Location: Deep above Bishop, Lake Sabrina, SW of Echo Col
Recommended Map: Kings Canyon High Country – Tom Harrison
Black Giant at 13,330′ is really quite easy to skin and ski down. The west slope has a friendly angle and will probably be perfect corn on most windless spring afternoons. The climb from Helen Lake is only about 1800′, and you’re going to be on top of the Black Giant! All you gotta do is ski 2 days from Lake Sabrina, or more likely even further when hwy 168 isn’t plowed all the way there. So your starting practically in the little town of Aspendale 8500′, 20 something miles above Bishop. If you wait until the gate opens to drive up to Lake Sabrina, you may find the snow has melted out more than you would like to start the trip into the mountains. I’ve skinned around the south side Lake Sabrina when melted out, it just added some time and hassle. My perception is that it would be better to pick a ski tour starting at nearby North Lake or South Lake when the Sabrina has melted out.
In late April of 2006 Eric Ongerth and I spent 5 days skiing a loop that hit Black Giant as well as 4 other peaks. We took a run down an easy SW chute from the summit of the peak. This south slope started out as a wide 30 degree football field with dreamy corn snow, and just funneled down a short couloir. We then easily wrapped back around to Muir Pass for short skin back to Helen Lake. So if you’re up there and the west slope is firm, this south descent option may be your solution. I don’t know anything else about other ski mountaineering options on this peak. I didn’t see any paths to ski on it’s huge east side, which probably earned it the name Black Giant.
I’ll let these old pictures tell the story, you don’t need any beta for skiing out here. You need a fair bit of ski touring experience or an AMGA guide to navigate the challenges of a trip multiple days from the car. But in the big picture, Black Giant is not that hard to find or ski. Echo Col is a popular high Sierra Crest crossing you need to get over, which is a full day from the car. You may choose to cross the pass when frozen for safety. In other words, it’s hard to know what time of day you’ll arrive at this Col being so far from your car. Setup your camp in striking range to get over the east side based on how close you want to be to Black Giant and how much time you have in general. On overnight tours you will start each day with a goal, but have flexibility and enjoy the changes in strategy. We camped pretty close to Echo Pass on it’s west side to ski Black Giant. This ensured we could get over Echo Col and ski it’s steep east face before warming up. I then skinned up to the summit of Mt. Powell and skied a fantastic high north facing curvy slope. I got a great view of Black Giant from the top of Powell and we then skied all the way back to the car.
The route we did on this trip was part Eric’s idea, and part just winging it looking around out there. Mt. Goddard was the goal. From my memory our trip went like this:
Day 1: Walk from Aspendale gate at noon and camp halfway to Echo Pass.
Day 2: cross over the Sierra Crest via Haeckel Col, after skiing the top part of Mt. Wallace. We dropped big packs below North side of Mt. Fiske and skinned around the back to the summit, and dropped the steep North slope we saw from the pass earlier that day. Then we moved camp a few miles closer to Mt. Goddard.
Day 3: Ski Mt. Goddard and go back to our snow cave.
Day 4: Ski to check out the stone Muir Hut and ski Black Giant, followed by move camp to base of Echo Col.
Day 5: Skin/Walk up Echo Col West Slope to cross and ski Mt. Powell before the long journey out to the car.
There were other peaks worth skiing as we basically travelled a loop around Mt. Huxley, which Eric went back solo the next week to get a first descent on the sketchy north couloir we discovered! I’d go back to ski on the south and east sides of that peak. Mt. Fiske was amazing with nice slopes on a few sides. I could go on and on! I wish I could get more than one or two multi day ski tours each season, but spring is a crazy fun time for every outdoor activity. Finding friends to ski in May is tough when they are trying to convince you to go on a climbing or mountain biking trip.