California Classic Backcountry Ski/Snowboard/Snowshoe Adventures
by Paul Richins, Jr.
(updated 8/10/11)

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For the past 20+ years friends and I have taken many ski mountaineering trips into the remote backcountry of the Sierra Nevada, Cascade Range, and Trinity Alps in California. Besides the many fabulous single-day and 2- and 3-day weekend trips to such notable summits as Mount Whitney, Mount Williamson, University Peak, North Palisade, The Thumb, Mount Darwin, Mount Humphreys, Basin Mountain, Mount Tom, Mount Morgan, Mount Dade, Red Slate Peak, Bloody Mountain, Mount Ritter, Mount Dana, Matterhorn Peak, Mount Walt, Mount Tallac, Pyramid Peak,Lassen Peak, and Mount Shasta, we have taken several weeklong trips each spring. Over the course of the years, we have collected some real gems. Below is a brief summary of some of the best trips our group has experienced whether a single-day trip, 2- or 3-day tour, or a longer adventure. These Hall of Fame Classics have been fantastic experiences and each year our group proclaims that this year's trip was the best of the bunch.

The best time to adventure deep into the California backcountry for multi-day mini-expeditions is March through mid-May. The days are longer, the snow is becoming consolidated, and the spring corn snow begins to form a velvet-smooth "corn" ski surface that is ideal for increasing your enjoyment and the number of your turns. For shorter, single day or weekend trips, mid-December through mid-May is the season. I hope you take the opportunity to enjoy the backcountry on skis, snowboard, or snowshoes.

Many of these trips and much more information are detailed in my popular backcounty boarding and ski mountaineering guide book, 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney. More articles on boarding and ski mountaineering can be seen in the E-library including an exquisite ski circumnavigation of Whitney as published in the Sacramento Bee on 2/3/05 titled, Mount Whitney: Mountain of Solutide. Also see the list of Ski Mountaineers Peaks, Snowboard Challenge, and Single-Day Gems. For a description of arguably the best backcountry skiing in California, if not the U.S., check out Ski and Snowboard Descent of Mount Shasta.

Ski and snowboard mountaineering can be dangerous. There are inherent risks in the sport including avalanches, blizzards, high winds, hypothermia, rock fall, and many other unexpected dangers. All can result in injury or death. The descriptions contained in this website cannot alert you to every danger, hazard, weather condition, snow condition, or anticipate the abilities/limitations of those using this website. When you follow any of the routes contained on this website, you assume the responsibility for your own safety.

Index of Trip Itineraries and Brief Route Descriptions:
Mount Adams, Washington
Marion Peak, Observation Peak, Split Mountain
South Sister, Bend Oregon
Jacks Peak
Mount Tinemaha
Cloudripper, Mount Agassiz, and Thunderbolt Couloir
Mount Shasta via Brewer Creek and the Wintun Glacier
Trojan Peak and Mount Bernard via George Creek
Mount Baldwin and Red Slate Mountain
Mount Aggie
Ridge Route to Ridge Lakes and Peak 8,640+ feet, Lassen National Park
Mount Shasta--Clear Creek Route
Baxter Pass, Clarence King, and Rae Lakes
Mount Gabb's North Side Glacier
Recess Peak and Mount Gabb
Red and White Mountain, Mount Izaack Walton, and Silver Peak
Traverse of the Trinity Alps
Palisade Glacier, Northwest Couloir Mount Sill, Scimitar Pass
Enchanted Gorge and Much More
Piute Pass, Ruskie Pass, Seven Gables Pass to Gemini and Seven Gables
Trans-Sierra Traverse-North Lake to Wishon Reservoir
Mount Baxter, Mount Cotter, Rae Lakes, Sixty Lake Basin
Ionian Basin for a Third Time: 5 Passes-3 Peaks
Circumnavigation of Mount Whitmey
Lassen Peak's North East Face
Thompson Peak and Caesar Cap Peak, Trinity Alps
Winter in May: Ski descents of Mounts Wallace, Powell, Scylla, and Black Giant
Sawtooth Mountain, Trinity Alps
Pyramid Peak's Southwest Bowl
Brokeoff Mountain
Lassen Peak
Mount Shasta's Cascade Gulch
Mount Stanford
Mount Crocker, and Red and White Mountain
Mount Cedric Wright, Arrow Peak Vennacher Needle via Taboose Pass to Southfork Pass
Mount Brewer and Midway Mountain via Kearsarge, Longley, Thunder, and Shepherd Passes
San Joaquin Mountain
Mounts Irvin, Pickering, Newcomb, Chamberlin, Joe Devel
Circumnavigation of Banner Peak
East to West Traverse of Yosemite National Park
Mount Lyell--Ski Ascent and Descent of the Highest Peak in Yosemite National Park
Circumnavigation of the Palisades
Circumnavigation of the Kaweahs
The High Sierra Route: An East to West Traverse of the Sierra Nevada
Black Giant and Mount Goddard via Echo Col, Muir Pass, Ionian Basin, Alpine Col, Piute Pass
Kearsarge Pass to Mount Whitney

Mount Adams, Southern Washington Cascades--July 8 and 9, 2011
This was a big snow winter and spring in California, Oregon, and Washington, so the road into the Cold Springs trailhead and the south ridge of Mount Adams did melt out until very late in the year. As it was, we were stopped by snow about 2.5 miles from the trailhead. Normally the road opens up to the Cold Springs trailhead (5,600 feet) by early June, but not this year.

Day 1--I met my daughter, Sierra, in Hood River. She was driving from the Seattle area and I from El Dorado Hills in northern California. We headed for the Trout Lake Ranger Station to pay for our climbing permits. The office was abuzz with activity. This was a Friday and the Forest Service staff indicated there could be as many as a hundred climbers on the mountain over the weekend. What a stark contrast to my experience on July 5, 1977, when I first climbed the mountain. On this day, nearly 35 years ago, we were able to drive to the trailhead and our party of two was the only one on the mountain or at least the only group on the south ridge route.

We drove to the trailhead, or should I say, to a big snow bank that stopped our progress at around 5,200 feet, and that of the other 20-30 cars parked alongside the dirt road.

We started hiking around 2:00 p.m. Our plan was to ski/snowshoe into a base camp near South Butte. This is the winter route, and the Forest Service recommended this variation over the Crescent Glacier route due to avalanche potential. Actually, either route would have been fine as the avalanche risk was minimal.

There were 3 or 4 other parties heading up the road along with us. The first 2.5 miles and 400 feet of elevation gain were over patchy snow on the road to the Cold Springs trailhead. At the end of the road, the snow became deeper and continuous. After a short distance, I put on tele skis with skins and Sierra put on MSR Denali Ascent snowshoes.

By 6:00 p.m. we found an excellent place to camp, sheltered from the wind by a row of trees whose growth had been severely stunted by the hash weather, cold weather, and strong winds at this elevation on the mountain. Our camp was in the gap alongside South Butte near the 7,200-foot level. It was an ideal and protect campsite. This put us in perfect position for the summit climb and ski descent the following day. A 5,000-foot climb would go quickly and the ski descent even faster.

Day 2--We were up by 4:45 and off by 5:30 a.m. We skipped breakfast but snacked after an hour or so of climbing. As we ascended, we passed numerous tents carefully secured behind rock barriers to protect them from the wind. I liked our camp site and by camping a little lower on the mountain than the others, we had a longer descent without the burden of a heavy backpack. At the Lunch Counter (9,400 feet), a large semi-flat area, we saw even more tents erected on the snow and in the volcanic rock behind rock shelters.

We were making good time. What was ahead was the steepest portion of the climb from the Lunch Counter to the false summit (Pikers Peak) at 11,667 feet. Although it was the steepest section of the climb, it was only about 30%, some say 35%, but I doubt that estimate.

The night barely got down to freezing at our campsite but as we ascended it was a bit colder but pleasant as the wind was not a big factor. However, as we approached Pikers Peak, the wind picked up and we put on a layer of warm cloths. Over the shoulder of Pikers Peak we headed into a large bowl between Pikers Peak and the main summit of Adams (12,276 feet). It was windy in the bowl but not as bad as the approach to Pikers Peak.

We had only 600 feet of elevation to climb. Sierra dropped her pack in the bowl, and headed for the summit. I had a tough time keeping up as she set her sights on the summit. When she was 14 (16 years previous), she climbed Three-Fingered Jack (Oregon), Mount St. Helens, and Mount Rainier, and she was anxious to be able to see St. Helens and Rainier from the summit of Adams. The wind intensified as we approached the summit. It was cold but not unbearable. It would have been pleasant, but for the wind. We spent about 30 minutes on the top talking to other climbers and skiers, and taking photos, and ate an early lunch. We reached the summit around 11:00 a.m. (less than 6 hours of climbing from our base camp) and were one of the first on top for the day.

From the summit, we saw countless snow-covered peaks stretching to Mount Bachelor, South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister, Mount Jefferson, and Mount Hood in Oregon, and Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, and Glacier Peak in Washington.

It was an excellent ski descent. It was a bit icy from the summit down through the bowl but below Pikers Peak, the snow was ideal. Sierra was on foot and was able to glissade from the false summit at 11,667 feet to the Lunch Counter, more than 2,200 feet. She made good time and was almost able to keep up with my ski descent as I explored the area on my descent.

We quickly descended to our base camp and headed back to the car. The snow/ski conditions were poor below our camp. The snow was rutted and sun cupped, so after descending 500 feet below our camp and fighting the deep sun cups and ruts, I took off the skis and hiked. Earlier in the season, the skiing should be much better down to timberline at 6,00 to 6,400 feet.

Observation: This is a very nice climb of a big volcano in Washington. It is the second highest peak in the state (second to Mount Rainier) and is a good route not requiring roped travel because of glaciers and dangerous crevasses. Many of the other big mountains in Washington require roped climbing but Adams does not. This route and peak makes for an excellent ski or snowboard descent. For those considering climbing/skiing Mount Shasta, this is an excellent alternative and is a bit easier. It would be a good tune up for Shasta.

Starting/Ending Point: From Hood River, Oregon, cross the Columbia River and follow the signs to Trout Lake. From Trout Lake head to Cold Springs trailhead. Our starting point was about 2.5 miles from the trailhead at about 5,200 feet.
Difficulty: Intermediate to easy advanced ski terrain
Mileage: about 17 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: about 7,000 feet
Peaks Climbed:
Mount Adams--12,276 feet, Pikers Peak--11,667 feet
: Camp 1 (7,200 feet) at the gap near South Butte
Trip duration: 1.5 days
Best time to go: Early June to early July, depending on winter snow pack
Participants: Paul Richins (age 61), and Sierra Richins Kirshy (age 30)

Marion Peak, Observation Peak, and Split Mountain--April 22-28, 2011
Colin Fuller and I had scheduled this trip into the Cirque Crest for the past three years but due to lack of snow one year and snow storms and unstable weather two other years, the trip had been postponed. This year seemed to present a perfect opportunity as the snow survey report placed the snow pack at about 160% of normal and the weather was starting to improve after a wet and snowy winter and spring. However, the weather still had not stabilized and we experienced on and off snow showers on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to start the trip and high winds on the last day. Large quantities of snow did not build up from these snow storms but there was enough fresh snow on frozen hard pack snow to be a concern for avalanches on the steeper slopes. In fact, we experienced two snow slides/avalanches while descending Marion Peak and Frozen Lake Pass. And, on April 26, (or 27) 2011, Kip Garre and Allison Kreutzen, were caught in a powerful avalanche and were killed while ascending the East Couloir of Split Mountain. Split Mountain (14,058 feet) was a short distance from our last camp below Mather Pass in Upper Basin at Lake 11,598 feet. For more info, see the discussion below under Day 7 and an article about Kip and Allison in Powder Magazine--

Overall, we had five different campsites over six nights/seven days, traveled 58 miles, gained 16,000 feet, ascended four passes (two passes twice) for a total of six passes (Taboose, Cartridge, Dumbbell Lakes, Dumbbell Lakes, Frozen Lake, and Taboose), and climbed three peaks (Marion, Observation, and Split). Our party included four strong skiers and climbers, Colin and Robin Fuller (Verdi, CA), Gary Dankworth (Carson City, NV), and Paul Richins (El Dorado Hills, CA).

Day 1 (Friday)--Due to work schedules we did not start up the Taboose Pass Trail (trailhead at 5,400 feet) until 5:15 p.m. on Friday, April 22, 2011. There are really no good places to camp along the rocky trail until you cross the creek and climb about 200 feet to level ground at about 8,200 feet. We made the creek crossing just before dark and then, with headlamps switched on, climbed up steep snow to a level area in a large stand of red fir about 200 feet above the creek crossing.

I have traversed Taboose Pass on skis three times and each time, the trail is clear of snow until the creek crossing where you shift from the sunny dry side of the canyon to the more shaded snowy side where skis and climbing skins are required (or snowshoes). This year was no exception. We did not finish setting up camp, eating dinner, and settling into our warm down sleeping bags until 11:00 that night.

Day 2 (Saturday)--We had ascended 3,000 feet in a partial day on Friday and planned to complete the ascent of Taboose Pass (11,360 feet) today and descend gently to the South Fork Kings River at around 10,200 feet to camp for the second night. The day dawned pleasant enough but as we ascended the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up. As we neared Taboose Pass, the visibility was minimal (we could not see the pass until we arrived at the Taboose Pass sign) and the wind was bitter cold probably exceeding 40 mph. There was ample snow to keep the skis on all the way to the pass but for one or two short segments where we were forced to clamber across snow-less talus with our plastic tele boots.

We removed our skins at the pass and soon descended over gentle terrain for about a mile before escaping the wind. As we descended, the visibility improved and the wind became a non-issue. There were about 4-6 inches of fresh snow on a hard packed snow/icy base.

One of our concerns for the trip was being able to camp near running water. With the amount of snow from the winter storms, the cool spring we were experiencing, and the fact that our camps would all be positioned above 10,000 feet, we were concerned that we might have to melt snow for water. As it turned out, except for the last camp at 11,600 feet, we were able to camp at sites with running water. We were not able to actually reach the water due to the depth of the snow, but lowered our water bottles on a light rope to fetch water each evening and morning. This is a technique we have used often and eliminates the risk of down climbing into a snow hole and falling through into a creek when getting water.

Day 3 (Sunday)--Another good weather day to begin with but as the day progressed clouds rolled in and on our descent from Cartridge Pass to Marion Lake the fog became so thick we had to rely completely on our GPS to find Marion Lake.

From our camp along the South Fork Kings River, we skied down the river about a mile or so but got overly anxious to start traversing into the lake basin below Cartridge Pass. This was a mistake as we had to traverse steep terrain, climb around and over rocky cliffs, and had to remove our skis a couple of times. This was slow and took more energy than it should have. It would have been far better to continue gently down the South Fork for a couple of miles to about 9,500 feet before traversing and heading up toward the lakes situated below Cartridge Pass.

The weather started to sock back in as we approached Cartridge Pass (11,680+ feet) but the wind was not nearly as fierce as the day before. The ski descent of the north side of the pass was enjoyable. We avoided the cliff band below the pass by making a long traverse to the right (northeast) and then down to the first lakes in the basin. We followed the drainage and string of lakes to Marion Lake (10,296 feet). Under normal conditions this would have been an easy and quick ski descent over gentle terrain but the fog rolled in. It was so dense that we could hardly see the tips of our skis. We stopped often to take GPS readings and to make sure our party stayed close together. With the help of Colin's GPS, we found the beautiful lake at the base of Marion Peak. It was ringed by cliffs on one side and open trees on another. There was running water at the outlet and this protected area became our camp for two nights while we skied Marion Pass and climbed Marion Peak.

Day 4 (Monday)--Again, the weather in the morning was beautiful. We set out to climb Marion Peak (12,719 feet) via Marion Pass (12,040+ feet). The ascent to the pass was via a wide open bowl with excellent skiing. As we neared the pass, the wind again picked up and the clouds rolled in. At the pass, one had to be careful not to be caught off guard by a gust of wind. The visibility was minimal and we could no longer see the summit of Marion Peak. Under these adverse conditions, Colin and Robin wisely opted to ski the open bowls below Marion Pass and return to camp at Marion Lake.

Gary and I huddled behind a subpeak along the ridge for protection against the wind and ate lunch. While eating, we agreed to ascend the peak. The ridge was corniced so we had to stay back from the crest of the ridge. This was difficult at times because the visibility was so poor we could not actually see the crest of the ridge. With Gary leading, we set out for the summit. Because of the high winds and poor visibility we cached our skis at our lunch stop. As it turned out, the skis would have been nice to have as there was great powder skiing from the summit and in the large bowls to the southeast of the ridge we ascended. At one point near the summit, the ridge was double corniced (which we could not see on the ascent due to poor visibility) and wind loaded. We unknowingly traversed under this cornice and back to the ridge to the summit.

This was my second ascent of Marion Peak and Gary's first. On top, we spent 30 minutes or so looking for the summit register but with no success. It was buried in too much snow. While on the summit the weather started to improve and we got glimpses of the surrounding peaks, terrain, and our ascent route.

After a bite to eat, we started our descent in clouds and brief moments of clearing. Upon reaching the double cornice area, we followed our footsteps the best we could (they had been snowed in and blown over). With Gary about 30 feet ahead of me, the snow gave way and a surface slide broke loose sending Gary for a ride of a couple hundred feet down the snow slope. I was lucky as the avalanche started below me. I kept my eye on Gary as he was able to ride it out staying on the surface of the slide. Wow, a close call! We do not need any more of these.

Back at our packs at Marion Pass, we put on skis and had an excellent ski descent in the wide open bowls down to Marion Lake and our camp.

Day 5 (Tuesday)--We moved camp a short distance and found some running water in Lake Basin at about 10,700 feet just south of Dumbbell Lakes Pass (11,640+ feet). We set up camp and after a short rest were off to ascend Dumbbell Lakes Pass and Observation Peak (12,362 feet). We crossed the lower end of upper Dumbbell Lake and headed north toward Cataract Pass (11,520+ feet) and Observation Peak without dropping down to lower Dumbbell Lake. Either way, you end up losing some elevation between upper Dumbbell Lake and the start of the climb of Observation Peak.

We made our way to Cataract Pass and up the south slopes of the peak. Gary took his rondonnee skis to the summit while the rest of us stashed our skis about 300 feet short of the summit because of icy snow conditions. Our friend Bob Carlson, who climbed the peak in the winter in 1988, indicated that the summit was a "bit interesting". What did that mean? We had no idea. From a distance, the peak looked routine. Well, when we neared the summit, we understood what Bob meant by "interesting". The ridge narrowed. A sliver of snow, perched on the ridge, pointed the way to the summit. The only way to the top was to traverse 100 feet on this narrow ridge of snow. And, it was nearly vertical on both sides of the ridge so you really did not want to slip or fall. I started out by placing one foot on the left side of the ridge and the other foot on the right side. I walked across this span with one foot on each side of the steep narrow ridge until I reached the summit. I figured, if it got too bad, I could drop to my hands and knees and crawl across but it was not necessary.

On the summit I noticed some foot prints from another party that must have climbed the peak a day or two earlier. Gary and Colin soon followed my foot steps to the summit.

It was almost dark when we got back to camp that night but we all had a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. We had climbed Observation Peak and Dumbbell Lakes Pass twice (on the way to the peak and on the return to our camp). In total we climbed about 3,500 feet for the day.

Day 6 (Wednesday)--Today we moved camp from below Dumbbell Lakes Pass over Frozen Lake Pass (12,320+ feet) to Lake 11,598 feet located in Upper Basin east of Mather Pass. It was a good day with only one point of excitement. The northeast side of Frozen Lake Pass, dropping into Upper Basin, is steep and there was ample fresh snow from wind loading of the upper slopes just below the pass. We were concerned about the stability of the fresh snow on the icy base. Gary lead out and on his first turn, the surface snow let go starting a small/medium-sized surface avalanche. With the avalanche clearing the way, we skied its path to the bottom in safety.

We set up camp at Lake 11,598 feet while Gary ascend Split Mountain (14,058 feet).

Day 7 (Thursday)--We had planned to ski out over the shoulder of Mount Bolton Brown and past Birch Lake but the wind had increased considerably and the unstable snow was a concern over the steep terrain and passes we would have to navigate. So, we altered our plans and skied out the way we came in by traversing over Taboose Pass. The ski descent was a blast but the top 1,000 feet was very windy.

In the morning, while at our camp in Upper Basin, east of Mather Pass and northwest of Split Mountain, a helicopter circled several times. They seemed to be looking for someone or another backcountry ski party but not us, fortunately. As it turned out, when we returned home we learned that two excellent skiers (Kip Garre and Allison Kreutzen) were killed in the East Couloir of Split Mountain directly above Red Lake on Tuesday (or Wednesday). This and other couloirs on Split Mountain are high risk ski endeavors made more dangerous by poor snow conditions that existed at the time (fresh snow on an icy base). Near the top of the East Couloir of Split Mountain there was an accumulation of fresh snow due to wind loading and that accumulation of snow is what apparently gave way and swept the two climbers/skiers down the couloir. It was reported that the avalanche started about two-thirds of the way up the couloir and swept the two down while they were ascending the couloir. It was a very powerful avalanche.

Starting/Ending Point: Taboose Pass Trailhead (5,400 feet)
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced ski terrain
Mileage: 58 miles plus 3 miles for ascending/descending Split Mountain
Elevation Gain: about 16,000 feet plus 2,400 feet for ascending Split Mountain
Passes Crossed:
Taboose Pass (11,360 feet), Cartridge Pass (11,680+ feet), Marion Pass (12,040+ feet), Dumbell Lakes Pass (11,640+ feet), Dumbell Lakes Pass (11,640+ feet), Frozen Lake Pass (12,320+ feet) Taboose Pass (11,360 feet)
Peaks Climbed:
Marion Peak--12,719 feet (Paul Richins and Gary Dankworth), Observation Peak--12,362 feet (Paul Richins, Gary Dankworth, Colin and Robin Fuller)
: Camp 1 (8,200 feet) along the Taboose Pass Trail, Camp 2 (10,200 feet) along the South Fork Kings River, Camp 3 (10,296 feet) at Marion Lake for two nights, Camp 4 (10,700 feet) south of Dumbbell Pass, and Camp 5 at Lake 11,596 feet in Upper Basin east of Mather Pass and northwest of Split Mountain.
Trip duration: 7 days
Best time to go: March through April
Participants: Paul Richins (age 61), Colin Fuller (age 63), Robin Fuller (age 54), Gary Dankworth (age 60)

South Sister, Bend Oregon, June 12-13, 2010
For many years I have wanted to ascend South Sister and ski from its summit. In August 2009, I hiked and climbed the peak in the summer with my sister, husband, and daughter. That gave me the added inspiration to plan a ski ascent/descent for May or June 2010. In May, I kept checking road conditions with Oregon DOT to see about the status of plowing the Cascade Lakes Highway beyond Mount Bachelor ski area. Several times that I called, I got the response that "we are plowing as fast as we can but we are losing ground because it is snowing faster than we can clear the road". There goal is to have the road open by Memorial Day each year but it did not happen in 2010.

