Toured out of Twin Lakes at dawn for an investigatory adventure into the alpine in Horse Creek drainage. Skies were clear at at first light near 0640 as we skinned up Horse Creek from the campground (see photo), with temperatures below 0°C, and winds picking up to light from the NE from calm as we skinned up to 8000′ on a NNE facing slope. Snow surfaces varied from rotten faceting snow to hard packed icy surfaces that had us using ski crampons (see photo). As we made our way up past 8300′ heading S in the drainage, we observed no more soft surfaces aside from the occasional pocket of windbuff. Our skis barely left marks in the now as we picked our way up the benches to the tree island below the approach bench to Matterhorn Peak (see photo).
Once reaching the tree island at 9441′ and setting up camp / eating / discussing plans given the conditions, we observed HS 269cm with a supportive firm, unimpressionable crust. The skies were CLR with a light wind out of the SE. Tair 4.2°C, Tsurface -6.4°C, T10 -13.4°C at 1132 before rolling out of camp. From here we poked up towards Matterhorn Peak, curious of the conditions in the couloirs the mountain holds, fully knowing from visible coverage conditions looks poor.
Conditions skinning up to the bowl below Ski Dreams were “slide for life”, with ski crampons coming into play. Pockets of breakable crust on top of soft snow made the skinning more character building, & not inspiring confidence. Once reaching the bowl in the afternoon shade, similar conditions persisted (see photo), having us transition to boot crampons and ice axes at the last bench before rounding the corner to the exit of Ski Dreams. Once poking around to the bottom of the couloir, conditions were considerably steeper than the previous times we had been on the mountain, with ski conditions looking bumpy and hard packed, and possibly pushing the bounds of our late afternoon type 2 fun mission to be a type 3 fun type of ski. Given the time of day, little margin for error given our timing & lack of daylight, along with the conditions, we opted to head to the saddle between this chute and the other two prominent lines, and ski back to camp (see photo).
Wx @1703 back at camp had skies back to FEW, light wind out of the SE steady, and below freezing temps overnight. This morning we woke up to SCT cloud covered around 0700, calm winds in the basin but winds observed blowing from multiple directions at higher elevations in the true alpine assumed due to orographics (NW, SE). Winds picked up throughout the day today to moderate in the basin of the drainage, coming from the SE. While there was not plentiful snow for transport, we did see light snow transport along ridgelines today.
While no currently unstable snow was observed during our tour, we did see old crowns (>1 week old) on Horse Creek Peak. These crowns appeared to be from old loading, and roughly (estimated from ridge between Horse Creek & Matterhorn Peaks):
NE-Facing/~40° start zone / 10900′ / R2 / D2.5 / HS / U – most likely N / ≥4′ crownClose