits to ski- "Hey, look at that chute!"- it happens all the time, so I figured I'd just head on back to one of those lines.

It's an ordinary day in my High Sierra wonderland backyard. The sun's warm, the sky's deep blue, and I'm gliding up over spring corn looking for a sweet chute back in the far reaches of Tamarack Lakes drainage I'd spotted earlier in the season.

Twelve Flags Pk. is the hill the Porch Couloir scribes its way down, and you won't find it listed in the annals of Sierra climbing guides; just a bump on a ridge from the West , but quite awesome from the quiet, hidden, East side, with this particular line curving its rockwalled way down the mountain for a thousand feet.

I start up the chute, which is well shaded and firm, not likely to soften. Good snow for kicking steps, but still the climb burns, up up up -am I still going up?- my legs pant and moan a bit as I finally top out on the 13,400' summit. A new summit is always awesome, what a view, the Sierra all white and jagged, and a nice warm dry summit rock to sit on and scan the register. Dating back to the first ascent in the 1940's, the couple dozen entries aren't during skiable months, or anyone writing that they are planning on skiing down. So I sign in and glide off right from the summit rock on my somewhat symbolic pair of Karhu Bardinis (which, other than being named after a great guide and hero, are an awesome ski).

I skitter down a 200 cm wide, off fall line slot through the rocks off the summit ridge to get into the bulletproof 40 degree upper face. After a couple hundred feet or so I swing right, over to the top of the chute and start making my way down.

Ranging from 40-50 degrees, and varying from 15-30 feet wide for a thousand feet or so, the line unfolds beneath my chattering edges like a Kerouac Blues Chorus. Rough, edgy, sometimes effortless, euphoric, completely inspiring and enlightening, occasionally crazy; as I swing into a sheltered corner and hit a soft spine of powder for 6 shin deep, sloughing jump turns before hitting the bulletproof ice again.

From one riff to another, out of the narrow exit I traverse over into the late day sun, and glide out a set of long slush turns before dropping into another bulletproof 200 foot rock walled chute to the iced up surface of Tamarack Lake.

Skiing down the Tamarack Lakes drainage to get back home, I traverse right several times and lay down sets of perfect fall line slush turns kind of like Bird Parker might bop from one musical idea to the other with undulating transitions; stringing together brilliant flashes of clarity.

By the end of it all I'd put in a long day of skiing, with 4,000 feet up and down over several miles. With folks out there doing more rappelling than skiing to get down some first descents in other mountain ranges, I look at the back of beyond backyard o' mine and ask, "Why?"

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