Day 1--I camped along the road near Mount Bachelor ski area so I would get an early-morning start. There was snow in the Green Lakes trailhead parking area (5,450 feet) so I parked along the recently plowed Cascade Lakes Highway. The snow was spotty for the first mile or so along the Green Lakes trail but I was soon putting on skis and skins as the snow deepened. The trail started in a thick forest of trees but as I ascended alongside Fall Creek, the trees became more widely spaced. I made good time passing the turnoff to Moraine Lake on my left and was soon looking for the bridge that crosses Fall Creek. I could not locate the bridge that I recalled from my previous summer hike, so continued up the left (west) side of the creek all the way to lower end of Newberry Lava Flow. I continued up Fall Creek with the Newberry Lava Flow on my left and Fall Creek on my right. This took me all the way to Green Lakes (6,505 feet) with the snow covering the creek the last mile.

I set up camp in a partially bare spot below the huge outstretched limbs of a large fir tree at the lower end of the first Green lake. I took a ski tour around Green Lake and then headed up the Newberry Lava Flow to the ridge at about 8,000 feet. This gave me a good view of the route for my ascent of South Sister the following day. The snow was in excellent condition and I made a fast descent to my camp.

I was the only one at Green Lake as most of the skiers and boarder were ascending the peak from Moraine Lake. At least that is what I determined the next day. As I reached the summit ridge, I could see Moraine Lake and a dozen or so climbers making their way up the mountain.

Day 2-- I was up at sunrise and headed for the summit. It is an enjoyable route worth repeating. I made good progress up to the Lewis Glacier, crossed the glacier and gained the south ridge high on the mountain. As I crossed the Lewis Glacier, I could see a perfect descent route--a steep couloir to the west of Hodge Crest. I would ski this on the descent rather than the icy south ridge that is the popular standard route for those coming up from Moraine Lake.

On the south ridge, I took off my skis and hiked up to the summit crater and then skied the rim to the true summit on the far side of the crater. I think I was the first one to arrive that day. I waited for an hour or two for the snow to soften (in hind sight that was not necessary) for my descent. While waiting three other parties arrived including two excellent rondonnee skiers from France. They were headed to ski the Cascade volcanos including Mount Adams, Mount Baker, Mount Rainier.

To start my descent, I went to the easterly point of the crater rim and dropped down to the saddle west of Hodge Crest and then down the couloir to Lewis Glacier. This is an excellent route and not as difficult or steep as it appeared from below. The snow was firm but not icy. Excellent skiing all the way down the Lewis Glacier. As I descended, the snow softened and I was regretting that I waited on the summit for two hours.

Back at camp, I packed up and skied out to the car. A great little trip. Next year, I will head to Mount Adams to ascend the south ridge and ski from its summit. Lets hope it is as good as South Sister.

Route: Green Lakes trail, Lewis Glacier, South Ridge of South Sister
Starting/Ending Point
: Green Lakes Trailhead (5,450 feet), located past Mount Bachelor Ski Resort just off the Cascade Lakes Highway
Difficulty: Intermediate/Advanced ski terrain
Mileage: about 16 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: about 4,000 feet
Base camp
: Green Lake (6,505 feet)
Peaks climbed: South Sister (10,358 feet)
Trip duration: 2 days
Best time to go: May/early June
Participants: Paul Richins (age 60) on tele skis

Jacks Peak in the Desolation Wilderness, March 26-28, 2010
Dave Figoni and I had planned a four-day ski/snowshoe trip into Desolation Wilderness to climb Jacks Peak and Pyramid Peak. Due to high winds we were forced to cut the trip a day short and forego climbing and skiing from the summit of Pyramid.

Lake Aloha and LeConte Lake make an ideal base camp for exploring the Desolation Wilderness area and for some experiencing some exceptional descents. Besides the superb skiing off Jacks peak, Dicks Peak, and Pyramid Peak, there are several miles of fantastic slopes on the east side of the high ridge between Pyramid and Price peaks. These gigantic bowls are sloped perfectly for powder skiing after a cold winter snow storm and later in the year for superb spring corn. These bowls offer 1,500 feet of vertical relief for the energetic skier boarder willing to make the trek into Lake Aloha and the climb to nearly 10,000 feet.

I skied and camped in this area four previous winters but this was the first time in over twenty years. In the winter of 1970, I first skied into the Lake of the Woods and Lake Aloha area to climb Ralston Peak and Pyramid Peak (wow, 40 years ago) while in college. In the late 1970s and late 1980s I skied into the area to climb Pyramid and Price peaks and camped near Lake LeConte each time.

Day 1--From the Echo Lake sno-park near Echo Summit (Highway 50), we skied/snowshoed across Lower and Upper Echo Lakes, past Tamarack Lake, up to Haypress Meadow, over the small saddle (8,360 feet), and down to Lake Aloha (8,116 feet) in the Desolation Wilderness. A distance of about 7.5 miles and about 1,000 feet elevation gain. This area is popular in the summer with hikers but in the winter you will not see many beyond Tamarack Lake.

We set up our base camp along the eastern shore of frozen Lake Aloha not too far from Lake LeConte, a small picturesque lake. We picked a sheltered spot, in a dense thicket of trees. The National Weather Service was predicting unsettled weather and a storm the last day and night of our trip so we wanted to be in the trees for protection from the wind. From our camp, we could look out across the snow-covered Lake Aloha and the range of ragged peaks and high ridge stretching from Pyramid Peak to Price Peak. To the north, Jacks Peak, our next day's destination, towered above Desolation Wilderness, Heather, Susie, and Half Moon lakes, and Lake Tahoe.

The winds had sculptured the snow on Lake Aloha and the great bowls above Lake Aloha creating fascinating designs and waves in the snow.

Day 2--We skied along the frozen and wind-sculptured Lake Aloha to the point where the summertime trail turns east toward Heather Lake and Susie Lake. We descended slightly and then headed up the lower slopes of Jacks Peak. As you view the southeast face of Jacks Peak there is a large buttress with major gullies on each side. Ascend the broad gully to the right (east) of this buttress. It is less steep than the other gully and there is less risk of avalanche. Continue up this gully until it opens into a large bowl around 9,100 feet and then angle left toward the peak and the summit ridge. Follow the ridge to the summit.

We ate lunch on the top and watched four skiers descend steeply from near the summit of Dicks Peak toward Half Moon Lake. As they descended they triggered several surface spring avalanches.

My ski descent was perfect. The slope of the descent was moderate and the snow had turned to spring corn making for an exceptional descent. One can descend the route used ascending the peak (the east gully) or descend more steeply in the gully west of the main buttress.

Another ideal route off the summit of Jacks Peak would be to descend the north and east slopes to Half Moon Lake and then on to Susie Lake and back up to Lake Aloha via Heather Lake following the route of the summertime hiking trail.

Day 3--During the night the wind picked up and continued into the day. Due to the strength of the wind and the pending storm that was predicted, we decided to cut the trip a day short and ski/snowshoe out. The ski descent from Haypress Meadow down to Tamarack Lake and on to upper Echo Lake was ideal. The spring corn was at its finest.

Route: Southeast slopes of Jacks Peak directly above Heather Lake
Starting/Ending Point
: Echo Lake Sno-Park (7,400 feet) off Highway 50 near Echo Summit.
Difficulty: Intermediate level ski terrain
Mileage: about 7.5 miles to base camp and another 3 miles to the summit of Jacks Peak.
Elevation Gain: about 3,000 feet
Base camp
: around 8,140 feet
Trip duration: 3 days
Best time to go: January through April
Participants: Paul Richins (age 60) on tele skis and David Figoni (age 49) on MSR Denali Ascent snowshoes).

Mount Tinemaha--April 24-26, 2009
Seventeen years ago in the scorching desert heat and under a blistering sun with our water supply quickly depleted, my daughter Sierra, age 11, and I ascended the rugged Red Lake Trail to Red Lake (10,459 feet) to climb Split Mountain (14,058 feet). The trail was steep, sandy, and in poor condition having had not been maintained for many years. I really felt like an incompetent parent lacking judgment for taking my daughter up into the mountains on such a difficult trail in the searing heat. If the authorities from Child Protective Services knew what I was subjecting my daughter to, they would surely have intervened. Even though we successfully climbed Split Mountain, and our base camp at Red Lake, located directly beneath the spectacular east face of Split Mountain, was a worthy goal and a beautifully-isolated spot overlooking the parched desert and White Mountains to the east, we vowed never to return.

Well, here I am again trudging up the Red Lake Trail wearing plastic ski boots and carrying a forty-pound backpack with telemark skis strapped to the side of the pack jetting skyward. The conditions were completely different this time. It was late evening in the spring and the air was cool and refreshing tending toward the crisp side of the temperature range. Dr. Colin Fuller and I ascended the sandy and sometimes rocky trail up a series of switch backs being careful not to make a wrong turn where the trail became too faint to follow or nonexistent.

For the past three years we had planned an east-to-west ski traverse of the Sierra via Taboose Pass, Frozen Lake Pass, Dumbbell Lakes, Lake Basin, Granite Pass and exiting at Roads End on the western side of Kings Canyon National Park. Along the route, we planned to climb and ski Observation Peak, State Peak, Marion Peak, Goat Mountain, and Kennedy Mountain. Because of the drought and lack of snow in the two previous winters and a predicted storm and unsettled weather this year, we canceled our Sierra traverse for the third time and were heading up the Red Lake Trail to climb and ski Mount Tinemaha (12,520 feet) as our consolation trip.

Day 1--After three hours of continuous climbing and just before dark, we reached a small tent platform (around 9,200 feet) on the steep mountainside. Although the trail was steep and rugged, and nonexistent in spots, it was not as bad as I remembered it from the experience with my daughter years earlier. Our camp was just below the snow line and about 1,300 feet below Red Lake. We were in a good position to climb the wide south valley of Mount Tinemaha and ski from the summit the following day.

Day 2--The next morning after a leisurely breakfast, we ascended the trail to the small tarn (10,200 feet) surrounded by majestic and ancient foxtail pine. It was a quick ascent on snow to Red Lake. We continued to the upper end of the lake and turned north (right) up the great valley on the south slope of Mount Tinemaha. This is an ideal valley for intermediate-level skiing from the saddle (12,080 feet) located about 0.2 miles southwest of the summit. The snow was firm so we did not skin up to the saddle.

We left our skis and packs at the saddle and scrambled up rock and talus to the summit. The summit register was placed in 1989 and we noted several winter ascents dating back to February 1991 by Doug Mantle and friends. We also noted that a climber claimed to have ascended Birch Mountain, Bolton Brown, Prater, Split, and Tinemaha from McMurry Meadows in a single 15-hour marathon day. The view from the top was exceptional with Birch Mountain, Split Mountain, and the Thumb dominating the near view.

The ski descent was all too short. We took our skis off a couple of times to walk across short segments of exposed talus in the south-facing valley. However, we were able to ski to the small tarn below Red Lake and down a short distance before the snow ran out. In a better snow year or earlier in the season, the ski descent may continue another 1,000 feet lower.

Day 3--The hike out was quick and painless--actually enjoyable. The drive to the trailhead was almost more challenging than the climb and ski descent. When you secure a wilderness permit from the Bishop Forest Service Office, ask for driving directions to the Red Lake trailhead. A farmer has blocked the most direct road to the trailhead so a circuitous route following the McMurry Road to McMurry Meadows and onto the trailhead is required.

A base camp at the tarn below Red Lake or at Red Lake would be ideal for a multi-peak effort ascending and skiing from near the summits of Split Mountain and Mount Tinemaha.

Route: South slopes and valley on Tinemaha immediately above Red Lake Peak
Starting/Ending Point
: Red Lake Trailhead at 6,568 feet. From Big Pine on Highway 395, drive west on Glacier Lodge Road for several miles. Turn left on McMurry Road and drive to McMurry Meadows. This portion of the dirt road is in good and passable in a sedan or low-clearance vehicle. From McCurry Meadows, an all-wheel drive vehicle with higher clearance is needed. From the meadows, drive away from the mountains and downhill for about a mile and then turn back toward the mountains and the trailhead. There are a number of tricky turns so pick up driving directions at the Forest Service Office in Bishop.
Difficulty: Steep trail in poor condition to Red Lake. Intermediate-level ski terrain above Red Lake.
Mileage: about 4 miles to our base camp (it is about 5 miles to Red Lake) and another 3 miles to Mount Tinemaha.
Elevation Gain: about 6,000 feet
Base camp
: around 9,200 feet
Trip duration: 2.5 days
Best time to go: March and April
Participants: Paul Richins (age 59) and Dr. Colin Fuller (age 61).

Cloudripper, Mount Agassiz, and Thunderbolt Glacier and Couloir--4/16-20/2009
See related trips and discussions. Palisade Glacier, Northwest Couloir Mount Sill, Scimitar Pass and
Circumnavigation of the Palisades

The past three winters have not been particularly good snow years for backcountry skiers. The winters of 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 were drought years with snow depths considerably below normal (less than 50% of normal). The winter of 2008/2009 was slightly better with snow depths about 70% of normal.

Fifth Lake (10,759 feet) was an ideal location for our base camp for this trip. Our plans were to climb Cloudripper (13,501 feet) and Mount Agassiz (13,893 feet), and to explore the Agassiz, Thunderbolt, and Palisades glaciers.

Day 1--We drove from the Red Bluff and Sacramento areas to Big Pine and the the North Fork Big Pine Creek trailhead (7,800 feet). Since we had only about 4 hours of light, we headed to Second Lake (10,000+ feet) for our first night and then planned to move camp a short distance to Fifth Lake (10,759 feet) for our base camp. We followed the route of the North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail and encountered patches of snow above 9,400 feet. The snow was firm so we did not put on skis and climbing skins or snowshoes before reaching Second Lake. We found a camping spot at the upper end of the lake near an inlet stream just as it was getting dark. The tent was quickly in place and Dave went off to get water from the nearby stream. There was only about 2-3 feet of snow so the running water was not difficult to retrieve. We prepared dinner inside the tent with a hanging stove that warmed the tent while cooking our delicious dinners.

Day 2--We were up early to take photos of the ice fall near our camp that hung menacing to the granite cliffs above the trail. Large icicles and thick ice encrusted the rocks, and large chunks and mounds of ice covered the trail at the base of the falls. The ice formations sparkled in the early-morning light and made for some creative photography. After photographing the ice falls, I headed for the lake with my camera, various lenses, and tripod to capture some shoots of the frozen lake and the early light on the rugged face of Temple Crag rising from the lake. Dave stayed near camp to photograph the ice formations and ice falls. As a result of glacial action of the Palisades and Thunderbolt glaciers in the high cirque above, Second Lake is a beautiful emerald green color from the reflections off the fine particulate matter suspended in the lake when the snow melts from the lakes surface in the late spring and summer. This is a wonderful day-hike destination in the summer and fall.

Back at camp, we put on skis and snowshoes and in a couple of hours reached Fifth Lake. There still was not much snow at Fifth Lake--only about 3-4 feet--but the snow was fairly continuous from Second Lake to Fifth Lake. We set up the tent in a sheltered location out of the wind. The day was young so we ascended to the Palisade and Thunderbolt glaciers for close-up views of Mount Sill, North Palisade, Thunderbolt, Mount Winchell, the V-Notch, U-Notch, and the couloir descending the rugged flanks of Thunderbolt.

Although there was not time to ascend the couloir, the main gully on Thunderbolt looked in excellent condition for skiing. It is not as steep as either the V-Notch (extreme) or the U-Notch (40+ degrees). I have climbed the main Thunderbolt snow couloir in the summer but not skied it in the winter or spring but it looks like an exceptional ski couloir of moderate steepness.

Day 3--We skied/snowshoed to Sixth and Seventh (11,200 feet) lakes and up the steep slopes to the saddle northeast of the summit of Cloudripper (mostly snow but there was a steep section of exposed scree near the saddle). From the saddled (12,300+ feet), we climbed along the ridge over rock and snow to the summit. The great east face of Cloudripper contains a wide gully that originates south of the summit that would have been a great ski descent. Due to unstable snow, we decided not to descend this steep route but it appeared to be nearly ideal.

Day 4--We were up early and headed toward Jigsaw Pass and then angled to the left after a short distance to ascend to the Agassiz Glacier northeast of Mount Agassiz. At the upper end of the glacier we turned east and ascended a pass (12,500+ feet) between Mount Robinson and Mount Agassiz and then dropped slightly to the glacier on the south side of the peak. We ascended the glacier heading towards Agassiz Col. Below the col but still on the glacier, we turned right up steep snow and a gully that opened up to a large snow field that originated along the southwest summit ridge. The climbing was steep with some post-holing, hard snow and ice, and some rock scrambling. We reached the summit to wonderful views of the Palisades and the mountains to the west and south. There were literally, snow-covered mountains on top of snow-covered mountains as far as the eye could see.

We descended Mount Agassiz and then across the glacier south of the peak skiing and snowshoeing beneath the east face of Mount Robinson (12,867 feet) back to our camp at Fifth Lake. While following this circuitous route to Mount Agassiz, we completely circled Mount Robinson, the large peak that rises abruptly above Fifth Lake and sits in front of Mount Agassiz.

Day 5--We headed out and in a couple of hours reached the car for the long drive home. A rewarding and enjoyable trip. The snow was melting fast and the weather had warmed considerably while we were there enjoying the mountain terrain. The low temperature at night varied between 14 and 19 degrees F. but warmed nicely as soon as the sun peaked over the horizon.

Route--Northeast ridge on Cloudripper, Southeast face and couloir on Mount Agassiz
Starting/Ending Point: Glacier Lodge/North Fork Big Pine Creek Trailhead. From Big Pine on Highway 395, drive west on Glacier Lodge Road to its end and the trailhead.
Difficulty: Strenuous ascent. Intermediate skiing
Mileage: about 6 miles to base camp at Fifth Lake and about 3,000 feet
Base camp: Fifth Lake at 10,759 feet
Trip duration: 4.5 days
Best time to go: March through early-May
Participants: Paul Richins age 59 (on tele skies), David Figoni age 48 (on MSR Denali Ascent snowshoes)
Elevation gain--from base camp to the summit of Cloudripper about 2,800 feet and from base camp to Mount Agassiz about 3,800 feet. Total elevation for the trip was about 7,600 feet.

Mount Shasta via Brewer Creek and the Wintun Glacier--6/12-13/08
Several skiers from work were interested in attempting Mount Shasta from a route other than the standard Avalanche Gulch route they had climbed in the past so I volunteered to take them to the east side of the mountain for more of a wilderness experience. This is my favorite route on the mountain as there are far fewer climbers/skiers and the ski descent is a classic 7,000+ feet. For a more detailed discussion and driving directions, see a previous account. This year, the snow conditions were ideal above 10,000 feet but the snow was sun cupped lower on the mountain challenging even the best skiers. The winter snow accumulation was well below normal so there was more exposed terra firma than snow below the 9,000-foot level.

Our party of four met at the McCloud Ranger Station Thursday morning and filled out all the requisite forms and wilderness permits paying $20.00 each for a summit pass for the privilege of ascending above 10,000 feet. We regathered about a mile from the end of the Brewer Creek Road where a small snow bank stopped our forward progress.

We hiked up the road to the trailhead and followed the trail for about a mile before it disappeared beneath the snow. From this point navigating the route was simple: look up at the summit and head in a straight line toward the top. The hiking was over easy terrain with magnificent views of the Hotlum and Wintun glaciers, and of our following-day ascent/descent route.

Our destination was a base camp at 8,800 feet or possibly one a little higher at 10,200 feet. Where we decided to stop to camp would depend on the strength of the group. We reached a good spot to camp on the snow but next to bare ground and several large rocks to sit on at 8,800 feet. The group was slowing down and tired so we opted to camp here.

In the morning, I was up at 4:15 and out of the tent and climbing by 5:00 AM. The others decided to stay in base camp and ski close to camp. I followed the rib dividing the Hotlum Glacier from the Wintun Glacier staying on the Hotlum Glacier side of the ridge. At 12,400 feet I crossed over the rib onto the Wintun Glacier and ascended steeply to the snow-covered saddle immediately to the right of Shasta's 14,162-foot volcanic rock-cragged summit. Above 12,400 feet, the steepest portions of the slope approached 35-40 degrees.

On the upper 2,000 feet there was still a foot of heavy snow that was deposited from the three-day storm that hit northern California over the Memorial Day weekend. This heavy snow slowed my progress but I reached the summit in six hours.

I was the only one on the Wintun/Hotlum glacier (east side of the mountain) route but several climbers with helmets and ice axes reached the summit from the west and the popular Avalanche Gulch route. They were surprised to see me with my skis and even more surprised when I explained I was skiing down in the opposite direction they had ascended. It seemed to them that I would be skiing over an abyss into the unknown.

After eating lunch and enjoying the summit views, I put on my powder tele skis (Kahru Jak) and descended the Wintun Glacier following the fall line for 4,000+ feet. I was in no hurry and stopped often to savor the descent, descending the 4,000+ feet in less than 20 minutes. What a thrill. I enjoyed being the lone skier on this vast mountain. My only wish at the time was that I had the energy, strength, and endurance to climb back up and ski back down again.

After crossing over the ridge that divides the Wintun and Hotlum glaciers near 10,000-foot level, I was quickly back in base camp. From the summit it took only 50 minutes. We packed up for the hike out to the trailhead and our cars. A very enjoyable trip but the snow below was unusually sparse for this time of year due to below normal winter snow accumulation on the mountain and throughout California.

Route--Hotlum-Wintun Ridge
Starting/Ending Point: Brewer Creek Trailhead. On Highway 97, drive east about 3.5 miles beyond McCloud and turn left (north) onto the Pilgrims Creek Road. The first portion of the road is paved. Follow the signs to the Brewer Creek Trailhead. The roads are well marked and it will take about an hour of driving from McCloud.
Difficulty: Strenuous ascent. Intermediate skiing/boarding below 11,400 feet; advanced intermediate 12,400 to 11,400 feet; and advanced/expert (Black Diamond/Double Black Diamond) from the summit
Mileage: about 3 miles to base camp from the trailhead and another 3 miles to the summit.
Base camp: around 8,800 feet
Best time to go: late May to mid June
Participants: Paul Richins (on tele skies), Keith Golden, David Golden, Leigh Golden (on Alpine Touring skis).
Trip duration--1-3 days
Elevation gain--7,000 feet from the trailhead.
Snowboards--Highly recommended. Great for all whether on a board, snowshoes, or using fixed-heel or free-heel skis.

Trojan Peak and Mount Barnard via George Creek--4/25-28/08
I have been told that every serious backpacker should ascend George Creek canyon at least once. I have heard the virtues of the route extolled on several occasions but upon returning from George Creek after climbing Trojan Peak and Mount Barnard, I doubt the wisdom of such foolish advice. The hike up George Creek is a slow and torturous struggle over/under/around water birch, small trees as thick as hair on a dogs back, large fallen trees, brush, more brush with thorns, and cliffs: a nightmarish challenge worth avoiding. We were lucky to cover a mile every two hours!!!

We left Highway 395 about 5 miles south of Independence and just north of the boundary to the Manzanar, a WW II Japanese camp and drove on dirt roads to George Creek trailhead. We stopped 0.5 mile short of the trailhead due to a rough road. This is really not a trailhead because there is no real trail but rather a difficult cross-country route. We stayed on the right (north) side of the stream for the first 0.3 mile before crossing the stream. Continue on the south side until a waterfall and cliff block your way. Cross to the north side and in 100-200 yards cross back over the south side. Stay on the south side for the rest of the ascent. Other write ups recommend crossing the creek numerous times at various points along the way but the travel and terrain is equally undesirable on either side of the stream, so what is the benefit.

We camped near a small lake at 11,000 feet located northeast of Mount Barnard (13,990 feet) and used this as our base camp for climbing Trojan (13,968 feet) and Barnard. The next morning we climbed Trojan and skied from near the summit toward the large basin below Barnard. For the second year in a row the snow accumulation was far below normal for 2007-2008 and we soon ran out of snow. We stashed the skis and climbed Barnard on rock.

On our return to base camp there was an excellent slope covered with snow between 12,200 feet and our base camp at 11,000 feet. We had a wonderful ski descent back to base camp and down to near 10,000 feet before running out of snow.

The hike out was just as miserable as the hike in. I've included this trip as a warning rather than a recommended ski adventure. Perhaps, in a heavy snow year with snow down to 7,000 feet, the trip might be worth attempting. If not, climb another route.

Starting/Ending Point: George Creek Trailhead at about 6,400 feet. feet).
Difficulty: Strenuous and rugged ascent, Advanced-Expert skiing terrain
Mileage: about 6 miles to base camp and another 6 miles round trip from base camp to Trojan and Barnard and return. Overall round trip is about 16 miles.
Elevation Gain: 8,700 feet
Base camp
: around 11,000 feet
Trip duration: 3.5 days
Best time to go: April
Participants: Paul Richins (age 58) and Colin Fuller (age 60).

Mount Baldwin and Red Slate Mountain--February 15-18, 2008 and January 23-35, 1998
More information on this climb and ski descent of Red Slate Mountain is included in my book 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits of California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.

Day 1--Dave and I drove to Convict Lake (south of Mammoth Lakes) and hiked around the right side (northwest) of the lake along the trail crossing patches of snow and bare ground. At the upper end of the lake, we put on our skis with climbing skins and snowshoes to ascend the Convict Creek canyon following the route of the hiking trail. Near where the stream flows into Convict Lake, it passes through a narrow cliffy area. When the depth of the snow is marginal, making your way through this area can be troublesome moving from snow to rock and back. Stay above the creek to avoid this semi-difficult spot.

Ascend the canyon traveling south along the right side (west) of Convict Creek. The mouth of the canyon is wide but soon narrows with near vertical walls towering 3,000 feet overhead. Follow the route of the hiking trail until you reach about 8,400 feet. Just before reaching a relatively flat area populated by cottonwood and quaking aspen trees, cross to the left side of the stream to bypass a cliff on the right side of the stream. This treed area extends about 0.3 mile along the stream.

Above this treed area, the canyon narrows and the climbing steepens. As we ascended, we crossed several avalanche paths with rocks on the snow, blocks of ice, and wind packed and sculptured snow and ice. The canyon floor is prone to avalanches as snow collects high above and sweeps down across the cliffs to the valley. This is a particular concern above the point where the hiking trail crosses from the right side of the stream to the left side (east) at 8,800 feet. This crossing is marked by an old bridge abutment that remains after a flood and raging waters from Convict Creek washed the bridge away many years ago.

Continue up the narrow canyon to Mildred Lake. Turn left (southeast) leaving the route of the hiking trail and proceed along a relatively flat valley for about 0.8 mile. Camp near 9,900 feet where the outlet stream from Lake Wit-So-Nah-Pah meets the flat valley and Convict Creek. This is a perfect campsite with trees for protection from the wind, good access to routes on Red Slate Mountain and Mount Baldwin, and running water. Even in January and February I have been surprised to find running water in the stream at this location.

Day 2--We had planned to ascend Mount Baldwin but there was considerable bare rock and no obvious route to the large gully on the northwest face of the mountain. Since we were unsure of the exact route we decided to head for Red Slate Mountain and scope out a potential route on Mount Baldwin. Instead of ascending the stream flowing from Lake Wit-So-Nah-Pah and then up a snow ramp and the steep west slope to the summit (January 1998 ascent route), we ascended the main valley passing beneath the north face of Red Slate Mountain to a 12,000 foot pass on the southeast side of the peak. This high pass overlooks McGee Pass.

From our camp, we followed an obvious valley that curved toward the north face of Red Slate Mountain and ascended the valley and snowed-over stream feeding Constance Lake near the 11,000-foot level. Follow this valley/stream a short distance and then angle right to the glacier and steep snow slope below a 12,000-foot pass. The approach to this pass looks too steep but slopes always look steeper than they are when viewed head on. If you plan to climb Red Slate Mountain, do not angle left toward an easier and more inviting U-shaped pass at 11,600 feet. If you do you will find a large rock buttress (mountain) blocking your path to the summit of Red Slate Mountain.

From the 12,000-foot pass it is a direct climb up the southeast slope to the top. Today, there was a lack of snow on this sunny side that prevented an elegant ski ascent/descent as much bare ground was exposed on the upper 1,000 feet. We therefore decided to return to camp rather than climb higher.

Day 3--Directly across (east) from where the stream from Lake Wit-So-Nah-Pah joins the flat valley and Convict Creek at 9,900 feet, ascend a gradual snow gully. Ascend in an easterly direction to about 10,200 feet reaching a large cirque that could, but does not, contain a small glacier. Turn north (left) across this bowl and ascend a narrow ramp at the head of the cirque to the base of Mount Baldwin's large northwest gully at 10,600 feet. For the first time you can see the entire route to the summit and it is an impressive view. This large gully steepens and narrows at the top like an inverted funnel. Around 12,100 feet, the route splits giving you two options. One is to continue up steeply through the stovepipe of the funnel past a shark fin shaped rock to the peak's southwest slope several hundred feet below the summit. Alternatively, below the shark fin, angle right on a snow ramp that traverses gradually out onto the mountain's southwest slope. This route is easier but may lack snow above 12,100 feet.

The snow in the gully was many things today--hard packed, wind sculptured, icy, and powder on one side of the gully and spring corn on the other side. A good ski descent but the lack of snow on the top 400 feet was a disappointment. Later in the year with more snowfall, there is likely to be snow to the summit.

Day 4--Skied and snowshoed back to Convict Lake.

Trip Summary
Starting/ending point
: Convict Lake (7,621 feet), south of Mammoth Lakes, CA
Parking: No overnight parking is allowed at Convict Lake. The Forest Service instructed us to park at the Convict Lake Resort located 0.4 mile below the lake.
Total miles: about 17 miles
Elevation gain: about 8,500 feet
Trip duration: 4 days
Peaks climbed
: Red Slate Mountain (to 12,000 feet) and Mount Baldwin (12,676 feet)
Difficulty: Advanced skiing from the summit of Mount Baldwin and Red Slate Mountain. Advanced Intermediate ski terrain below 11,600 feet on both mountains.
Best time to go: January-April
Participants: Paul Richins on skis (age 58) and David Figoni on MSR Ascent snowshoes (age 47)

[Climb to the Top] [Rappel to the Bottom]

Mount Aggie--January 19, 2008
I wanted to include Mount Aggie in 50 Classic Backcounty Ski and Snowboard Summits but I did not have an opportunity to ski the peak before the book was published, so it was unfortunately left out. Ten years later, I finally made the opportunity to ski the peak and can now recommend it.

After work on Friday I drove from my office in downtown Sacramento to Convict Lake where I set up my tent on the bare pavement in the parking lot. It was 19 degrees F. On the drive I monitored the temperature with my car's thermometer and the temperature dropped as low as 10 degrees at Bridgeport. The temperature on Highway 395 near Mammoth was 14 degrees but as I drove up the Convict Lake Road ascending above the cold air sink of the Mammoth Lakes airport, the temperature warmed to 19 degrees. But by morning the temperature had dropped to a chilly 2 degrees F.

There is a large glacier moraine immediately to the southeast of Convict Lake that must be climbed. When the brush is completely covered with snow this is normally not a problem; however, today the brush was still exposed and presented some minor problems. So far this winter there has been only a couple of good-sized storms so the snow was a little thin ascending the glacier moraine but once on top of the moraine there was ample snow in the beautiful valley leading to Mount Aggie. From the parking lot on the south side of the lake's outlet stream, angle east and ascend the steep slopes of this moraine. The moraine is not as steep and a little easier to ascend at its lower east end. (When there is more snow coverage, another option is to proceed around the southeast side of Convict Lake to the end of the unplowed road and ascend directly the drainage/stream bed to the top of the moraine.) Once at the top of the moraine at 8,000 feet, head up one of two valleys. The immediate one is broad and open, and angles gradually toward Mount McGee. The second valley rests at the base of Mono Jim Peak, Little Morrison, and Mount Morrison, and eventually angles toward Mount Aggie and Mount Baldwin. Immediately after a storm, this valley would be prone to avalanches from the steep slopes above.

On this trip I ascended the valley at the toe of Mono Jim Peak and Mount Morrison. The ascent was steady but not too steep at any point. At 9,300 feet a large steep valley comes in on the right. This couloir and large open bowl crests the ridge between Mono Jim Peak and Little Morrison at about 10,700 feet. This would make for an excellent telemark descent. Near a tarn at 9,800 feet another couloir descends from the right. This couloir is narrower and steeper than the first, and crests the ridge between Little Morrison and Mount Morrison at 10,900 feet. This is a favorite of the locals, and expert skiers/snowboarders ascend to the crest and descend the northwest chute/gully back to Convict Lake completing a circumnavigation of Little Morrison.

Continue up the main water shed toward Mount Aggie, Mount Baldwin, and the small glacier that lies at the head of the cirque. The valley seems to continue on and on--the closer you get to the cirque, the farther away it appears. This lovely valley is perfect for skiing/snowboarding with picturesque scenery and the sheer face of one of Mount Baldwin's subpeaks looming overhead. Near 10,600 feet angle to your left and ascend steeply to the summit of Mount Aggie (11,565 feet). At the top, there are beautiful views in all directions. On this particular day the landscape and the valley all the way to Mono Lake was blanketed in fresh snow.

The ski descent was over mixed powder, wind pack snow, and breakable crust--not ideal but enjoyable. On the descent the temperature seemed to warm considerably. By the time I reached Convict Lake I felt like I was in the tropics--as it turned out, the temperature was only 20 degrees at 3:00 PM.

Immediately after a cold storm the powder in this secluded valley would be awesome, and later in the season the spring corn snow would be fantastic.

Trip Summary
Starting/Ending Point: Convict Lake, just south of Mammoth Lakes off Highway 395 (7,621 feet).
Difficulty: Advanced Intermediate ascent and descent
Mileage: about 9 miles round trip
Elevation gain: around 4,000 feet
Trip duration: 1 day
Best time to go: January-early-May
Participants: Paul Richins (age 58 years)

[Climb to the Top] [Rappel to the Bottom]

Ridge Route to Ridge Lakes and Peak 8,640+ feet, Lassen National Park--December 31, 2007
This is an enjoyable intermediate tour for skiers, boarders, and snowshoers. It can be completed in a single day or an overnight trip with a stay for more skiing and boarding from a base camp at Ridge Lakes. The standard route to Ridge Lakes is to proceed up the unplowed road to the Sulfur Works and follow the route of the summer trail alongside the stream that flows from Ridge Lakes. This is the most direct route to the lakes and is popular with skiers and snowshoers, and is described in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney. The route described below is a more interesting with expansive views of Lassen Peak, Brokeoff Mountain, Mount Diller, Diamond Peak, and Pilot Pinnacle. It is more challenging than the standard route but can be completed by a competent intermediate snowshoer, boarder, or skier.

From the parking area (about 6,700 feet) at the south entrance of Lassen Volcanic National Park (the Mineral entrance), proceed up the unplowed road for about 200 yards. Turn left up an open slope climbing steeply and angling to your right heading in a northwesterly direction. You are on the ski runs of the old Lassen ski park, a small ski area that has long since been closed. Continue climbing to about 7,500 or 7,600 feet where you will join a prominent spur ridge. Gain the top of this ridge and follow it up to the main ridge connecting Brokeoff Mountain with Mount Diller. The spur ridge tops out at 8,500 feet just south of Peak 8,640+ feet (this is the highest unnamed peak in the area).

Once on the main ridge, climb over the summit of Peak 8,640+ feet or traverse its gentle north slopes to the pass (8,320+ feet) west-northwest of Ridge Lakes. From here it is a gentle and quick descent to Ridge Lakes.
There are many ski and snowboard descent opportunities off all four sides of Peak 8,640+ feet. The northeast slope down to Ridge Lakes will hold the powder the longest and is the steepest of the descents. The southwest slope can be taken all the way down a fork of West Sulphur Creek to Sulfur Works and the unplowed park road.

Continuing on to Mount Diller there is a 1,000+ foot descent on the north side to Soda Lake (of course you will have to climb back up to return home). When there is a good base, the southwest slot between the two summits of Mount Diller is a challenge for the expert and advanced boarder/skier. This slot is avalanche prone so be careful.

Trip Summary
Starting/Ending Point: South Entrance parking lot to Lassen Volcanic National Park (6,700 feet).
Difficulty: Intermediate ascent and descent
Mileage: about 4+ miles round trip
Elevation gain: around 2,000 feet
Trip duration: 1 day
Best time to go: December-May
Participants: Paul Richins (on tele skies), and Judi Richins and Dave Figoni (on snowshoes).

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Mount Shasta, Clear Creek Route--April 28-30, 2007
The winter snowfall was well-below average in 2006-07 allowing the roads on the east side of Mount Shasta to open up about a month earlier than they would in a normal snow year. The Clear Creek Route opens up 2-3 weeks ahead of the Brewer Creek Route so it is a good choice if you cannot wait for the Brewer Creek Road to melt out. Brewer Creek is the better of the two routes with superior snow conditions, a better descent route, and, believe it or not, it is somewhat less windy. Ski and Snowboard Descent of Mount Shasta has details of the Brewer Creek Route.

Day 1: We drove until a snow bank block our progress. We parked alongside the road and noted two other vehicles were also parked. We walked and then skied/snowshoed up the road for about 2.5-3.0 miles to the trailhead near 6,000 feet. There was only about 1-2 feet of snow on the ground at the trailhead with many bare spots. We followed the route of the trail through the trees and onto the ridge overlooking the Clear Creek canyon. The route opens up in a short distance as the trees become more widely spaced giving way to open snow slopes. On the leeward side of the ridge it is as if a highway had been built and all the trees cleared for the ascent as there were trees all around but it was clear sailing with wide open spaces along the route. Near the 8,000-foot level traverse left into a large open bowl above the tree line and east of the four springs (8,200 feet) that are marked on the map. Follow this bowl/basin to its head where it ascends steeply to a ridge and the face of Shasta near 11,000 feet. There are camping opportunities in this basin near the springs in low-growing shrubs, at 9,200 feet, and in a protected bowl at 10,400 feet near the foot of the Watkins Glacier. We were aiming to camp at 10,400 feet but settled for a camp in the middle of the basin at 9,200 feet.

Day 2: We were up at dawn and headed for the summit after a quick breakfast. Crampons were added to our boots and the skis and snowshoes placed on our backpacks. I have been on this route 3 other times and each climb has been very windy. Today was no exception as the wind never let up the entire day. Consequently, the snow did not soften for the descent so I was skiing on brick-hard snow. Above the 10,400-foot bowl, the route steepens gaining the ridge and face of Shasta. The route from the ridge continues another 3,000 feet to the summit and is steep, or at least felt steep, on the ascent and descent due to the less than ideal icy snow conditions. We stayed on the summit for 45 minutes talking with other skiers that had ascend the standard route via Avalanche Gulch and Red Banks and taking photos. The ski descent was disappointing as my skis chattered across the hard snow/ice all the way down to 11,000 feet. Finally the snow softened to spring corn and I had a good descent to base camp.

That night around dusk we heard voices and saw four climbers and one skier descending. Darkness was rapidly approaching and they seemed to be in no hurry and were progressing down the mountain at a snails pace ever so slowly. Surely there base camp was nearby. But no, they continued past our camp and down out of sight into the darkness. The next day on our way out we followed their tracks and determined that they did not have a camp, but must have hiked out to their car in the dark.

Day 3: We had a leisurely departure from base camp and reached the car by 11:00 AM.

Starting/Ending Point: about 3 miles from the Clear Creek Trailhead (~5,600 feet). On Highway 97, drive east about 3.5 miles beyond McCloud and turn onto the Pilgrims Creek Road. The first portion of the road is paved. Turn left onto the dirt road to the Clear Creek Trailhead and follow it to the trailhead or until snow blocks your way. The roads are well marked.
Difficulty: Strenuous ascent, Advanced-Expert skiing terrain
Mileage: about 6 miles to base camp and another 2.5 miles to the summit, 17 miles round trip.
Base camp: around 9,400 feet
Trip duration: 2.5 days
Best time to go: May
Participants: Paul Richins (on tele skies) and Dave Figoni (on MSR Ascent snowshoes).

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Baxter Pass, Clarence King, Rae Lakes--April 7-12, 2007
For the past two years there has been an abundance of snow in the Sierra with 150-180% of normal snow depths. However, the 2006-07 winter season was a different story. Based on snow survey data for April 1, 2007, snow depths were dreadful: only about 35% of normal. Even above 10,000 feet there was little snow. On the south facing slopes there was no snow regardless of the elevation. On the more shaded slopes there was some snow but in most places it was not continuous enough to allow for uninterrupted skiing as rocks and outcroppings poked through the thin layer of snow. The valleys and gullies had the best snow but this too was sparse. On this 6-day trip I ended up skiing only a couple of hours total and carrying my skis the rest of the time. The hiking and backpacking season will begin early this year.

Day 1--From Baxter Pass Trailhead (6,000 feet) (above Oak Creek Campground) I hiked up the trail to Summit Meadow and camped near 10,800 feet. There was little snow until I reached about 10,000 feet. From this point I put on my skis and skins and continued to Summit Meadow fighting the willows that poked through the snow. This was far different experience than two years previous when I encountered deep snow at the first stream crossing at 6,800 feet. On this occasion, instead of following the route of trail as it traversed the steep canyon walls, I ascended directly up the bottom of the canyon and followed the stream that was covered in snow.

Day 2--I had planned to climb both Black Mountain and Diamond Peak and get in some good ski descents but the snow was so sparse that I skipped climbing these two peaks. Instead, I ascended the switch backs in the snow-free trail to Baxter Pass. It was a beautiful day and the views of Black and Diamond were breathtaking. The best ski descent of the trip was from Baxter Pass down to Baxter Lake. This always seems to hold the snow and I have not been disappointed skiing from the pass to the lake in the past. About a mile below the lake I had to take off my skis and walk due to lack of snow.

I put the skis back on at Dollar Lake and skied around the right side of the lake and up to Arrowhead Lake. At the midpoint of Arrowhead Lake I veered right (west-northwest) through a gap to a hidden valley and ascended southwest up a steep gully to a notch in the ridge. This notch opens up into Sixty Lake Basin and provides a classic route to this most interesting and beautiful basin. Follow a series of tarns to the main string of lakes in the basin and turn north for a short distance until you come to the point where the trail crosses to the east side of the stream linking the lakes in Sixty Lake Basin. At this point veer left and come to a lake to the west of the main string of lakes in the Sixty Lake Basin. From here, climb steeply up the inlet stream and follow the right hand forks in the stream to a tarn at 11,000 feet. I camped at this lovely spot with views of Mount Cotter (12,721 feet) and the top of Clarence King.

Day 3--After spending a couple of hours taking photos of the frozen, snow-covered 11,000-foot tarn and Mount Cotter, I walked around its north side and ascended steeply following the inlet stream that was flowing into the tarn from the northwest. This was a rest day of sorts as I moved camp only about 1 mile to the 11,640+-foot tarn directly below the east face of Clarence King. This is on one of the routes to climb Clarence King and is one of the most beautiful spots in the Sierra. My goal for the day was to move camp to this largest tarn directly below the the east face of Clarence King so I could get sunrise photos of the frozen tarn and the alpenglow on the east face of Clarence King the following morning. I had come prepared with my tripod, two cameras (digital and film) and three lenses.

That afternoon I found running water at the head of the tarn in some cliffs. I continued to climb above the tarn to just below the crest of the south ridge of Clarence King. In a normal snow year, the rock cliffs blocking progress to the ridge would have been covered in snow and would have possibly provided a snow ramp to the ridge. That was not the case this year so I stopped just short of the ridge but I had a nice ski descent down a steep chute to three tarns south of my camp. It was a short traverse and climb back to my tent and tarn.

The peak 0.9 mile south of Clarence King looked like a great ski opportunity if there had been more snow. It could be ascended from the south ridge of Clarence King or its more direct northeast ridge. The ski descent would be down the heart of the southeast face/bowl that funnels into a narrow chute near the bottom. This would be avalanche prone after a storm and unstable snow conditions. There was some avalanche debris visible at the bottom of the funnel.

Day 4--It was cold during the night, possibly dropping into single digits F. It was cold and breezy in the morning. I was up at sunrise and got my photos--I was pleased. I used a fisheye lens for the first time and those shots were unique and exceptional. After photographing the area for two hours I ate breakfast and headed down to the lower lakes in Sixty Lake Basin, through the slot from Day 2 to Arrowhead Lake and on to Rae Lakes. It was a good day and I camped on bare ground below the John Muir Trail near the Rae Lakes Ranger Station. Mr. Ranger was not present, but then, I did not expect to see him/her. The point of land I was camped on provided exceptional views of Painted Lady, Dragon Peak, Mount Gould, and Mount Rixford across the frozen waters of Rae Lake.

I explored the upper end of Rae Lakes and came across ski tracks from a party of 2-4 that had dropped into Rae Lakes from Dragon Lake. They came and went a day or so earlier.

Day 5--I had planned to get some sunrise shots of Painted Lady and Rae Lakes but when I awoke at 6:00 it was starting to snow lightly. In hindsight I should have stayed for another day to get photos of the clearing storm that evening and the next morning but I head out toward Baxter Lake instead. I had planned to ascend the pass between Diamond and Black and descend to the Baxter Pass Trail at Summit Meadow but the storm limited visibility and strong winds were blowing.

I hiked and skied to Arrowhead Lake, Dollar Lake, and traversed into Baxter Creek drainage. By this time it was snowing in earnest, the visibility was limited, and the winds were strong. So at 11:00, I found a safe clump of trees about a mile below Baxter Lake and camped. I would stay and wait out the storm. That evening around 7:00 the weather started to clear. After an enjoyable dinner, I went on a short walk in about 4-5 inches of fresh dry powder. I thought, tomorrow will be perfect for ascending Baxter Pass and hiking out.

Day 6--During the night the wind picked up and another storm hit. All night I could hear the winds howling in the cliffs above the canyon and rushing through the taller trees, but the tent was safe and calm in a clump of shorter trees. By 8:00 in the morning the storm started to lift and there was adequate visibility to start out. The day continued with off and on snow flurries but the visibility remained good and the winds were light.

I ascended Baxter Pass and descended to explore the north snow gully on Diamond Peak. I considered climbing and skiing the north gully but it was quite narrow in the top 1/3. With more snow under normal snow conditions, the gully would be wider and more conducive to a ski descent. Here, too, avalanche conditions need to be observed.

I was able to ski down through the willows to around 10,000 feet and hiked out. An enjoyable trip but tiring as I had to work much harder than normal, hiking and carrying my skis rather than a quick descent on the snow. Two years previous, I was able to ski nearly down to the 7,200-foot level before I ran out of skiable snow.

Starting/Ending Point: Baxter Pass Trailhead on the North Fork Oak Creek (6,000 feet)
Passes: Baxter Pass (12,200+ feet)
Difficulty: Strenuous ascents, Advanced-Expert skiing terrain
Mileage: about 42 miles
Trip duration: 6 days
Best time to go: April and early-May
Participants: Paul Richins (age 57 years). I normally take my American Eskimo Dog, Prince, but he died in 2006 from old age.

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Mount Gabb's North Side Glacier or Father's Day on Mount Gabb--June 17 and 18, 2006
Day 1--A snow pack 180% of normal made skiing so late into the spring possible. Not only was it possible, it was a highly enjoyable way to spend a Father's Day weekend on skis. I left the Mosquito Flat trailhead at 6:15AM on Saturday carrying my skis on my backpack. I hiked up the trail past Heart Lake, Box Lake, and Long Lake (10,560 feet) crossing large patches of snow. The lower lakes were free of snow but Long Lake was still mostly covered with snow and ice. The snow became continuous above Long Lake but heavily sun cupped. By the time I reached Gem Lake (10,900 feet), I was seriously considering turning back because of the ugly nature of the fluted and sun cupped snow making skiing and walking tedious. However, by Dade Lake (11,600 feet) the snow had improved and I could see that the ski descent from Cox Col on the return would make the trip worthwhile.

I ascended toward the base of the great north face of Bear Creek Spire (13,720 feet) and then angled right toward North Col/Cox Col (13,040 feet). I crested the divide by ascending the second notch north of Bear Creek Spire. The wind was chilling on the pass but it soon warmed as I descended the southwest side on corn snow. I made a high traverse heading northwest toward Gabbot Pass (12,240 feet). To my surprise, plenty of snow remained on these southwest facing slopes. Steep cliffs pushed me down to about 12,000 feet just short of Gabbot Pass. At this low point, the wind had fashioned a small bowl and flat area. Here I stopped to camp, just above a tarn at 11,800 feet. I had a prime view overlooking Lake Italy (11,202 feet). Lake Italy, one of the longer lakes in the Sierra Nevada, was still covered with snow and ice.

Since it was only 12:30 in the afternoon I decided to climb Mount Gabb rather than wait until morning. The ascent over Cox Col went faster than I had expected and I was full of energy. After setting up camp and eating a bite for lunch, I headed to Gabbot Pass and the upper glacier on the north side of Mount Gabb. I skied down the north side of Gabbot Pass to about 11,900 feet and turned left (southwest) to ascend the glacier. There was avalanche debris all over the glacier from snow and ice peeling off the steep granite slabs over head. I stayed back away from the steep walls to my left and angled toward the headwall and the Shark Fin on the right. The left side of the headwall had also avalanched, so I angled up and to the right to gain the headwall and the crest of the broad ridge leading to the summit.

The climbing was rigorous and continuous. There was snow to within about 100 feet of the summit. I stashed my skis in the rocks and scrambled to the top. It was 4:30 PM. What a great view especially of Recess Peak, which Colin and I had climbed three weeks previous, and Upper Mills Creek Lake where we had camped. See trip summary below. Just like many of the other lakes in the region, Mills Creek Lake was still frozen with snow and ice. The lower glacier route, starting from Upper Mills Creek Lakes and joining the upper glacier route around 12,900 feet, would also be an excellent ascent and descent route.

Returning back to my skis, it was a swift and enjoyable ski descent along the upper ridge and then down the headwall to the glacier and back to my camp. Skiing was over steep terrain for advanced skiers. I was exhausted returning to my camp. I had climbed over 5,400 feet and traveled about 11 miles.

Day 2--I slept until 7:00 AM before getting up and fixing breakfast. Actually, I fixed breakfast while lounging in my down bag. Oh, the comforts of down. The high ridge comprising Mount Abbot and Mount Dade blocked the early morning sun from reaching my camp so I was in no hurry to arise. When I left camp, the snow was still rock-hard from the night's freeze. I put on crampons and headed to Cox Col. The ascent went quickly as I was looking forward to the ski descent on the east side of the pass. When Colin and I had been over the pass three weeks earlier, the ski descent was probably the best I have experienced in the Sierra.

Instead of cresting the ridge at the customary Cox Col, I climbed the ridge about 300-400 yards to the north of Cox Col gaining the high shoulder around 13,200 feet. The snow was ideal at this point on the ridge and I skied the fall line from the shoulder. The skiing down to Dade Lake was pretty good considering how late in the season it was. On the descent I passed three skiers ascending to Cox Col for a return ski descent to their camp at Treasure Lakes. The sun cups finally took there toll on me at Gem Lake so I shouldered my skis and hiked out. A worthwhile ski adventure for the Father's Day weekend. I will visit my father this coming weekend to make up for missing Father's Day 2006!

Starting/Ending Point: Mosquito Flat Trailhead (10,300 feet), on the Rock Creek Road south of Toms Place, Highway 395.
Passes Crossed: Cox Pass (13,040 feet) (0.2 mile NW Bear Creek Spire), Gabbot Pass (12,240+ feet)
Summit Ascents: Mount Gabb (13,741 feet) via the upper glacier on the north side of the peak
Difficulty: Strenuous ascents, Advanced skiing terrain
Mileage: about 18.0 miles
Elevation gain: about 7,000 feet
Trip duration: 2 days
Camps: Below Gabbot Pass at 12,000 feet
Best time to go: April and early-May
Participants: Paul Richins (age 56 years)

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Recess Peak and Mount Gabb--May 26-30, 2006
Day 1--I picked up Dr. Colin Fuller from the medical clinic on West Line Street in Bishop at 3:30 PM on Friday and we drove to the end of the Rock Creek Road. Actually, the road was blocked by snow about 1.1 mile from Mosquito Flat. We parked at the Hilton Creek trailhead near the pack station and walked up the snow-covered Rock Creek Road to Mosquito Flat. We continued up Rock Creek and Little Lakes Valley to the head of Long Lake where we camped for the night. A cold front from the Gulf of Alaska was forecasted to move into the Sierra Nevada with winds up to 90 miles per hour over the ridges Friday night and Saturday morning. With such ominous forecast, we cautiously camped in a protected location in the trees. During the night and into the next morning there were winds but fortunately nothing like what was predicted by the US Weather Service.

Day 2--Saturday morning dawned clear and windy. We ascend via Gem Lake (10,900 feet) and Dade Lake (11,600 feet) rather than past Treasure Lake. This turned out to be a more direct and more enjoyable route. From Dade Lake we climbed steeply toward the north face of Bear Creek Spire (13,720 feet) and then angled to our right to the North Col/Cox Col (13,040 feet), located immediately north of Bear Creek Spire. By the time we were below Bear Creek Spire and Cox Col the wind had died down but storm clouds were rolling across the sky. We put on crampons and climbed steeply, carefully kicking steps in the hard snow to Cox Col. With the cold front, the corn snow of spring had turned brick hard. We actually ascended through a gap about 200 yards north of the low point on the ridge.

From the pass we headed northwest to Gabbot Pass (12,240+ feet) dropping to about 12,000 feet before climbing to Gabbot Pass. Before reaching Gabbot Pass, the visibility dropped and it began to snow. We stopped at the pass for a snack but our respite was short-lived driven along our route by the winds and cold temperatures that had dropped into the teens. We skied down the northwest side of Gabbot Pass inching our way slowly along the icy snow and over the rock-hard sun cups. The poor visibility and flat light made the skiing perilous. In the steep section near 11,600 feet we took of the skis and put on crampons and angled to the right and then left to Upper Mills Creek Lake where we found a small portion of open water on the lake. This spectacular location was our camp for the next two nights.

We were tired and went to bed at 7:30 The sun was still up but it was 20 degrees as the snow fell gently on the tent and the frozen snow-covered lake. Around 7:00 AM the next morning, before the sun hit our tent, the thermometer showed 0 degrees F. During the night the temperature likely dropped to 5 degrees below zero or slightly colder.

Day 3--The morning dawned clear, calm, and cold. Today would include an exploratory trip to determine if we could reach the summit of Recess Peak. We had three concerns about the route we had selected to Recess Peak's summit block. Below Lower Mills Creek Lake, between 10,000 and 9,600 feet there was a great cataract with down-sloping granite slabs lining the canyon. We were concerned that the slabs would not be covered with adequate amounts of snow and this could block our progress to the mouth of the Second Recess at 9,400 feet where we hoped to turn southeast up the Second Recess. The second concern was whether there would be adequate snow coverage on the steep northeast slopes ascending out of the bottom of the Second Recess. And lastly, we were not sure whether we could make it over the Recess Peak Pass (0.2 miles southeast of Recess Peak) due to a heavily corniced ridge.

The first obstacle was the granite slabs and waterfall in the rugged canyon. The granite slabs were covered, not with snow, but with glare ice making a traverse of the granite slabs dangerous. We decided to look for an alternate route through the cliffs that blocked our progress into the Second Recess. Near 10,400 feet, as we descended below Lower Mills Creek Lake, we left Mills Creek and traversed left (traveling northwest, then west, southwest, and finally south) around the nose of the ridge that separates Mills Creek from the Second Recess. We gradually lost elevation and continued to around 10,000 feet where we found a gully between the cliffs that descended unobstructed in a southerly direction to the stream in Second Recess. We crossed the stream in the bottom of the Second Recess at 9,500 feet on a snow bridge and ascended in a southwest direction to the small unnamed tarn (11,240 feet), cirque, and glacier directly below the steep northeast slopes of Recess Peak. The route was covered with ample snow and we climbed quickly to the tarn.

From this vantage point we could see that the pass on the southeast shoulder of Recess Peak, that we would have to cross, was heavily guarded by impressively-large cornices that may have approached 30-50 feet high. However, it looked like we could sneak up a narrow chute on the right side and fight through a cornice or we could ascend in the center where the cornice appeared the smallest. Even though large blocks of snow were deposited below the cornice, we felt comfortable ascending directly up the middle to the crest of the corniced ridge. The weather was cold so we felt the cornices would not break loose due to the warmth of the sun. Colin lead, kicking steps in the steep snow. He worked his way over the cornice and I followed. From the pass we dropped our packs and skis. It was an easy and enjoyable climb to the summit of Recess Peak.

We returned to our packs and skis at the pass, down climbed the cornice, and skied quickly down to the 9,500-foot level in the bottom of the Second Recess. The descent took minutes compared to several hours on the ascent earlier that day. We climbed out of the deep canyon of the Second Recess following the gully we descended in the morning. We were soon back at our camp at Upper Mills Creek Lake. The day was strenuous as we climbed more than 5,200 feet. It had taken us about 10 hours but were pleased with our success. The temperature was dropping rapidly and it was 20 degrees when we finally got into the tent around 8:00 PM. We topped of the day with a delicious dinner of Knorrs soup, freeze-dried vegetables, cooked and freeze-dried chicken with noodles. We had cookies and dark chocolate for dessert. We heated water for our meals with a JetBoil stove arranged to hang from the ceiling inside the tent. With a built-in heat exchanger, this stove is exceedingly efficient using little fuel.

Day 4--In addition to climbing Recess Peak, one of my goals for the trip was to ascend and ski the upper glacier on Mount Gabb's northeast slope. This is a classic glacier route leading to the summit. We picked up our camp from Upper Mills Creek Lake and headed toward Gabbot Pass. I had hoped to leave the north side of Gabbot Pass at 11,900 feet and ascend the glacier to the broad northwest ridge and continue to the summit. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my ice ax and left it in the car--what a serious mistake. With that in mind, Colin convinced me not to try the route because of the unusually cold and icy conditions on the mountain. Under normal spring weather conditions, the slopes would warm and the hard icy snow would quickly turn to spring corn by late morning. That certainly was not the case today with the arctic blast hanging over the Sierra. This appears to be an excellent, perhaps the best, route to the summit with an exceptional ski descent. On June 17, 2006, I returned and ascended Gabb by this route. It was an enjoyable ascent and descent. See trip summary above.

We continued to Gabbot Pass and headed southwest to climb the main snow-filled gully bisecting the southeast face of Gabb. This route was steeper than the glacier route on the north side and Colin and I climbed to within about 300 feet of the summit. Near the top, the gully steepened and the snow gave way to wind-packed snow and ice. Without an ice ax the exposure on the upper slopes was a concern. Finally, I decided to turn back short of the summit. Without an ice ax, I was uncomfortable and felt that I could not stop a fall on the hard snow and ice with only my ski poles. I will return next spring to climb the upper glacier on the peak's northeast slopes--a truly classic ski descent route somewhat like the glacier route on Red and White Mountain described below. However, this route appeared to be superior because there had skiable terrain to the summit of Mount Gabb.

We returned to our backpacks at Gabbot Pass and ascended to the base of Bear Creek Spire and Cox Col. The ski descent of the other side of the pass was probably the finest and fasted ski descent I have experienced in the backcountry. The snow base was firm and icy. Over this slick hard base was several inches of new powder snow. The skiing was fast, probably the fastest I have ever experienced with a 40-pound pack. The skiing was effortless as Colin and I raced down the fall line slamming turn after turn. The descent from 13,000 feet to Dade Lake was over much too soon. The conditions were ideal. It is too bad that other skiers had not made the effort to ascend into the cirque below Bear Creek Spire for an unforgettable ski descent. We did not start to see tracks of other skiers until we reached Chickenfoot Lake just below Morgan Pass. We continued down past Gem Lake to Chickenfoot Lake were we camped for the night. The weather was warming slightly and the night was mild by comparison to the two previous nights were the temperature dropped below zero.

Day 5-- We were up early and skied out to the car by 9:30 that morning. A successful trip and one that will be long remembered and soon repeated to visit the upper glacier on Mount Gabb.

Starting/Ending Point: Rock Creek Pack Station (9,900 feet), on the Rock Creek Road south of Toms Place, Highway 395.
Passes Crossed: Cox Pass (13,040 feet) (0.2 mile NW Bear Creek Spire), Gabbot Pass (12,240+ feet), Recess Peak Pass (12,240+ feet) (0.2 mile SE Recess Peak)
Summit Ascents: Recess Peak (12,813 feet) and an attempt on Mount Gabb (13,741 feet)
Difficulty: Strenuous ascents, Advanced skiing terrain
Mileage: about 29.0 miles
Elevation gain: about 14,100 feet
Trip duration: 3 full days and parts of 2 other days
Camps: Long Lake (10,560 feet), Upper Mills Creek Lake (11,167 feet) (2 nights), Chickenfoot Lake(10,789 feet)
Best time to go: April and early-May
Participants: Paul Richins (age 56 years) and Dr. Colin Fuller, MD (age 58 years)
Wrinkles: I took crampons but forgot my ice ax. The lack of an ice ax prevented us from reaching the summit of Mount Gabb due to steep and icy conditions near the top. We turned back around 13,400 feet not far from the summit.

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Mount Izaack Walton, Silver Peak, and Red and White Mountain--May 6-12, 2006
Subtitles for this trip could easily be, "Traverse of the Silver Divide" or "3 peaks and 9 passes in 7 days". With a heavy snow pack of approximately 180% of normal for the Sierra Nevada in the winter season of 2006, we had ample snow coverage over the entire route. On the west side of the Sierra crest near Peter Pande Lake there was about 12-15 feet of snow at the 9,600-foot level. On the east side of the Sierra crest there was about half this amount at the same elevation.

Day 1--The first day was a half day as we drove to McGee Creek Trailhead and started about 1:00 PM. We walked up the trail for about 1.5 miles before putting on our skis a short distance before the trail crossed McGee Creek. An avalanche had deposited large amounts of snow and ice at the point where the trail crosses the stream so we were able to easily cross the stream on this bridge of snow and ice. There was ample snow coverage from this point on. We followed the stream and camped just below Big McGee Lake.

Day 2--We followed the route of the trail to Little McGee Lake and McGee Pass. From the pass we skied down to Tully Lake and camped. There was little open water; however, we found water at the outlet of the lake. At 4:00 that afternoon we set off to climb Mount Izaak Walton by ascending Rohn Pass and then Walton Pass before ascending the ridge to the summit. We retraced our route and were back in camp by 7:00 PM.

Day 3--From Tully Lake, we followed Fish Creek to Tully Hole and descended to Cascade Valley at 9,200 feet. Here we left the valley and climbed steeply alongside a side stream flowing from Squaw and Warrior lakes. Near 9,700 feet we angled right and followed the stream flowing from Lake of the Lonesome Indian. We continued to climb west of the lake to 10,400 feet before cresting the ridge and dropping to the 9,600-foot level about 0.5 mile south of Grassy Lake. Here we headed west-southwest to Peter Pande Lake. This made for a picturesque campsite below Graveyard Peak and the rugged Silver Divide crest. Our goal for the next day would be Silver Peak.

Day 4--We skied across Peter Pande Lake and ascended the short distance to Anne Lake. We continued west and then northwest following a gentle valley containing Anne Lake's inflowing stream. We followed this valley to the dividing ridge between Anne Lake and Bettlebug Lake. Here we crossed the dividing ridge around 10,800 feet and made a long traverse through this magnificent basin south and west of Silver Peak. There is a natural bench around the 10,800-foot level that we followed before gaining the gap in the southeast ridge (the gap closest to the summit of Silver Peak). I carried my skies to the summit hoping to ski from the top but the slopes were extremely steep and the runout below was even steeper. With a menacing cliff band below, I decided not to ski the upper portion of the mountain. Instead, I started skiing a couple of hundred feet below the summit down to the saddle in the ridge. Colin and I made a magnificent traverse under the Silver Divide crest and back to the ridge above Anne and Peter Pande lakes. After a two-hour rest we returned to Lake of the Lonesome Indian to camp for the night.

Day 5-- On this day we crossed 5 passes on our way to Red and White Lake. From Lake of the Lonesome Indian we ascended to Papoose Lake, Chief Lake, and Warrior Lake. We ascended to Silver Pass and traversed into the basin above Warrior Lake climbing to the crest of Warrior Ridge (a pass). The snow conditions were excellent in these expansive basins. A camp at Chief Lake would provide exquisite skiing on all types of terrain from Chief Lake up to Silver Pass and Warrior Ridge. From Warrior Ridge we made a high traverse to Walton Pass and then descended to Big Horn Lake and Rosy Finch Lake before climbing to Rosy Finch Pass and descending to Grinnel Lake. We ascended past Little Grinnel Lake to Pace Col and down a steep slope to Red and White Lake. There was no water at the lake but we were able to find a stream flowing into the lake by digging down through the snow to running water.

Day 6--Since climbing and skiing the steep east face of Red and White Mountain in May of 2001, I wanted to ascend the glacier on the north side of the mountain. In the morning we purposefully slept in to give the sun rays time to reach the the steep north slopes and soften the snow surface on the glacier. From Red and White Lake we ascended the north side glacier to the skyline at 12,500 feet just left (northeast) of the summit. The glacier also crests to the right (or northwest) of the summit. This time of year the glacier is not as steep as reported by some summer climbers and was possibly 30 degrees at its steepest point.

From the 12,500-foot ridge we traversed out onto the east face climbing steeply on snow and rock. The snow was soft and we wallowed in the snow up to our mid-thighs. In 2001 when I climbed the east face, a large avalanche started from these slopes so today we were careful to stay close to the rock ribs and climb in areas protected from potential avalanches. For details of my 2001 climb and the two avalanches on the east face, see the summary below, Mount Crocker, and Red and White Mountain.

Today it was a safe climb and we reached the summit to sign the summit register. While on top, we noted that a steep uninterrupted finger of snow reached to the summit on the east face. Except for the potential of avalanches on this route, this would make an idea ski descent from the top of Red and White Mountain. We easily descended back to the 12,500-foot level were we had stashed our skis and backpack. From here we had a fast and enjoyed ski descent of the glacier back down to Red and White Lake. After a short rest we moved camp over McGee Pass to Big McGee Lake.

Day 7--We followed the outlet stream of Big McGee Lake down into the valley and back to our car at the trailhead thankful for such a rewarding and enjoyable backcountry experience. On this trip, as is the case on most of our other winter/spring ski trips, we saw no other party in the backcountry. We saw some ski tracks several miles up McGee Creek but they did not go beyond a half day traveling distance from the trailhead.

Starting/Ending Point: McGee Creek Trailhead (7,840 feet) located between Mammoth Lakes and Toms Place off Highway 395
Passes: McGee Pass (11,800 feet), Rohn Pass (11,240+ feet), Walton Col (11,720+ feet), Silver Pass (10,920 feet), Warrior Ridge (11,560 feet), Walton Col (a second time--11,720 feet), Bighorn Pass/Rosy Finch Pass (11,240+ feet), Pace Col (11,600+ feet), McGee Pass (a second time--11,800 feet)
Summit Ascents and Ski Descents: Mount Izaak Walton (12,077 feet), Silver Peak (11,878 feet), and Red and White Mountain (12,876 feet)
Difficulty: Strenuous ascents, Advanced skiing terrain
Mileage: about 56 miles
Elevation gain: about 17,500 feet
Trip duration: 5 full days and parts of 2 more days
Camps: near Big McGee Lake (10,472 feet), Tully Lake (10,400 feet), Peter Pande Lake(10,000 feet), Lake of the Lonesome Indian (10,200 feet), Red and White Lake (11,014 feet), and Big McGee Lake (10,472 feet)
Best time to go: April and early-May
Participants: Paul Richins (age 56 years) and Dr. Colin Fuller (age 58 years)
Wrinkles: We took crampons and ice axes but due to mild weather and spring snow conditions, the crampons were not needed. I used my summer sleeping bag rated to 15 degrees and was warm.
Tent: We tested a Black Diamond single-wall tent on the trip. See my review of the performance of the Lighthouse tent.

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Traverse of the Trinity Alps--April 27-May 1, 2006
March and much of April 2006 saw steady flow of cold winter storms raking across the Trinity Alps and the Sierra Nevada. Many of the storms originated in the Gulf of Alaska so the snow level was relatively low for this time of year. In the Alps, the snow pack was about 170% of normal making this trip possible so late in the year. I made the crossing of the Alps using telemark skis with plastic Scarpa T-2 boots. David Figoni was on MSR Denali Ascent snowshoes with Asolo leather boots. We had originally planned to complete the trip starting at the Swift Creek Trailhead and finishing at Canyon Creek Trailhead but deep snow on the Swift Creek Road prevented vehicle travel the last three miles to the trailhead so we switched the direction of the trip and started at Canyon Creek Trailhead.

Day 1--We left Red Bluff and headed for Weaverville where we self-registered for the required wilderness permit. We continued to Junction City where we turned north up Canyon Creek Road to the trailhead at 3,000 feet. We made good time hiking up the trail to lower Canyon Creek Falls. Occasional patches of snow were encountered. Shortly above the falls we put on skis and snowshoes as the snow was deep and continuous. We followed the route of the trail to the middle Canyon Creek Falls where we angled right and then left away from the trail following a small side stream. This detour away from the trail is the most direct route and avoids steep bluffs the trail traverses. Near the upper Canyon Creek Falls angle away from the trail again avoiding bluffs near the stream. This will take you directly to lower Canyon Creek Lake.

We skied snowshoed across lower Canyon Creek Lake and then across upper Canyon Creek Lake continuing another 0.2 mile to a side stream and waterfall where we camped near the 5,800-foot level. We crossed a number of large avalanche paths below the lakes and there was about 6-7 feet of snow at the lakes.

Day 2: The narrow canyon above Canyon Creek Lakes was filled with avalanche debris (blocks of ice and snow, broken trees, etc.) from numerous avalanches that had scoured both sides of the steep-walled canyon. We were cautions and concerned, and moved steadily and quickly through the most threatening avalanche zones. Halfway up the canyon, near 7,000 feet, we reached a steep headwall. This obstruction is created by the rugged spur ridge from Wedding Cake. Continue up the heart of the valley / canyon to the headwall. This appears to be a dead-end route but at the last moment a ramp angling right up a steep snow slope appears. Climb the ramp to less steep terrain above.

The canyon steepens and the last several hundred feet below the Thompson-Caesar Cap Col is rigorous climbing. We ascend alongside a rock rib. The ice among the rocks makes for more difficult climbing but the rock bluffs provide some safety from sloughing snow and potential avalanches. David slipped here but quickly regained control after dropping about 20 feet on the ice. We continued to the 8,400-foot gap in Sawtooth Ridge and looked down on Grizzly Lake. There was only a small bit of open water near the lake's outlet--the rest of the lake was completely covered with about 10-12 feet of snow and ice.

From the col, we traversed northeast across the glacier to the saddle (near 8,000 feet) in the ridge about 0.5 mile north of Caesar Cap Peak. From this saddle, I ascended Caesar Cap Peak following the ridge to the summit. From the top, I was rewarded with spectacular views of Mount Shasta (in the distance), and Sawtooth Mountain, Mirror Lake, Sapphire Lake, Thompson Peak, and Sawtooth Ridge (in the immediate foreground). It was a fast and enjoyed 15-minute ski descent from the summit to the outlet of Grizzly Lake descending high above the right side (east side) of the lake. We camped near the lake's waterfall outlet. It was still winter at Grizzly Lake--there was 10 feet of snow around the lake and this large body of water was completely covered with snow and ice except for a small opening near the outlet.

There is a 70-foot,free-fall waterfall at the lake's outlet. Not much water was flowing over the falls and there was a massive pile/pinnacle of snow and ice nearly reaching the outlet. The water fall fell only a short distance before disappearing into the gigantic snow and ice popsicle that had formed in place of the falls.

Day 3: From our camp at Grizzly Lake we regained the 8,000-foot saddle north of Caesar Cap Peak and crossed the glacier below Caesar Cap Peak heading east toward an 8,000-foot notch in Sawtooth Ridge. The correct gap is located about 0.5 mile east of Caesar Cap Peak and drops down to Mirror Lake. For some reason we skied and snowshoed past this gap and ended up at a notch in Sawtooth Ridge directly south of Little South Fork Lake. This nondescript gap is located about 0.2 mile west of peak 7,892 feet and took us down to the middle of Sapphire Lake. It was on these steep slopes we spotted a bear running full speed across and then straight down the mountain toward Sapphire Lake. Apparently it wanted no part of us.

Looking down from the lofty gap in Sawtooth Ridge, I was concerned that we could trigger avalanches as we descended. To reduce this risk, I made several sharp traverses across the head of several steep chutes with my skis and triggered a number of surface avalanches. When the snow stopped running, we descended the avalanched slopes that were now a bit less dangerous. At the bottom we skied and snowshoed across Sapphire and Emerald Lakes, and then proceeded to slowly make our way down Stuart Fork crossing countless avalanche paths before reaching Morris Meadow and the junction to Deer Creek around 7:30 that evening. It was a long and tiring 11-hour day. An interesting part of the day was that there were bear tracks everywhere in the Stuart Fork canyon and in Morris Meadow. When we were not sure were the trail might be under the deep snow, we looked for bear tracks and followed them. They always seemed to know where the trail was. With all the bear activity, we hung our food in a nearby tree that night. This is the first time in 35 years that I have felt the need to hang my food while on a winter/spring ski trip.

This turned out to be the most strenuous day for several reasons. First, we missed the correct gap in Sawtooth Ridge to descend to Mirror Lake and ended up going too far across the glacier and descending extremely steep terrain to Sapphire Lake. On this descent we saw a bear running full tilt across the rugged mountainside. Whereas we were barely hanging on to the steep mountain, the bear was completely at ease on the ridge's steep slopes. The other difficult portion for the day was the 4-mile section below Emerald Lake to Morris Meadow. In this short section we may have crossed 20 avalanche paths and associated debris, some more than 200 yards across. Crossing these avalanche paths was tedious and slow as we maneuvered ourselves across these immense piles and canyons of snow and ice.

Day 4: We were up by 5:30 the next morning and off by 7:00. We quickly climbed to the saddle in the ridge separating Morris Meadow and Deer Creek. Although there was ample snow in the meadow, the steep hillside we climbed to the gap was mostly free of snow. From the saddle we traversed into Deer Creek and followed it for the next 4.5 miles before leaving the creek to climb to Seven-Up Pass (7,500 feet). The first two miles were the most strenuous due to avalanche debris and difficult creek crossings because of high water flows. At Willow Creek we had to hike up the stream for 15 minutes before finding a snow bridge to cross the stream. Near the creek draining the Black Basin we crossed to the southwest side of Deer Creek and continued up to the upper meadows where the trail branches to Luella Lake and Seven-Up Pass. The terrain above Black Basin was much more enjoyable and the velvet-smooth corn snow leading up to Seven-Up Pass would have made a superb ski descent. This fine snow continued to the summit of Seven-Up Peak and I had an enjoyable ascent and ski descent of the peak. As a high schooler in the 1960s, I climbed Seven-Up Peak. Nearly 40 years later I found myself ascending the peak on skis to enjoy a superb ski descent.

From Seven-Up Pass we descended to Granite Lake and camped.

Day 5: It was a relatively easy day skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking out to the trailhead and road. There was continuous snow to the foot bridge across Swift Creek but once on the other side of the roaring creek, the snow became patchy and we removed our skis and snowshoes. The trailhead parking lot had several feet of snow and patches of snow remained along the road for the upper two miles. We walked down the road where we were greeted by my parents who were there to pick us up and take us back to my car at Canyon Creek Trailhead where the traverse of the Trinity Alps had began 5 days earlier. Mom had baked apple pie and we celebrated the successful crossing of the Alps with several large pieces of freshly-baked apple pie. What a delicious and fitting end to an epic journey crossing the Trinity Alps on skis and snowshoes.

Starting Point: From Weaverville, drive west on 299W to Junction City and proceed up the Canyon Creek Road to the Canyon Creek Trailhead at 3,000 feet.
Ending Point: Swift Creek Road about 2 miles below the trailhead (about 3,500 feet)
Passes: Thompson/Caesar Cap Col (8,400 feet) and Sawtooth Ridge above Sapphire Lake (7,700+ feet), Seven-up Pass (7,500 feet)
Summit Ascents and Ski Descents: Caesar Cap Peak (8,966 feet), Seven-up Peak (8,132 feet)
Difficulty: Strenuous ascents, Advanced skiing terrain
Mileage: about 37 miles
Elevation gain: about 13,700 feet
Trip duration: 5 days
Camps: 0.2 mile above upper Canyon Creek Lake (5,800 feet), Grizzly Lake (7,100 feet), Morris Meadow (about 4,300 feet), and Granite Lake (5,900 feet)
Best time to go: April and early-May
Participants: Paul Richins and David Figoni
Wrinkles: We took crampons and ice axes but due to snow conditions, the crampons were not needed.

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Palisade Glacier, North Couloir and Northwest Couloir Mount Sill, and Scimitar Pass--June 4-6, 2005 and May 10-12, 1997
This trip, so late in the season, was made possible by the heavy snowfall this winter coupled with a wet and cooler than normal spring. There was considerably more snow on the ground in June 2005 than May 1997. An interesting note is that in May 1997 there was a 20 to 30-foot drop at the bergschrund between the upper snow field in the U-Notch couloir and the main Palisade Glacier. In 1997, we had to traverse the snow bridge on climbers right to cross the 'schrund. On the June 2005 outing, there was very little drop and only a small gap in the 'schrund between the upper snow couloir and the main glacier. In fact, skiers were able to descend the U-Notch couloir and continue over the 'schrund to the Palisade Glacier without breaking stride.

Day 1--Hike up the North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail passing First Lake, Second Lake, and Third Lake. After ascending several switch backs in the trail above Third Lake, leave the main trail at the sign for Palisade Glacier and Sam Mack Meadow. The trail was clear of snow with only occasional patches of snow. At the trail junction, I put on my skis and skins and there was continual snow from this point on.

After crossing the stream near the trail junction, ascend a gully bearing toward Thunderbolt Peak. At Sam Mack Meadow there was about 4 feet of snow on the ground and the stream running through the meadow was just opening up. Traverse the meadow and angle slightly left up a long and sustained gully that heads toward the U-Notch. This gully leads to Sam Mack :Lake. Near the upper end of the gully angle left out of the ravine and gain the moraine at the base of the Palisade Glacier and the lateral moraine that divides the Palisade Glacier from the Thunderbolt Glacier. I camped on this lateral moraine near 12,000 feet with wonderful views and photographic opportunities of the U-Notch, V-Notch, Thunderbolt Peak, North Palisade, and Mount Sill.

That evening, five climbers from the China Lake Search and Rescue passed my camp returning from climbing North Palisade via the U-Notch. They planned to climb Thunderbolt Peak the following day but I did not see them. Possibly the windy weather drove them off the mountain. That night the wind blew continuously shaking the tent regularly. I spent a restless night with many interruptions by noisy gusts of wind against the tent.

From the Palisade Glacier, I saw ski tracks in the Thunderbolt couloir, U-Notch couloir, and V-Notch couloir. However, no skiers had ventured up/down the Northwest Couloir on Mount Sill.

In May 1997, Colin Fuller, Bob Carlson, and I, climbed and skied the Northwest Couloir on Mount Sill (several times) and the U-Notch couloir (once).

Day 2--Ascend the lateral moraine toward the base of the U-Notch couloir and traverse southeast across the Palisade Glacier to the northwest couloir leading to the notch (13,800 feet) between Apex Peak (sub peak on Mount Sill) and Mount Sill. Cross the bergschrund and ascend a 35-degree snow and ice slope. From this notch, descend the North Couloir of Mount Sill or what is referred to as the L-shaped snow gully. This too is about 35 degrees. Alternatively, cross the Palisade Glacier and ascend Glacier Notch (0.3 mile north of Mount Sill) (13,080 feet). This is a class 3 pass and crampons on ice axe maybe required.

After skiing down the North Couloir (with full pack) and finding a way through the headwall above the Sill Glacier, I made a high traverse across the Sill Glacier traversing below Mount Sill, Mount Jepson, and the impressive vertical rock buttress that divides the Sill Glacier from Norman Clyde Glacier and Scimitar Pass. I bypassed the notch in the buttress that leads to Scimitar Pass and descended around the lower end of the buttress to the gully below the north face of Norman Clyde Peak. I set up camp in this large valley near 10,500 feet. I picked a spot behind a large boulder to protect the tent from the gusts of wind that intensified during the night. I was tired from the day's work and the lack of sleep the night before, so I was in my sleeping bag and asleep by 6:00 PM.

Day 3--I was up at 5:30 and climbing by 6:00 AM. I followed the valley and drainage toward Norman Clyde Glacier and the North Face couloir of Norman Clyde Peak. At the base of Norman Clyde Peak, angle right and continue across the large cirque passing below Palisade Crest. Ascend the left to-right angling ramp leading to Scimitar Pass (13,451 feet). On the June 2005 trip, I saw many recent snow slides in the center of the ramp. Avoid this avalanche potential by ascending Scimitar Pass on its right (climber's right).

I saw one set of ski tracks in the area and they too ascended to the top of the pass. The ski descent was superb. I was back at my camp by 11:30 AM. I packed up the tent and other belongings and headed out, arriving back at my car in four hours. A superb ski trip. The South Fork Big Pine Creek and the Scimitar Pass area is an overlooked gem and secret from those that prefer to visit the North Fork Big Pine Creek and the U-Notch on North Palisade.

Starting Point: Glacier Lodge Road/North Fork Big Pine Creek Trailhead (7,677 feet)
Passes crossed: Northwest Couloir/North Couloir Mount Sill (13,800 feet) and Scimitar Pass (13,451 feet)
Ski descents: North Couloir Mount Sill and Scimitar Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous ascents, Advanced skiing terrain
Mileage: about 26.5 miles
Elevation gain: about 10,400 feet
Trip duration: 3 days
Camps: Palisades Glacier (12,000 feet) and below North Face Norman Clyde (at 10,500 feet)
Best time to go: April and early-May
Participants: Paul Richins (age 55 years) and Prince (American Eskimo dog, age 14 years)

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Enchanted Gorge and Much More--May 17-23, 2005
Day 1: Parked at the intersection of Highway 168 and North Lake Road; walked to North Lake and Lamarck Lakes trailhead and skied via Grass Lake toward Lamarck Col and camped at 12,200 feet, 0.8 miles NE of Mount Lamarck. Skied the “Northeast Couloir” of Mount Lamarck and returned to camp via the gully above Upper Lamarck Lake.

Day 2: Moved camp to the uppermost lake in Darwin Canyon; climbed and skied the North Face of Mount Darwin.

Day 3: Skied to Mount Goddard via Darwin Canyon, Darwin Benches, Evolution Basin, and “Wanda Pass” (12,450 feet) on the Goddard Divide. Camped on the summit of Mount Goddard after leaving most of our food at the head of lake 11,951 east of Mount Goddard.

Day 4: Skied the East Face of Mount Goddard and made camp at the lake just north of Scylla. Climbed and skied Scylla.

Day 5: Skied down the glacier NE of Scylla, then descended the Enchanted Gorge to the 8,200-foot level. Walked and bushwhacked up the creek west of Wheel Mountain to the 9,500-foot level. Put on the skies and ascended to camp at 11,650 feet near the lake 0.9 miles N.N.E. of Wheel Mountain.

Day 6: Climbed and skied Wheel Mountain, then crossed a saddle (steep) on the Black Divide at 12,500 feet halfway between the words “Black Divide” on the USGS 7.5 minute map. From the lake just north of the saddle, climbed Mount Duncan McDuffie, then descended the “north couloir” to camp at the large lake 0.5 miles north of Mount Duncan McDuffie.

Day 7: Climbed Black Giant, then skied out via Echo Col, Moonlight Lake and Blue Lake. Drank margaritas in Bishop!!

Starting Point: The junction of Highway 168 and North Lake Road (9,000 feet)
Passes: Lamarck Col (12,960+ ft), “Wanda Pass” (12,440+ feet), Black Divide at 12,500 feet, Echo Col (12,400+ feet)
Summit ascents and ski descents: Northeast Couloir Mount Lamarck (13,417 feet), North Face Mount Darwin (13,831 ft), East Face Mount Goddard (13,568 feet), Scylla (12,956 feet), Wheel Mountain (12,774 feet), Mount Duncan McDuffie (descended the north couloir) (13,282 feet), Black Giant (13,330 feet)
Trip duration: 7 days
Participants: Dave Giese, Tahoe City and Ken Duncan, Palo Alto. For info about the trip, contact Ken Duncan at

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Piute Pass, Ruskie Pass, Seven Gables Pass to Gemini and Seven Gables--May 14-17, 2005
On this ski trip we planned to climb Gemini, Seven Gables, and Mount Senger. To reach these distant peaks we crossed four passes in two days--Piute, Pilot Knob, Ruskie, and Seven Gables. There was still ample snow and we did not have to remove our skis for the entire trip into these lovely peaks.

Day 1--We drove to the intersection of the Sabrina Lake Road and the North Lake Road (South of Bishop) and parked in the overnight parking area. The North Lake Road was gated and blocked by snow drifts. On the first day we skied/ascend Piute Pass, crossed Pilot Knob Pass (located immediately east of Pilot Knob) and skied down into French Canyon where we camped at 10,200 feet. (For more information about this pass and route, see Trekking California. Several of the treks described in this guidebook pass through this region.)

Day 2--We quickly ascended to Merriam Lake. Above the lake we followed the drainage toward Feather Peak. About 1 mile north of Merriam Lake we ascended up a wide gully heading abruptly east out of the Merriam Lake valley. This was the perfect route over this rugged divide. The gully was shaped like a natural but gigantic snowboard terrain park constructed for snowboarders at a ski resort--but on a grand scale. There are several passes that can be used to cross this divide but this pass was the superior route. Strough Pass would be ok but the approach to the pass is somewhat out of the way. Merriam Pass and the pass north of Aweetasal Lake were guarded by cornices, cliffs, avalanches, and difficult terrain on their north sides--avoid these passes. La Salle Col and Feather Pass may have been passable but we did not get a look at their north sides.

After ascending Ruskie Pass, the skiing down into Seven Gables Lakes was supreme on perfect spring corn. We ascended Seven Gables Pass were we stashed our pack at the pass and climbed Gemini. There was snow to the summit but we were able to dig through 2 feet of snow to find the summit register. We signed in below RJ Secor (5X) and Tina Strough. They had climbed the peak the previous fall. We were able to ski from near the summit back to our packs in a matter of a few minutes. We set up camp directly below the south face of Seven Gables near 11,700 feet. We planned to climb Seven Gables peak in the morning.

Day 3-- Around midnight a strong storm wracked our tent with strong winds and snow. There was little we could do but wait for the weather to lift. Going in, we knew the weather would be unstable for the entire week but we hoped for the best, thinking the weather pattern would not be intense. We obvious were wrong. Around 2:00 PM the next day the weather began to lift so we decided to head out without climbing Seven Gables. The upper slopes and summit rocks were coated with fresh snow and ice, and more weather was predicted. Our decision to leave turned out to be a good one because by the time we reached Piute Pass on Day 4 the winds were picking up and another storm had arrived.

We retraced our route over Seven Gables Pass and Ruskie Pass. The ski descent of Ruskie Pass was most enjoyable as we descended the natural steep-sided gully with glee. The storm clouds lifted and I was able to capture some impressive photos of the clearing storm with Colin skiing the chute.

We continued to Merriam Lake where the temperature was plummeting. We ate a quick bite to eat at the lake but the cold urged us down the mountain. We descended to French Canyon and camped near the confluence of Piute Canyon and French Canyon near 9,600 feet.

Day 4--The night was clear and cold. In the morning we headed up toward Piute Pass hoping to make it over the pass before the next storm arrived. It was beginning to snow lightly and the wind was picking up as we crossed the divide. In 2 more hours of skiing past Piute Lake and Lock Leven Lake we were soon back at the car with the storm clouds and winds close behind.

Starting Point: Junction of Lake Sabrina Road (Highway 168) and the North Lake Road (9,000 feet)
Passes crossed: Piute Pass (2 times) (11,423 feet), Pilot Knob Pass (11,520+ feet), Ruskie Pass (2 times) (12,040+ feet), Seven Gables Pass (2 times) (12,040+ feet).
Summit climbs and ski descents: Northwest slope of Gemini (12,880+ feet).
Difficulty: Strenuous ascents, Advanced skiing terrain
Mileage: about 46 miles
Elevation gain: about 10,800 feet
Trip duration: 4 days
Camps: French Canyon (at 10,200 feet), below the south face of Seven Gables (11,700 feet) confluence of French Canyon and Piute Canyon (about 9,600 feet).
Best time to go: April and early-May
Participants: Paul Richins and Dr. Colin Fuller

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Trans-Sierra Traverse-North Lake to Wishon Reservoir--April 22-29, 2005
On this extraordinary east to west crossing of the Sierra Nevada, we climbed Mount Henry, Finger Peak, and Tunemah Peak logging 76 miles while climbing about 19,300 feet with 21,300 feet of ski descent. The winter of 2004-05 was a heavy snow year (160%-200% of normal), consequently we did not have to remove our skis for the entire traverse of the Sierra Nevada except for steep snow climbing over Snow-Tongue Pass, Mantle Pass, and on the steeper sections of the three peaks we climbed. Deep snow coverage continued to the summits of all three peaks providing spectacular ski descents. For more information on portions of this route, see the articles below: "Ionian Basin for a Third Time: 5 Passes-3 Peaks--May 7-15, 2004" and "Black Giant and Mount Goddard via Echo Col, Muir Pass, Ionian Basin, Evolution Basin, Alpine Col, Piute Pass--April 23-May 1, 1995".

On this trip we had unsettled weather for the entire 8-day trip. It snowed every day except on the fourth day and eight day. On the seventh day it snowed about a foot and visibility was so poor we could not see more than 100 feet much of the day and had to use the GPS and compass to cross Mantle Pass. We a had similar storm when we climbed Mount Henry.

Day 1--On Friday afternoon, we started at 3:30 PM and skied to just below Lock Leven Lake in light to heavy falling snow.

Day 2--We crossed Piute Pass (11,423 feet), dropped to Wahoo Lakes, and ascended Snow-Tongue Pass (12,200 feet) in blowing snow (for more information about this pass and route, see Trekking California. Several of the treks described in this guidebook pass through this region.) We were able to skin up on our skis to about 400 feet below the pass. The last 400 feet was up steep, unconsolidated snow. We stayed on the snow but followed a rock buttress up the middle of the wide gully to the pass. From Wahoo Lakes two notches in the high ridge are visible. We climbed up and over the left notch. The ski descent from the pass to lower McClure Meadow was on perfect spring corn all the way to the JMT bridge crossing on the South Fork San Joaquin River at 8,600 feet. On your ski descent, do not traverse too far to the west because you will encounter snow-less cliffs as you descend to Evolution Valley. We camped in 6-8 feet of snow near the bridge.

Day 3--We crossed the South Fork San Joaquin River on the foot bridge and ascended alongside the stream flowing from an alpine lake basin east of Mount Henry. The climbing was over snow and steep cliffs. After 1,200 feet of climbing the terrain leveled off and we quickly reached the lovely lake basin below Henry. We gained the Northeast Ridge and ascended the heavily corniced ridge to the summit in a whiteout. There was ample snow for superb skiing off the summit of Mount Henry all the way back to our camp on the river.

Day 4--We followed the Goddard Canyon and the South Fork San Joaquin River to Martha Lake. For the first 3.5 miles, the canyon was narrow forcing us to ski 100-200 feet above the river in many places. We ascended on the west side of the river. In the area of the Pig Chute (miles 2-3 above the bridge and our camp) the canyon was especially narrow and steep requiring a careful ski traverse above the precipitous canyon in a couple of spots. We found open water at the outlet of Martha Lake and camped. Martha Lake is surrounded by Mount Goddard, Reinstein Pass and Mount Reinstein--a lovely and exposed spot to camp above the tree line. But the weather was beautiful on this particular day.

Day 5--Up early in the morning, we quickly crossed Reinstein Pass (11,880+ feet) and made a 3-mile long gradual descent along the southeast side of the pass traversing in and out of several cirques until we reached 10,200-foot level and the stream flowing from the lake basin located north of Blue Canyon Peak and Finger Peak. We ascended past several lakes in the basin and climbed steeply to Finger Col. Just beyond the Col, we dropped our packs and climbed the southeast slope of Finger Peak. There was snow to the summit block but the summit register was free of snow so we signed in. The ski descent back to our packs and then to the lakes in Blue Canyon Creek took only a couple of minutes. The skiing was across velvet smooth spring corn but it began to snow by the time we set up our tent for the night.

Day 6--Today we set out to cross Dykeman Pass and climb Tunemah Peak. Dykeman Pass is the left most notch in a 0.5 mile break in the ridge dividing Blue Canyon Creek from Alpine Creek (the notch closest to Blue Canyon Peak is the correct pass). The other notches in the ridge look inviting but steep cliffs on the Alpine Creek side block the way. The widely spaced trees on Tunemah Peak provided excellent skiing from the summit. We returned over Dykeman Pass to our camp. The sun was out but the sky soon filled with clouds and it began to snow.

Day 7--There was a major storm brewing and we needed to cross Mantle Pass to keep on schedule. With compass, map, and GPS we navigated over the pass in poor visibility. Without the GPS we may not have found the pass that day. At one point we thought we had reached a dead-end cirque with towering cliffs blocking our progress. The GPS said we had 266 feet further to go to Mantle Pass but we were sure the pass was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, the storm-clouds lifted momentarily and we saw a glimpse of Mantle Pass 266 feet away. We climbed the pass and continued down to Hummingbird Lake. Here we considered camping for the day because of the storm but pushed on. We planned to ski from Crown Basin to Crown Lake on open slopes above the tree line and along the ridge, but with all the fresh snow that was falling we were concerned about avalanche potential. So we adjusted our course and headed north across Crown Basin through a 10,200-foot pass I am calling Crown Basin Pass (due north of Crown Basin) to the North Fork Kings River. From here, we followed the route of the trail to Halfmoon Lake. We arrived at Halfmoon Lake during the half moon for April. The day was a day of snow and more snow. Because of the limited visibility we constantly checked our compass, map, and GPS to make sure we were headed in the correct direction. We were glad to finally reach the lake, tired but pleased with all the work we had done during the day bucking all the fresh snow on the ground. We were on schedule.

Day 8--With all the fresh snow it was a struggle to ascend Crown Pass but once on the downhill side of the pass we skied in a southwesterly direction nearly all the way to Wishon Reservoir following Woodchuck Creek drainage. We made one major tactical error. We continued all the way to the lake thinking we could hike the necessary two miles along its shore to Wishon Dam and Wishon Dam Road. The two-mile hike along the rugged lake shore to the dam was over steep cliffs and rugged bluffs that required complicated route finding over strenuous class 2 and some class 3 climbing (mixed snow and rock climbing with plastic ski boots). Avoid descending along Woodchuck Creek to Wishon Reservoir unless you have arranged for a boat taxi to pick you up.

Here is what we should have done. From Crown Pass head southwest to Finger Rock. Pass to the south of Finger Rock and begin to descend Rancheria Creek following the route of the summer trail. After a mile, leave Rancheria Creek and follow the route of the Woodchuck Trail to its trailhead about 0.8 mile from Wishon Dam. If you continue following Rancheria Creek and the route of the Rancheria Creek Trail, you will come to its trailhead about 5.0 miles from Wishon Reservoir. On this trip, the Wishon Dam Road was closed at Wishon Dam due to snow. The opening of the road varies from year to year depending upon snow depths.

Starting Point: Junction of Lake Sabrina Road and the North Lake Road (9,000 feet)
Passes crossed: Piute Pass (11,423 feet), Snow-Tongue Pass (12,200+ feet), Reinstein Pass (11,880+ feet), Finger Col (11,560+ feet), Dykeman Pass (twice) (11,040+ feet), Mantle Pass (10,960+ feet), Crown Basin Pass (between Crown Basin and North Fork Kings River) (10,200 feet), Crown Pass (10,188 feet).
Summit climbs and ski descents: Northeast Ridge Mount Henry (12,196 feet), Southeast slopes Finger Peak (12,404 feet), and Southwest slope Tunemah Peak (11,894 feet).
Difficulty: Strenuous ascents, Advanced skiing terrain
Mileage: about 76 miles
Elevation gain: about 19,300 feet
Trip duration: 7.5 days
Camps: Below Loch Leven Lake at 10,200 feet, John Muir Trail bridge crossing of the South Fork San Joaquin River (two nights) (8,600 feet), Martha Lake (11,004 feet), Blue Canyon Creek Lakes (two nights) (about 10,400 feet), Halfmoon Lake (9,422 feet).
Best time to go: April and early-May
Participants: Paul Richins and Dr. Colin Fuller

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Mount Baxter, Mount Cotter, Rae Lakes, Sixty Lake Basin--April 7-13, 2005
On this trip I planned to ascend Baxter Pass and head to Rae Lakes and then to Sixty Lakes Basin to climb Mount Gardiner and the East Ridge of Mount Cotter. I followed the route of the Baxter Pass Trail, the John Muir Trail, and Sixty Lake Basin Trail to reach Mount Gardiner and Mount Cotter.

The snow accumulation for the winter season 2004-2005 was above average in the Sierra Nevada: about 160-200% of normal. Not only were the snow depths above normal in the high country the amount of snow on the east side stretched lower than is typical for this time of the year. I encountered snow after only 1 mile of hiking at the 6,700 foot level.

At the 6,700-foot level the trail crosses the North Fork Oak Creek for the first time passing from the sunny side to the shaded northern exposure. Rather than following the trail and fighting the snow, I stayed on the sunny side of the stream/canyon following it for another 2 miles. Progress was slow with some bushwhacking but this was probably better than staying on the trail and post-holing on a steep traverse below rugged cliffs. After the trail crosses the stream a second time (near 8,400 feet), the canyon widens providing excellent skiing and easier travel.

Except for this two-mile section, this is an excellent but strenuous approach to the backcountry and contains exceptional skiing on both sides of Baxter Pass. A base camp at Summit Meadow with side trips to the gullies off of Black Mountain, Diamond Peak, and Baxter Pass make this an ideal location for the backcountry skier. However, I noticed considerable avalanche debris in the bottom of the canyon below Summit Meadow. These avalanches originated from the steep cliffs on the north side of the canyon.

Day 1 and Day 2--The start of the trip was slowed by two days of storms, high winds, poor visibility, and 2 feet of fresh powder. The unsettled weather slowed my progress over Baxter Pass and increased the avalanche risk. On the first day, poor visibility, strong winds, and falling snow forced me to camp below Summit Meadow near 9,200 feet. On the second day I was up early and was greeted by a clear sky. However, by 10:00 AM I was engulfed in a fast approaching storm. Again, high winds, poor visibility, and falling snow stopped my progress below Baxter Pass near 11,100 feet at 1:00 PM. I set up camp in a thicket of evergreen trees that partially sheltered the tent from the strong wind, and waited for better weather.

Day 3--On the third day the weather finally improved. The steep ascent of Baxter Pass was safe from avalanches as the route/trail followed the nose of a large buttress that was swept clear of snow by frequent strong winds. The powder skiing on the north side of Baxter Pass was exceptional and I soon reached Baxter Lake and Dollar Lake (located along the John Muir Trail). My dog, Prince, and I followed the tracks of a coyote for several miles as the animal visited the few areas of open water along the creek seeking a meal. We continued up the valley following the route of the John Muir Trail to Rae Lakes and camped at the lower end of the upper Rae Lake, not too far from the bear boxes and the summer campsite for hikers and trekkers. Although popular in the summer and fall, there was no sign of human activity here or anywhere along my route this wintery April.

Day 4--The next day after photographing Painted Lady, Fin Dome, and a frozen Rae Lakes, we headed to Sixty Lake Basin. We followed the route of the Sixty Lake Basin Trail from the upper end of Rae Lakes over the pass behind Fin Dome (Fin Dome Pass) and down into Sixty Lake Basin where I set up camp at Lake 10,840 feet. This lake is located south of the point where the Sixty Lake Basin Trail makes a sharp right turn heading north. From camp, I ascended Sixty Lake Col (located 1.5 miles south of Mount Cotter) and observed an easy snow ramp down into Gardiner Basin and a steep snow ramp leading to Mount Gardiner. I had planned to ascend Mount Gardiner but due to all the fresh snow I did not think it would be safe. Between the south ridge and east ridge of Mount Cotter (southeast basin) there is a large and magnificent open bowl that would be ideal for skiing under the right snow conditions. In this situation, 2 feet of fresh snow had fallen two days previous and the basin was prone to avalanches.

Day 5--From camp at Lake 10,840 feet, I ascended on skis with skins northwest through cliffs and small stands of trees via snow ramps and gullies to a large open bowl immediately south of the east ridge of Mount Cotter. Here I removed my skis and ascended the steep nose of a large buttress to gain the crest of the east ridge. I selected this route because there was less snow on the nose of the buttress, and large boulders and a few small trees provided some protection from potential avalanches that were more likely to occur in the large open bowls off the southeast slopes of Mount Cotter.

From the top of the buttress I was able to skin up along the crest of the East Ridge to the point where the East Ridge and South Ridge meet. Here I left my skis and ascended the sharp ridge on mixed climbing amongst rocks, ice, and snow (Class 3). I used and an ice ax but not crampons to traverse this portion of the summit ridge. The summit register was free of snow so I was able to sign in.

The ski descent along the airy crest of the East Ridge and then down the nose of the buttress to easy open terrain is a classic: one of the best in the Sierra Nevada. And, of course, the views of Clarence King, Mount Gardiner, and Sixty Lake Basin are stunning along this exposed but not overly difficult route. The East Ridge seems to be a safe route that keeps the skier/climber away from the large southeast basin between the east and south ridges. These beautiful slopes could be avalanche prone immediately after a snowfall. They would likely be safe after the snow turns to spring corn.

Day 6--From camp at Lake 10,840 feet, I retraced my route over Fin Dome Pass to Rae Lakes, Dollar Lake, and Baxter Lake, where I climbed Mount Baxter. The wind was so strong on the summit ridge of Mount Baxter that I stayed away from the crest of the ridge for fear of being blown off. After reaching the summit, I skied down and set up camp in the last stand of small trees above the upper end of Baxter Lake. The trees provided a measure of protection from the winds that were howling like a locomotive train through the cliffs and over the ridges above my camp.

Day 7--The next morning in high winds (maybe 50+ mph) I crested Baxter Pass. Except for the miserable wind, the ski descent of the south and east side of Baxter Pass down the canyon was superb. Near the bottom where the canyon narrowed, I followed the route of the trail through the lower rugged portion of the canyon. The traverse below the cliffs is very steep and can be prone to avalanches. Be cautious. I was able to ski nearly all the way to the stream crossing at 6,700 feet.

This was an excellent trip worth repeating. The skiing was exceptional, the mountain scenery superb, and the mountains stunning. The only draw back is the 2-mile stretch of trail on the lower portion of North Fork Oak Creek. However, in a normal snow year there may be very little snow along this stretch of trail making access through this rugged portion of the canyon to the 8,400-foot level much less difficult.

Starting Point: Baxter Pass Trailhead on the North Fork Oak Creek (6,000 feet)
Passes: Baxter Pass (12,200 feet), Fin Dome Pass (11,300 feet), Sixty Lake Col (11,680 feet)
Summit climbs and ski descents: East Ridge Mount Cotter (12,721 feet) Mount Baxter (13,125 feet)
Difficulty: Strenuous ascents, Advanced-Expert skiing terrain
Mileage: about 52 miles
Trip duration: 7 days
Best time to go: April and early-May
Participants: Paul Richins (age 55 years), and my American Eskimo Dog, Prince (age 14 years)

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Ionian Basin for a Third Time: 5 Passes-3 Peaks--May 7-15, 2004
In April 1995, Bob Carlson and I skied into Ionian Basin for the first time and ascended Mount Goddard and Black Giant skiing from their summits wearing Asolo Snowfield leather lace-up ski boots and gliding on Chouinard Valmonte X skis. These "skinny" skis were the state of the art in 1995. With the shovel to tail dimensions of 68mm-54mm-57mm these were one of the wider backcountry skis commercially available at the time. The skis' width pales in comparison to the dimensions of the Black Diamond Mira skis (112mm-79mm -102mm) I used for this excursion along with Scarpa T-3 plastic ski boots. The equipment changes over the past years (wider and shorter skis, and plastic ski boots) have been wonderful improvements that have helped all of us become better backcountry skiers allowing us to safely ski on more difficult and steeper mountain terrain.

On this adventure, our party ascended five passes (Echo Col, Muir Pass, Solomons Pass, Reinstein Pass, Valor Lake Pass) on our way westward from Lake Sabrina and traversed the same passes a second time on the return trip. Along the way we climbed and skied from the summits of Mount Goddard (13,568 feet), Mount Reinstein (12,586 feet), and Mount Fiske (13,503 feet). Next year we plan to complete a trans-Sierra crossing following a similar route to ascend Finger and Tunemah Peaks before finishing the trip on the west side of the range.

At the start, the snow and ice had melted from Lake Sabrina so we walked along the trail to Blue Lake. Some snow was encountered but we were able to walk most of the way to Blue Lake without pulling out our skis. This was in stark contrast to May 4-10, 2003 trip and the 1995 trip into the same area (see details below) where we were able to ski across Lake Sabrina to start that odyssey. Follow the route of the trail to Blue Lake, Dingleberry Lake, Topsy Turvey Lake, Sailor Lake Moonlight Lake, and Echo Lake before ascending steeply over Echo Col. Descend the far side of Echo Col to a large lake (at 11,428 feet) and down to the John Muir Trail before turning up the canyon to Helen Lake (11,617 feet) and Muir Pass (11,955 feet).

Strong winds and poor visibility prevented us from traversing Solomons Pass (immediately west of Mount Solomons) so we retreated to Muir Hut (at Muir Pass) for a couple of hours. The wind continued to howl and rock the stone hut but the weather quickly improved allowing us to retrace our steps. This time we crested the pass with a fine ski descent to the first lake (11,592 feet) in Ionian Basin. Mount Solomons has a steep and spectacular snow couloir directly above Muir Pass and a more moderate slope on the southwest side of the mountain for an excellent 1,500-foot ski descent to the first lake in Ionian Basin.

We continued along the chain of lakes in the Ionian Basin to the second lake (11,837 feet), past several small ponds to the third lake (11,818 feet), and camped near the outlet of the fourth lake (11,951 feet), a mile long lake beneath Mount Goddard. This was the same spot I camped nine years ago and it was perfect for viewing the peak and its wonderful snow-covered ski slopes rising from the upper end of the lake. The next morning we climbed Goddard and skied from the summit. The days were mild preventing the snow, at the higher elevations, to warm and soften to spring corn. Consequently, on Goddard and the peaks on this trip, the upper slopes were severely fluted from the wind and sun, and remained ice-hard. The skiing was not good but we survived the descent of Goddard. The snow softened slightly on the bottom half improving our spirits.

Our next goal was Mount Reinstein, about 3 miles away. From our trip into the Ionian Basin the previous year to climb Scylla, we observed Mount Reinstein and its very skiable snow-covered northeast face (immediately above Reinstein Pass). We were hoping to ski this route but this year the snow coverage was too thin to ski the route so we settled for the south couloir. From Mount Goddard we moved our camp to Valor Lake on the northwest side of Mount Reinstein by retracing our route to Lake 11,818 feet and traversing along south facing slopes high above Lake 10,232 feet (headwaters of Goddard Creek) to Reinstein Pass (northeast of Mount Reinstein) and then over Valor Lake Pass (north of Mount Reinstein) to Valor Lake. This was a beautiful campsite for our ascent up the south gully of Mount Reinstein. The next morning the story was the same on Reinstein as it was on Goddard. The steep upper slopes were ice-hard but the lower 2/3 was spring corn and the skiing was exceeding enjoyable. Due to lack of snow and many exposed rocks, we were not able to ski from the summit but from about the 12,200-foot level.

From our Valor Lake campsite we retraced our route back over Valor Lake Pass, Reinstein Pass, through Ionian Basin, over Solomons Pass, Muir Pass, and stopped to camped near Lake Helen for an ascent of Mount Fiske. From the upper end of Helen Lake, follow the valley to a steep rock band and ascend a snow couloir to the upper slopes of the peak. Continue to the top. Mount Fiske has great possibilities but on this trip the snow was rock-hard and fluted above the cliff band and the coverage was sparse. In a normal snow year the skiing would be exceptional. We skied from near the summit but again on rough, fluted snow that had not thawed.

After completing the ascent we skied out over Echo Col back to Blue Lake and out. A good trip but the lack of snow coverage and hard snow on the upper reaches of the peaks we climbed prevented this trip from being all that it could have been.
Starting Point: Lake Sabrina Trailhead, 9,100 feet
Passes: Echo Col, Muir Pass, Solomons Pass, Reinstein Pass, Valor Lake Pass
Summit climbs and ski descent: Mount Goddard (13,568 feet) Mount Reinstein (12,586 feet), Mount Fiske (13,503 feet)
Difficulty: Strenuous ascents, Advanced-Expert skiing terrain
Mileage: about 66 miles
Trip duration: 8 days
Best time to go: April and early-May
Participants: Paul Richins, Colin Fuller, Robin Fuller, Geri Ewing, David Fiore (and my dog Prince)

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Circumnavigation of Mount Whitney--May 16 and 17, 1998 and April 25-30, 2004
Mount Whitney: Mountain of Solitude--my climb and circumnavigation of Whitney was published in the Sacramento Bee on 2/3/05. The article is similar to the information presented below but with additional information.

On May 17, 1998, in poor visibility and intermittent snow showers, with my skis strapped to my backpack, I ascended the Mountaineers Route, the distinctive snow-filled couloir on the northeast face of Mount Whitney. At the 14,000-foot notch at the top of the steep couloir, I carefully traversed across the north face to the ridge leading to the summit. The hard snow in the couloir and north face required the use of crampons and an ice axe. This couloir was first climbed by John Muir in the fall of 1873 and descended on skis 101 years later by Galen Rowell.

I was the only one on the mountain that stormy day but noted the tracks of four snowboarders that had successfully boarded the steep gully the day before. After spending about an hour on the summit with Prince, my trusty American Eskimo dog, and taking photos (mostly of the storm), I carefully descended following the route of my ascent. It was not an elegant ski descent by any means but I was able to survive the descent by jump-turning my way down the steep couloir in less than ideal snow conditions (breakable crust, ice, wind packed snow). Below my base camp at Iceberg Lake, the conditions improved markedly and I was able to enjoy a relaxing ski descent to about the 9,200-foot level. This 5,000-foot descent was made possible by a heavy snow year that allowed me to ski down the North Fork Lone Pine Creek canyon to within one-half a mile of the Mount Whitney Trail (completely bypassing the Ebersbacher Ledgers below Lower Boy Scout Lake).

Ever since that exciting ski adventure on the Mountaineers Route , I wanted to return to Mount Whitney but this time to complete a circumnavigation of the mountain on skis. This I did April 25-30, 2004 while climbing and skiing from near the summit of Mount Pickering via the steep gullies above Primrose Lake.

Day 1: After watching the Kings and Mavericks play in the first round of the NBA playoffs at a bar and Mexican restaurant in Bishop, I drove to Whitney Portal and threw out my sleeping bag near the car for the night. Up at first light, I photographed Mount Whitney, ate yogurt, 2 bananas, and an apple for breakfast, and started hiking up the trail by 7:30 AM. This year the snow coverage was sparse to 10,000 feet so I had to negotiate the Ebersbacher Ledgers. Once above lower Boy Scout Lake the snow depths increased and there was continuous snow the rest of the way to Iceberg Lake where I planned to camp for the night. On my ascent I observed a guide service conducting ice-climbing instruction on the frozen waterfalls below upper Boy Scout Lake. There seemed to be 10 or more students and guides. As I continued to Iceberg Lake, I observed at least 12 and possible others that had attempted the Mountaineers Route on that Sunday. This was in stark contract to my solitary ascent of the route just 6 years ago where I only had a brief encounter with 4 snowboarders from Lake Tahoe. The route is popular in the summer and now is becoming well used in the spring.

Day 2: One of my goals for this trip was to traverse the Russell-Whitney Col and ski down the Arctic Lake recess to Guitar Lake located near the John Muir Trail. I have completed this traverse in the summer and fall on several occasions, but never on skis. Again, I was up at dawn to capture photos of the east face of Whitney at sunrise. As I was taking photos, the mountaineering and ice-climbing guide school with 10 roped climbers headed into the Iceberg Lake basin and up the Mountaineers Route. What a fine photographic opportunity to capture this party on film as the approached the steep, snow-filled couloir.

With crampons strapped to my T-2 telemark ski boots, I was able to easily ascend the Russell-Whitney col on about 30 minutes. On the other side, I traded crampons for telemark skis and was soon gliding past Arctic Lakes, Guitar Lake, and Timberline Lake in less than an hour. Skiing was ideal on velvet-smooth spring corn snow. To my surprise I spotted two pairs of ski tracks in the Arctic Lakes recess continuing to Timberline Lake where I lost their tracks.

At Timberline Lake I traversed southwest at the 11,000-foot level staying well above Crabtree Meadows and the snow-less south-facing slopes. This traverse around the west end of Mount Hitchock took me into the Crabtree Lakes basin to lower Crabtree Lake where I camped for the night. This lakes basin, with its near-vertical walls of Mount Chamberlin towering overhead, made for an ideal campsite with plenty of opportunities for short tours.

Day 3: In the morning, I skied up the gentle Crabtree Lakes basin to the second lake at 11,312 feet. A prominent and steep gully ascended to the summit ridge of Mount Chamberlin. This would provide an excellent route to climb Chamberlin with an exceptional ski descent for the advanced skier and boarder. At the upper end of the second lake the inlet stream was frozen forming a curtain-like ice fall. In 1.5 miles of gentle ascent, I reached the upper Crabtree Lake and stopped to eat. Crabtree Pass, immediately below Mount McAdie, was clearly visible. The best approach is to ascend into the small basin above the upper end of the upper Crabtree Lake and then traverse right into Crabtree Pass. Here I saw boot tracks with crampon marks in the snow but was surprised that the party was not on skis. From the pass it was a quick descent on ideal spring velvet snow to the upper end of Sky-Blue Lake. Ski down to the large unnamed lake at 11,125 feet. At its outlet, traverse right staying above a large rock band. After this cliff is passed, turn left down the mountain following the drainage to Sky-Blue Lake. I planned to camp at this lovely spot for the next three nights completing rest-day tours from a base camp.

Day 4: I had previously ascended Mount Pickering on May 3, 1998 ascending the northeast gully with Dr. Colin Fuller. From this trip I noted some steep chutes coming off the peak and dropping into Primrose Lake canyon. With this in mind, I headed down Rock Creek dropping about 400 feet below Sky-Blue Lake and then turning up the side canyon to Primrose Lake and the small glacier and steep gullies in the east-facing headwall. I ascended one of the four chutes and continued to the summit of Pickering. On the ascent it appeared that the right (north) most gully was the steepest and had the best line for a ski descent. The gully approached 38-40 degrees and was in good shape for a ski descent. The 800-foot, 25-foot wide slot proved to be an excellent choice for a thrilling ski descent.

Upon returning to Sky-Blue Lake I was surprised to meet Catherine and Geir Boe of San Francisco. They were camped at the lower end of Sky-Blue Lake out of sight of my camp situated at the upper end of the lake. We had an enjoyable chat and agreed to meet in the morning for a potential ski tour up Primrose Lake canyon and a ski descent of the headwall gullies I had just completed.

Day 5: I was up early, as was my practice, to take photos of the lake and surrounding spectacular mountain scenery especially focusing my lens on the sheer granite face rising from the lake's shore. The warm morning light added to the mood of the moment. Catherine and Geir needed to return to Horseshoe Meadows but were excited to ski up into Primrose Lake area. They broke camp and we skied together to the mouth of Primrose Lake canyon where they dropped their packs. From this point, we skied to the lake and climbed to the top of the headwall where I had skied the day before. The view from the top was inspiring and we enjoyed absorbing the beautiful snow-covered scenery. The ski descent of the steep chute was as delightful as the day before and we took great pleasure in taking action photographs of each other "flying" down the mountain. At the bottom of the run, Catherine and Geir headed for New Army Pass and I returned to my base camp at Sky-Blue Lake.

Day 6: It was finally time to leave this lovely lakes basin and head home. I turned my skis up the gentle valley toward Arc Pass. About the 12,700-foot level (1/4 mile short of Arc Pass) reach a large boulder in the bottom of the valley. To your right (east) you will see two prominent passes. The one closer to Arc Pass (about 13,500+ feet) will take you over the ridge on the Mount Irvine side of Mount Mallory. The other pass, that is slightly lower and further south from Arc Pass, leads to the high plateau between Mount Mallory and Mount LeConte. Either pass will lead to a fine descent via steep chutes above Meysan Lake. I climbed the pass closer to Arc Pass and had a wonderful, 2,000-foot ski down to Meysan Lake. To my pleasant surprise I was able to continue skiing down the canyon to about 9,600 feet before I had to pack up my skis and hike down the trail to the Whitney Portal Campground and the Whitney Road. This tour of Mount Whitney environs will be long-remembered and soon repeated.
Starting Point: Whitney Trailhead at Whitney Portal, 8,365 feet
Passes: Russell-Whitney col--13,060 feet, Crabtree Pass--12,560 feet, and Irwin-Mallory Pass--13,400 feet
Summit climb and ski descent: Mount Pickering--13,485 feet
Elevation Gain: ~14,000 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous ascents, Advanced-Expert skiing terrain
Mileage: about 42 miles
Trip duration: 6 days
Best time to go: April and early-May
Participants: Paul Richins and my American Eskimo Dog, Prince
Best base camp locations for skiing: Lower or Upper Boy Scout Lakes and Iceberg Lake (intermediate-level terrain between Russell-Whitney Col to Lower Boy Scout Lake), Guitar Lake (intermediate terrain from the Russell-Whitney Col to Guitar Lake), Sky-Blue Lake (explore in all directions including Arc Pass, Erin Lake canyon, Primrose Lake canyon, and Crabtree Lake Pass), Meysan Lake (Meysan Lake would make an ideal base camp to ski three distinct couloirs. The large amphitheater that the lake occupies is ringed by Mount Irvine, Mount Mallory, and Mount LeConte. The amphitheater is divided by the rugged east ridge of Mount Mallory. Looking up from the lake, to the right of this sharp divide is a steep gully leading to Mount Irvine. To the left are two other chutes that head to the high plateau between Mallory and LeConte).

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Lassen Peak's Northeast Face--April 10, 2004 and June 20, 1998
Depending on the snow pack and weather conditions, the National Park Service attempts to open the road from Manzanita Lake to Hat Lake by the first week in April. The opening of the road to the east side of Lassen Peak can be delayed several weeks by deep snow drifts. Check with Lassen Park personnel in March to determine when they expect to open the road that particular year. Large areas of open terrain on the backside of the peak are made available to the public when the road is finally opened. All levels of skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers (beginners, intermediate, and advanced) will enjoy the terrain and the beautiful scenery. This is one of my favorite spots and the snow conditions are usually exquisite spring corn.

From Redding on I-5, drive east on Highway 44 to the Lassen Park entrance at Manzanita Lake and proceed on the Lassen Park Loop Road for 10 miles to the Devastated Area near Hat Lake. The road will be blocked with snow beyond this point until later in the spring.

Begin by skiing or snowshoeing in a west-southwesterly direction from the parking area (6,446 feet) through widely spaced small trees. Soon you will break out into the open. Ski alongside Lost Creek and then up the stream bed in a deep mini-gorge it has formed. Follow the route of the stream in a southwesterly direction and then angling westerly gaining elevation gradually to the northeast ridge of Lassen Peak. Your goal is the low point (8,500 feet) on the northeast ridge just southwest of Crescent Crater.

There is excellent skiing over easy-intermediate terrain from the ridge. Or continue up the ridge to between 9,000 and 9,400 feet, to descend steeper bowls and wide-open gullies. For the advanced-expert skier, continue along the ridge to the summit crater and onto the summit (10,457 feet) for a descent of the Northeast Face. The Northeast Face is divided into several wide couloirs with a minor rib dividing the center of the face. The rib may be the safest route down and is obvious by the 2-3 large boulders straddling this minor ridge on the upper portion of the mountain. Be aware of the potential for a avalanches on this steep face. Descending from the summit by noon, before the day gets too warm, will help reduce the potential for wet spring slides. On one warm spring day in June, I purposefully triggered a large spring avalanche by traversing across the break point on the upper slopes to release tons of wet snow down the steep face before beginning my cautious descent.

This is an excellent face to ski or board but the upper half can be icy. A missed turn and fall on this steep face (up to 40 degrees on the upper sections) could be disastrous. Use caution and if necessary, descend the north ridge or descend on foot down the northeast face to where it becomes less steep.
Starting Point: Lassen Loop Road near Hat Lake
Starting Elevation: 6,446 feet
Summit Elevation: 10,457 feet
Elevation Gain: 4,011 feet
Difficulty: Beginner and Intermediate below the Northeast Ridge, Advanced-Expert skiing terrain from the summit.
Mileage: 3.0 miles to the Northeast Ridge, 4.5 miles to the summit
Trip duration: 1 day
Best time to go: when the road is plowed and open in April and early-May

[Climb to the Top] [Rappel to the Bottom]

Thompson Peak and Caesar Cap Peak-Trinity Alps-April 2-4, 2004
Click here to view photos of the ski adventure.

As I ascended the glacier on the northwest face of Sawtooth Mountain (8,886 feet), the visibility deteriorated markedly. The top two-thirds of the mountain was engulfed in clouds and I was now ascending into the snow-laden mist. I continued upward following a compass bearing I had established earlier. The upper portion of the glacier steepened and turned to ice near the summit ridge. I attached crampons to my plastic ski boots and continued the climb. Along the summit ridge, a large snow and ice cornice overhung the route above me. I moved to the right, away from its ominous presence. Cresting the summit ridge near 8,800 feet, I could barely distinguish the three rock spires that comprise the summits of Sawtooth Mountain. The jagged narrow ridge connecting the three pinnacles was heavily corniced with sheer granite walls blocking passage. I climbed down a steep, snow-filled gully on the east face, traversed beneath the vertical granite face of the first and second pinnacles, before regaining the dangerously corniced ridge. A narrow ice/snow-covered arête led to the true summit pinnacle.

The above depiction was taken from my account of last year's ascent and ski descent of Sawtooth Mountain published in the Trinity Journal on May 7, 2003. See trip description below, "Sawtooth Mountain-Trinity Alps". The only thing this adventure lacked was blue skies and good weather that provide the opportunity to photograph the exquisite snow-covered mountain terrain. On that trip I vowed to return in 2004 to climb additional summits and capture the essence of the adventure on film.

The first weekend in April 2004 provided just the opportunity I was looking for: clear skies were predicted and the snow pack from the winter was considerable. The cloudless weather would afford excellent photographic opportunities and the deep winter blanket of snow would provide superior skiing. I planned to head up Canyon Creek Trail just as I had in April 2003 but this time I would climb and ski from the summits of Thompson Peak (9,002 feet) and Caesar Cap Peak (8,966 feet) while capturing photographs of my last year's route on Sawtooth Mountain.

Both Thompson and Caesar Cap peaks (the two highest peaks in the Trinity Alps) are located along the ragged ridge that separates Canyon Creek drainage and Grizzly Lake drainage. The two largest glaciers in the Alps adorn the north slopes of these two remote peaks. Skiing on these glaciers across wide-open bowls with a side excursion to Grizzly Lake was another attraction that drew me to these distant destinations.

Thursday evening after work I left my downtown office near the State Capitol Building in Sacramento and drove to Weaverville. By the light of the nearly-full moon I could see that there was ample snow coverage on Weaver Bally. This bode well for the trip. I was enthused about the excursion and the opportunity to revisit an area I had hiked into many times as a teenager growing up in Weaverville.

At the Canyon Creek trailhead I threw out my sleeping bag under a large fir tree and quickly fell asleep for the night. There is something special about sleeping under the stars to cap a week of hard work. I was up at dawn and quickly snacked on yogurt and packed my backpack before heading up the trail at 6:15 AM. I wore a pair of light hiking boots (and carried my plastic ski boots) so I could easily wade across Bear Creek. The creek was running high but it was not difficult to traverse. Prince, my American Eskimo dog, easily swam across the small stream.

The trail was free of snow for the first 3.5 miles to lower Canyon Creek Falls. At the falls, I stashed the hiking boots and changed to plastic ski boots. From this point there was continuous snow. Because it was early in the morning and the snow was still frozen, I was able to walk on top of the firm snow for the next couple of miles. Above the trail junction to Canyon Creek Boulder Lake the snow was about 2-3 feet deep. There I put on my skis and added climbing skins for the ascent to Canyon Creek Lakes.

At Stonehouse Gulch, a large avalanche had deposited 20-25 feet of snow across the terrain. Apparently, a large avalanche had previously broken free from the precipitous granite cliffs of Sawtooth Mountain dislodging tons of snow into a steep-sided gully. The powerful avalanche thundered down the scoured ravine dislodging boulders and uprooting mature trees in its path.

Lower and upper Canyon Creek lakes were frozen and covered with snow; however, there were portions of open water at each lake's inlet and outlet. The snow on the lakes was firm and safe to cross. I skied across both lakes and continued ¼-mile up Canyon Creek to where I set up base camp for two nights in a beautiful hidden valley at 5,800 feet. This secluded spot, alongside Canyon Creek and a major side stream, was an ideal place to camp and provided exceptional views of Sawtooth Mountain.

After establishing camp, I headed up to "L" Lake and the base of Sawtooth Mountain to capture the photos that eluded me the previous year. "L" Lake occupies a deep cirque ringed by formidable cliffs and sinister pinnacles. A small glacier clings to the rugged northwest face of Sawtooth Mountain. In the summer and fall, a beautiful meadow and lake are nestled in the shadow of the mountain. Today, 5-7 feet of snow cover the uniquely-shaped lake. Although spectacular in the summer, the rugged terrain is even more impressive in the winter. Looking across the frozen lake I could easily trace the route of last year's ascent and ski descent of this majestic mountain.

That evening as the sun set, a full moon rose in the eastern sky. It was a magnificent sight watching the moon climbed skyward seemingly following the silhouetted ridge of Sawtooth Mountain. After taking several photographs, I retreated to the warmth of the tent to cook dinner on my hanging stove. Dinner was top ramen, freeze dried spicy veggies, cup of soup for flavoring, and a can of salmon. Dessert was a chocolate candy bar.

Saturday morning I was up at dawn and ate a breakfast of oatmeal with raisins, Protein Plus Power Bar, and hot chocolate. My route would ascend along the left side of Canyon Creek as it cascaded precipitously through the deep canyon. This hidden valley, between upper Canyon Creek Lake and Thompson Peak, is about 3 miles long and is rugged, beautiful, and seldom visited. Along the upper portion of the steep-sided valley, numerous avalanches had previously thundered from the cliffs high above the valley floor. In places along the bottom of the canyon, I was skiing over avalanched snow mounds that had accumulated to more than 30 feet. I felt safe traversing this wild country because it had not stormed in several weeks and the snow had stabilized; however, the upper portion of the canyon would not be a safe place during, or immediately after, a large snowstorm.

Above the buttress coming off of Wedding Cake, I turned left and climbed out of the deep valley to the low point along the ridge between Wedding Cake and Thompson Peak. From this notch, I ascended the left side of the ridge on hard snow (crampons may be advisable) to the rocky pinnacle of Thompson Peak. On top, I enjoyed great views of Grizzly Lake, the large glacier below Thompson, Caesar Cap Peak, Sawtooth Mountain, and Mount Shasta in the distance. I had planned a ski descent to Grizzly Lake but the exit point off the ridge onto the glacier was blocked by a sizable cornice.

I scrambled down the upper rocks of Thompson Peak and put on my skis about 100 feet below the summit. After a few quick jump turns and a high-speed traverse, I was back at the low point near Wedding Cake. What had taken about an hour to ascend took only a couple of minutes to traverse on skis. Now, instead of following my ascent route down through the canyon, I skied around the right side (west) of Wedding Cake to the next notch and then traversed left out onto the large open expanse (visible from Canyon Creek Lakes). I made the long traverse staying just below the ridge for about 2 miles before descending steeply to my base camp.

I enjoyed the route up Canyon Creek so much that I headed up the valley again on Sunday. Instead of climbing left to the notch between Thompson and Wedding Cake, I continued straight ahead to the canyon's headwall and ascended (with crampons strapped to my boots) to the notch in the jagged ridge between Thompson and Caesar Cap Peak (a.k.a. Glacier View Peak). Once through the notch, the terrain on the Grizzly Lake side was relatively gentle and the expansive glacier made for great skiing. From the notch, I ascended the glacier to the top of Caesar Cap Peak. Previously, I thought that Sawtooth Mountain had the best view in the Alps but I now think that Caesar Cap Peak has the better view that includes Grizzly Lake, two large glaciers, Little South Fork Lake, Emerald, Sapphire, and Mirror lakes, the northwest face of Sawtooth Mountain, and Mount Shasta.

With snow to the top of Caesar Cap Peak, I was able to start my ski descent from the summit. What had taken 4.5 hours to ascend that morning took less than one hour to descend on skis, stopping often to catch my breath and take more photographs. I was back at my camp by 12:30 PM and was headed out by 1:00 PM. I would have preferred to stay another day or two but it was time to head home. Due to the remoteness of the peaks and the ruggedness of the terrain above Canyon Creek Lakes, it is likely that these explorations were perhaps the first-ever ski descents of both peaks.

Again, as I did the year before, I determined to return next year to the area for another ski adventure in the incomparable Trinity Alps.
Starting Point: From Weaverville, drive west on 299W to Junction City and proceed up the Canyon Creek Road to the Canyon Creek Trailhead at 3,000 feet.
Summits Climbed and Ski Descents: Thompson Peak-9,002 feet, Caesar Cap Peak-8,966 feet
Difficulty: Advanced ski and snowshoe terrain above Canyon Creek Lakes
Mileage: 8.0 miles to base camp plus 3.0 miles to Thompson Peak and 3.5 miles to Caesar Cap Peak
Trip duration: 3-5 days
Best time to go: March and April

[Climb to the Top] [Rappel to the Bottom]

Winter in May: Ski descents of Mounts Wallace, Powell, Scylla, and Black Giant--May 4-10, 2003
The winter storm patterns were unusual this year. The mountains of California received a good amount of snow in December but then January, February, and March were relatively devoid of major snow storms. By April snow depths were well below average. In April and early May the Sierra Nevada received more snow than in the previous three months combined. Just before departing on this tour, 2 feet of fresh powder had fallen above 10,000-foot level and the weather report was for more storms and unsettled weather during the week of our tour. The weather service was also predicting a major storm from the Gulf of Alaska in the middle of our trip. Since the storm was expected to last only 24-36 hours we decided to "weather the storm" and follow through with our plans. However, the storm quickly changed a spring tour into a winter wonderland with a foot of dry powder and temperatures that dropped to -10 degrees Fahrenheit Friday and Saturday mornings.

This exceptional tour and summit ski descents starts and finishes at Lake Sabrina. However, the trip could be extended a day or two enabling a strong party to complete one of the classic ski tours in the Sierra Nevada: Lake Sabrina to North Lake. From Muir Pass (the turnaround point of this tour) ski north through Evolution Basin to the Darwin Bench where you can ascend Alpine Col and Piute Pass descending to North Lake to complete the loop. Or from Darwin Bench, ascend Lamarck Col for an exquisite ski descent of the northeast side of the pass to North Lake. For more info see the tour and summit ski descents completed in 1995, Black Giant and Mount Goddard via Echo Col, Muir Pass, Ionian Basin, Alpine Col, Piute Pass.

Day 1--Drive to the trailhead below Lake Sabrina (Highway 168 west of Bishop) and ski across Lake Sabrina. Normally, in May, the lake would be open for trout fishing and you would have to walk along the rugged shoreline but this year it was still frozen and ice fishing was popular as we skied its frozen waters. From the upper end of the lake, follow the general route of the summer trail to Blue Lake and continue to Topsy Turvy Lake and Moonlight Lake. Colin Fuller and I camped at the last open water above Moonlight Lake. (Blue Lake or above makes for a wonderful base camp to explore the area for several days. Check out Mounts Wallace, Thompson and Powell and their respective glaciers and couloirs).
Day 2--To reach the summit of Mount Wallace we skied up to Echo Lake and into the impressive cirque west of the lake. From the lower end of Echo Lake, turn west climbing to about 12,000 feet before traversing into the large cirque below Mount Wallace. Continue up the cirque to 12,800 feet and the north ridge/slopes of Mount Wallace. Ascend the north slopes and gully to the top. The powder skiing was exceptional as about 2 feet of fresh powder had recently fallen. Start your ski descent within 20-30 feet of the top.
Day 3--On the ascent of Mount Wallace I became impressed with the steep north-northwest face and glacier cirque of nearby Mount Powell that was plainly visible for much of the day. To reach Mount Powell, we returned to Echo Lake and skied to the south end of the lake ascending south as if headed to Echo Col. After gaining 240 feet, traverse left (northeast) into the impressive glacier cirque west of the rugged north ridge of Mount Powell. (The cirque can also be reached by ascending a steep snow gully at the midway point of the left shore of Echo Lake.)

There was evidence of avalanche debris in the heart of the glacier cirque. The 2-feet of new powder snow seemed stable but to play it safe, we ascended along the left edge of the glacier and traversed directly below the steep cliffs that formed the North Ridge of Mount Powell. These cliffs provided protection from potential avalanches. We ascended to the distinctive notch (13,040+ feet) immediately west of the summit and dropped our skis. From this point, we followed a ledge angling up and to our left on the Echo Lake side of the ridge. After about 100 lateral feet we turned right and scramble to the ridge and followed it to the top. Back at the notch, we put on our skis and had a wonderful descent in powder snow. Advanced abilities required for the top half of the route.
Day 4--We moved camp in stormy weather over Echo Col to just east of Muir Pass. Echo Col (12,400 feet) is west (right) of the low point on the ridge in the large cirque south of Echo Lake and is marked by a distinctive black rock chimney. From the col, descend to Lake 11,428 feet, then to the John Muir Trail near 11,000 feet. On the descent to Lake 11,428, be careful not to descend too far to the east as these steep slopes are avalanche prone. Turn southwest up the route of the John Muir Trail past Helen Lake before reaching Muir Pass (11,955 feet) and the Muir Hut. We set up camp short of Muir Pass for protection from the wind and the fast approaching storm out of the Gulf of Alaska.
Day 5--During the night it began to storm and continued all day and into the next night. We were pinned in our tent for the entire day due to strong winds, heavy snow, and virtually no visibility. Day 5 became a mandatory rest day for us.
Day 6--This morning dawned clear and cold. Prefect for another summit tour. The temperature at 7:00 in the morning was -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Two hours earlier at sunrise the temperature may have reached -10 degrees. Normal low temperatures in the Sierra for this time of year are probably in the low teens, not below zero. Today we planned to climb Scylla in the Ionian Basin, one of the most rugged and scenic areas in the entire Sierra Nevada. This is one of my favorite places to ski with the slopes of Mount Goddard the primary objective for ski mountaineers. For more info on my 1995 ski descent of Mount Goddard refer to the write up below--Black Giant and Mount Goddard via Echo Col, Muir Pass, Ionian Basin, Alpine Col, Piute Pass.

From Muir Pass ascend west-southwest to Solomons Pass (12,500 feet) located west of Mount Solomons. Descend into Ionian Basin and the first lake (Lake 11,592 feet) located southwest of Solomons Pass. Follow a series of lakes in Ionian Basin skiing toward Mount Goddard ( Lake 11,592 feet, Lake 11,837 feet, Lake 11,818 feet, and the largest lake in the area Lake 11,951 feet located southeast of the peak. To ascend Mount Goddard ski across Lake 11,951 feet and up the broad, but steep, slopes of Mount Goddard. However, for this trip, Bob Carlson, Colin Fuller and I skied across the second lake, Lake 11,837 feet, and turned south climbing Scylla. We were able to ski from the top in fresh, deep powder dropped during the storm the previous day and night.
Day 7--This morning dawned colder than the day before. On our last day we planned to ascend Black Giant and ski from its summit on more powder. Ascend to Black Giant Pass (12,160 feet) located west of Black Giant, and head east up broad slopes to the summit. Another great powder descent.

Back at camp, we packed up and retraced our route over Echo Col and across Lake Sabrina to our cars. Ascending from the south, Echo Col is marked by a distinctive black triangle shaped cliff sandwiched between the white granite wall forming the crest of the divide. The correct slot to climb is on the far side (west) of the black triangle of rock. We completed our ski across Lake Sabrina just at dark, a tiring but wonderful 12-hour day of skiing. An exquisite trip with 4 marvelous summits climbed and skied.

Starting Point: Sabrina Lake Trailhead ( feet) west of Bishop on Highway 168
Summits Climbed and Ski Descents: Mount Wallace (13,377 feet), Mount Powell (13,364 feet), Scylla (12,956 feet) Black Giant (13,330 feet)
Passes: Echo Col (12,400 feet), Muir Pass (11,955 feet), Solomons Pass (12,500 feet)
Camps: Moonlight Lake (11,100) for 3 nights and just east of Muir Pass (11,800 feet) for 3 nights
Difficulty: Advanced
Mileage: about 51 miles
Elevation gain: about 16,000 feet
Trip duration: 7 days
Best time to go: March and April and early May
Participants: Colin Fuller and Paul Richins (entire trip), and Bob Carlson for Ionian Basin and Scylla

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Sawtooth Mountain, Trinity Alps--April 10 and 11, 2003
This article appeared in the Trinity Journal, Weaverville, CA on May 7, 2003.
Click here to view photos of the ski adventure (these photos were taken on the April 2004 trip but clearly show the route on Sawtooth Mountain.

With showshoes strapped to our feet, leather lace-up ski boots in our packs, and alpine skis lashed to our backpacks, Dick Everest and I set out on our first overnight winter ski mountaineering venture. We were headed for Bowerman Meadow and the remote backcountry of the Trinity Alps via the rugged canyon of the East Fork Stuart Fork. We arrived at our destination by 3:00 that afternoon after a strenuous climb with heavy packs over deep snow. This left little time for us to figure out how to build our first igloo. It would be dark in a couple of hours and a storm was fast approaching. There was no margin for error as we had no tent, no bivouac sacks, and no protective storm gear. It was nearly dark and snowing lightly when I climbed up the side of the igloo to place the top snow block. That night the wind and storm intensified depositing a foot of dry powder. (For construction techniques, click on igloo and snow cave construction tips, and how an igloo saved the lives of 4 climbers on Lassen Peak.)

The year was March 1967. Winter ascents of Mount Shasta, Lassen Peak, Mount Whitney soon followed. Looking back, I realize how little I knew as an enthusiastic and naive teenager but those early trips galvanized my desire to explore the mountains. Even though I have been a member of many successful climbing expeditions to Alaska, Canada, Argentina, Ecuador, Tibet, France, and Norway, the splendor of the Trinity Alps and the drama of that first trip are vividly etched alongside my fondest memories.

For many years, I have planned to explore other parts of the Alps on skis. Sawtooth Mountain's precipitous slopes and north-facing glacier seemed a natural ski mountaineering destination. On April 10, 2003, with an eye on the weather, I headed up Canyon Creek Trail to establish a camp below the glacier at "L" Lake (9.5-mile trek). This time, with snowshoes long since retired, I started up the trail with four days of food, a tent, plastic telemark ski boots, and skis. I seemed to glide effortless up the trail carrying my skis on my pack. I had expected to put on the skis and climbing skins after 3-4 miles but the warm winter and below normal snow depths resulted in patches of snow on the trail all the way to Upper Canyon Creek Meadows.

I had expected to put on the skis and climbing skins after 3-4 miles but the warm winter and below normal snow depths resulted in patches of snow on the trail all the way to Upper Canyon Creek Meadows. At the meadow, a large avalanche had earlier broken free from the precipitous granite cliffs below Little Granite Peak. Tons of snow funneled into a steep-sided gully and thundered down the scoured ravine dislodging boulder, uprooting mature trees, and breaking others as if they were mere matchsticks. The avalanche deposited 20-feet of snow, ice and debris across the trail and into Canyon Creek. A short distance beyond the avalanche site, I came across the distinctive and massive prints in the snow of a large bear recently awakened from hibernation. If the power and destruction of the avalanche had not gotten your attention, the enormous prints of the hungry bear sure would.

There was about 3 feet of snow on the ground at lower and upper Canyon Creek Lakes. The lakes were mostly covered with ice and snow but were already open at their respective inlets and outlets. I put on my skis and attached the climbing skins. I had planned to ski across the lakes but they were unsafe. I skied along the east shore of lower Canyon Creek Lake (5,606 feet) in an upward-trending traverse toward "L" Lake (6,529 feet). Above upper Canyon Creek Lake, I angled northeast and east into the horseshoe shaped cirque holding "L" Lake.

"L" Lake occupies a deep cirque ringed by formidable cliffs and sinister pinnacles towering overhead. In the summer, a beautiful meadow and lake lies in the northwest shadow of Sawtooth Mountain (8,886 feet). At this time of year the meadow and lake are normally covered with 5-20 feet of snow; however, there was only about 8 feet of snow covering the cirque.

This steep-sided cirque is especially prone to avalanches. Avalanche debris was visible beneath the menacing rock bands that circled the lake . A huge rock band between 7,000 and 7,500 feet blocks the route to Sawtooth Mountain. As you look toward Sawtooth Mountain, two chutes frame these cliffs. These steep gullies act as funnels for tons of sliding snow. Avoid these two avalanche-prone chutes. You will notice a prominent 80-foot bluff at the upper end of the lake. Ascend to the right of this cliff on a steeply forested slope to the top of this bluff. Continue upward in widely spaced trees toward the ridge due south of "L" Lake. Traverse under the ridge and follow a ramp onto the upper plateau and the permanent snow field.

As I ascended, the visibility was severely limited with the oncoming storm. The top two-thirds of the mountain was in clouds and I was now ascending into those clouds. On the high plateau, between 7,500 and 8,200, the route slackened slightly but continued upward at a strenuous rate. Around 8,300 feet I took off my skis and strapped them to my pack. The snow had become hard and icy, and the skins were no longer providing the necessary traction.

The upper end of the glacier steepened and turned to ice near the summit ridge. I put on crampons to continue the climb that was about 40 degrees. Above and along the summit ridge a large snow and ice cornice overhung the route. I moved to the right away from its ominous presence. I crested the summit ridge near 8,800 feet among the 3 main spires that comprise the summits of Sawtooth Mountain. As in all good mountain climbing adventures, the true summit was not the closest minaret but rather the farthest. The arête connecting the three pinnacles was heavily corniced and sheer granite walls blocked passage.

The summit pinnacle was only 100 yards away but it took me 45 minutes to reach it. I climbed down a steep gully on the east face, traversed beneath the vertical granite face of the first and second pinnacles, before regaining the dangerously corniced summit arête. The narrow snow arête lead to the true summit pinnacle.

The only thing this trip lacked was blue skies and the visibility to enjoy the outstanding views from atop Sawtooth Mountain. After spending an hour on top, all that was left was to retrace my steps to the summit ridge, put on the skis, and enjoy an elegant descent to "L" Lake. An outstanding and rewarding adventure indeed.

The south gully tops out within 100 horizontal feet of the summit and would be an excellent ski descent route to Morris Lake and Smith Lake, a descent of nearly 2,000 feet. My ski descent of the peak's northwest slopes and glacier may be a first. I have no way of knowing for sure but it is likely a first ski descent.
Starting Point: Canyon Creek Trailhead, Canyon Creek Road near Junction City, Highway 299W
Starting Elevation: 3,000 feet
Summit Climb and Ski Descent: Sawtooth Mountain (8,886 feet)
Elevation Gain: 5,886 feet
Difficulty: Advanced skiing terrain above "L" Lake
Mileage to the Summit: 11.0 miles
Trip duration: 2-3 days
Best time to go: late-February-March, into mid-April in above average snow depth years

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Pyramid Peak's Southwest Bowl--March 31, 2003
I have considered this route for many years as I have distance views of the south and southwest slopes of Pyramid Peak from near my home in El Dorado Hills. Finally, I was able to make the time for this exquisite ascent. From Sacramento, drive east up Highway 50 to Kyburz and continue to the turnoff to Wrights Lake (a left turn). The road is not plowed. However, due to its south exposure the snow on the steep hillside and road melts off rapidly. In March you will normally be able to drive up the road for 2-3 miles. On this trip I was able to drive to the 3.0 milepost marker at around 6,500 feet. This winter the snow depth was considerably below average.

Ski, snowshoe, or walk up the Wrights Lake Road to Chimney Flat. Leave the road at 6,700 feet, near where the Wrights Lake road turns left (north). Follow the jeep road that goes to the Upper Forni town site. You will pass a horse corral made of logs near the start. The road heads generally in a northeast direction. This route traverses gentle terrain for the most part (to 8,400 feet) so would make an excellent snowshoe outing. The forest canopy is made up of lodgepole pine, white fir and douglas fir. The trees are fairly dense at the start but the fir trees become larger and widely spaced as you gain elevation. The road ascends to 7,800+ feet and then drops into and crosses West Forni Creek at 7,740 feet. This creek is not named on the maps so I have given it a name to make the route description a little simpler. West Forni Creek is the closest stream to the east of Lyons Creek and partially parallels Lyons Creek about 1.0 mile to the east.

Ascend West Forni Creek passing a small pond at 7,900 feet and a small unnamed lake at 8,400 feet. This area would make an excellent campsite as it is at the tree line providing open vistas to Pyramid Peak and the large open basin in the upper Lyons Creek drainage. You will have good views to the south of the ski and snowboard runs at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort and further to the south the Carson Pass area and Round Top, a 10,000+-foot peak. As you ascend, you will be looking into the Lyons Creek drainage and the large bowls above Lyons Lake, north and northwest of Pyramid Peak. Above the small lake the terrain steepens. Ascend a large bowl southwest of Pyramid Peak. You will be climbing almost due east. Continue to the low point at the head of this beautiful bowl and top-out at 9,120+ feet on the south ridge of Pyramid Peak. It is an 800-foot climb to the top.

There is good skiing off all sides of Pyramid Peak. When I was on the summit, there was a climber coming up from Pyramid Lake ascending the north ridge. I could not understand why he did not have skis as the route would be an ideal descent to Pyramid Lake and Lake Aloha. On the peaks east slopes, 4 tele skis left their marks, beautiful "S" turns carved in the snow. And the descent of the south ridge is a classic and is described in my ski and snowboard mountaineering book, 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.

This route is good January through March. In a heavy snow year it should be excellent into mid-April. Since the route is over gentle terrain and is open forest to the small lake at 8,400 feet, this would be a good winter route with little avalanche concern. The only steep portion is the short climb immediately below the 9,120-foot pass.

The day was warm and on the descent saw some large bear paw prints in the snow around 8,000 feet. The bear looked like he was heading for a drink of water. I guess the warmth of the past couple of days woke the hibernating creature.
Starting Point: Wrights Lake Road from Highway 50 above Kyburz
Starting Elevation: varies depending on how far up the Wrights Lake Road you can drive. For this trip I was able to drive up the road 3 miles to 6,500 feet
Summit Elevation: 9,983 feet
Elevation Gain: 3,483 feet
Mileage to the Summit: 5.0 miles
Ascent: 4.5-6.0 hours to the top
Ski Descent: 2.0 hours
Best time to go: January-March

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Brokeoff Mountain--January 26, 2003, February 15, 2003, and February 8, 2004
This is a wonderful intermediate trip for snowboarders, skiers, and snowshoers. The route follows the south-southeast ridge of Brokeoff Mountain. The route lies along a broad ridge with widely-spaced fir trees. This route provides wonderful powder snow immediately after a storm or early spring corn due to the south and west exposure of the ridge. On January 26, 2003 I had fabulous, velvet-smooth, corn snow on a firm base over the entire descent. The snow conditions were a real treat and made tele-turning effortless. On February 15, 2003 the weather was clear but cold and the snow remained hard the entire day so the skiing was fast, hard, and bumpy. There was powder along the entire route including the ridge and the summit of Brokeoff on the February 8, 2004 trip. The view to the northeast along the ridge that connects Brokeoff, Mount Diller, Pilot Pinnacle, Eagle Peak, and Lassen Peak is superb. The West Couloir route on Lassen Peak (see description below) is barely visible from the summit. The ridge and summit provide excellent views of the Trinity Alps to the west, Mount Shasta to the north (can only be seen from the summit) and Lake Almanor to the east.

Brokeoff Mountain is located 4 air miles southwest of Lassen Peak near the western boundary of Lassen Volcanic National Park. From Red Bluff, CA, travel east for about an hour on Highway 36 and turn north on Lassen Park Road to reach the south entrance of Lassen Volcanic Park. Park your vehicle in a cleared turnout about 0.4 miles south (outside the Park) of the Park's South Boundary Monument.

Leave the road and head west and then angle northwest. Pick your way through various openings in the well-spaced trees ascending gradually to the south-southeast Ridge. The ridge is broad and non-distinct at the beginning but becomes narrower with steep drop-offs on its right flank (east). The ridge becomes more pronounced at 7,000 to 7,200 feet and gradually angles northwest and then north. The best terrain is along the broad slopes of the ridge or just off the ridge to the left (west). At 8,600 feet, the ridge steepens. Either continue north up the ridge to the summit or make a long traverse to your left (northwest) following the route of the hiking trail. At 8,900 feet switch back to your right and quickly gain the summit. There can be some impressive cornices on the summit so stay back from the edge on safe terrain.

This route has a south and west exposure so the snow will corn-up quickly in mild temperatures. Also, due to the exposure, the snow on this route will melt out early so I recommend the best time to go is January through March. In a heavy snow year, skiing may be good into April. The route is also excellent powder skiing immediately after a storm before the sun has an opportunity to warm the snow to form a breakable crust.

Dave Figoni on the ridge below Brokeoff. Photo by Judi Richins.
Starting Point: Lassen Volcanic National Park's south boundary at Lassen Park Road
Starting Elevation
: 6,500 feet
Summit Elevation: 9,235 feet
Elevation Gain: 2,735 feet
Mileage to the Summit: 3.0 miles
Ascent: 3.5-5.0 hours to the top
Ski Descent: 0.75 hours
Best time to go: January-March

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West Couloir of Lassen Peak--January 19, 2003
I first climbed the West Couloir Lassen Peak with Ed Crane, Ward Crane, and Gene Leach on December 21, 1970 (with snowshoes). In the summit crater Gene Leach and I constructed an igloo for our overnight stay. That night the igloo saved our lives and that of our two climbing companions as gale-force winds of a fierce and relentless winter storm flattened the tent in which our partners were sleeping. Fortunately, this epic adventure was not repeated on my 2003 excursion to Lassen Peak as the snow and weather conditions made for an excellent ascent and ski descent.

This particular route maybe the best on the mountain as it can be skied in early season (January-March) and late into the spring (April-May) as the snow remains in this sheltered gully long after the most of the mountain has lost its white winter coat. The West Couloir reminds me of Cascade Gulch on Mount Shasta but the West Couloir is a little steeper. Various ascent and ski descent routes on Lassen Peak, Mount Shasta, and Cascade Gulch are more completely described in my popular backcounty boarding and ski mountaineering guidebook, 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney. For a detailed description of the best ski and snowboard route on Mount Shasta, see Ski and Snowboard Descent of Shasta's Hotlum-Wintun Ridge.

Drive to the Manzanita Lake entrance (the north entrance) of Lassen Volcanic National Park. This is about an hours drive east of Redding, California, on Highway 44. Turn right into the National Park and drive 1 mile and park (5,900 feet) near the Park's Museum. Ski east up the unplowed Lassen Park Road for about 0.6 mile. Leave the road and turn east-southeast up a lava flow (it will be covered with snow) and work your way through small, widely-spaced trees. Ascend toward Crags Lake. Near the 6,600-foot level turn south through timber toward the toe of Chaos Crags. There is a bench along the toe of the Crags just above 6,800 feet. Ski along this beautiful bench past large volcanic boulders. Continue to the valley separating Chaos Crags from the main summit of Lassen Peak. Traverse the valley at the 6,800-foot level and begin to climb steeply around a prominent nose. Traverse around the right of this obstacle and gain elevation to 8,200 feet by traveling in a southeasterly direction. I put on crampons at 8,400 feet and ascended the couloir to the summit.

The West Couloir is easily identified as it snakes it way past numerous large volcanic towers that are situated on both the north and south side of this wide gully. The couloir is the wide, prominent gully that is directly in line between the summits of Lassen Peak (10,457 feet) and Loomis Peak (8,658 feet). If you were to draw an imaginary line from the summits of these two peaks, the West Couloir would be just north of the imaginary line.

The ski descent was the best I have had on Lassen. Even though it was January, I had excellent hard pack and corn snow much of the descent and a little powder on the north slopes and in the trees. What took me 6 hours to ascend took 1.5 hours on the descent. From the top, the views of Mount Shasta, the Trinity Alps and the Sacramento Valley where as rewarding as was the ski descent.
Starting Point
: Near Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park (Highway 44 and the north entrance to the park)
Starting Elevation
: 5,900 feet
Summit Elevation: 10,457 feet
Elevation Gain: 4,557 feet
Mileage to the Summit: 5.5-6.0 miles
Ascent: 6 hours to the top
Ski Descent:1.5 hours
Best time to go: January-April
Special Equipment: crampons
: I counted 7 others on the summit. They came up from their base camp near Lake Helen and climbed the ridge above Eagle Peak. I also noticed snowmobile tracks in the summit crater.

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Mount Shasta's Cascade Gulch--May 17, 2002
This is an excellent single-day ascent and descent of Shastina for skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers. This also makes for an enjoyable overnight affair with a camp in Hidden Valley at 9,200 feet.

From the saddle between Shastina and the main summit of Shasta at 11,840+ feet, Cascade Gulch drops nearly 4,000 feet before reaching the tree line. The wide-open spaces of Cascade Gulch provide for excellent bowl skiing and boarding. Attesting to the quality of this run, I observed a helicopter landing on this saddle with a load of alpine skiers in May 1974. Surely, they had a wonderful ski descent all the way back to the Everitt Highway, a run of about 6,000 feet. With the establishment of the Mount Shasta Wilderness Area, Helicopter skiing is now prohibited. On that trip in 1974, we snowshoed and cramponed to the saddle and camped in the crater of Shastina. The next day we continued to the summit of Shasta.

To reach the start of this wonder tour, drive to the community of Mount Shasta City on I-5 and proceed up the Everitt Memorial Highway to Bunny Flat and park. Follow the standard route to Horse Camp. This route is used by thousands of hikers/climbers each year attempting the summit of Mount Shasta via popular Avalanche Gulch. The general direction to Horse Camp is north and you will gain about 1,000 feet (6,900 feet to 7,900 feet). The route is well marked and heavily used. Horse Camp is a Sierra Club Hut manned by a hut keeper. The hut is not available for overnight stays but snow camping is permitted nearby.

From Horse Camp, proceed due north in a long traverse to Cascade Gulch and Hidden Valley at 9,200 feet. You will cross several ridges and gullies before reaching the narrow opening to Hidden Valley in Cascade Gulch. This is a lovely spot to camp and is isolated from the many skiers, boarders, snowshoers, and sightseers at Horse Camp and Avalanche Gulch.

You have several options once you reach Hidden Valley. You can proceed north and then northeast up Cascade Gulch to the saddle at the head of Cascade Gulch. There are some short steep sections in the gully but the route is over not too difficult advanced skiing/boarding terrain for much of the distance. For a steeper route, proceed northeast from Hidden Valley up the southwest face of Shasta topping out at 13,384 feet. This places you above Red Banks. From this high vantage point you can continue to the summit of Shasta. The skiing and boarding is advanced to expert.

I completed this trip in the middle of May. However, due to the south exposure of this route I would recommend an earlier trip with the best time between January through April. If you attempt this trip in January and February be prepared for extremely cold temperatures and winter conditions. Similarly severe conditions maybe encountered in March and April but the weather is generally milder by the end of March and April. More information on the Cascade Gulch route and 3 other routes on Mount Shasta is contained in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney. For a description of my favorite ski and snowboard route on Mount Shasta, and arguably, the best backcountry skiing in California, if not the U.S., check out Ski and Snowboard Descent of Mount Shasta.
Starting Point
: Bunny Flat on the Everitt Memorial Highway near Mount Shasta City
Starting Elevation
: 6,900 feet
Summit Elevation: Shastina--12,330 feet, Mount Shasta--14,162 feet
Elevation Gain: Shastina--5,430 feet, Mount Shasta--7,262 feet
Mileage to the Summit: Shastina--5.0 miles, Mount Shasta--6.5 miles
Best time to go: January-April
Special Equipment: crampons and ice axe

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Mount Stanford, May 10-11, 2002
I had planned 3 days of skiing and exploring from a base camp at Lake 10,353 feet (Hilton Creek Lakes) climbing Mount Huntington and Mount Stanford but due to the lack of snow I climbed Mount Stanford (12,838 feet) and Peak 12,880+ feet (0.9 miles north of Mount Stanford) and came out a day early. The trailhead begins at nearly 10,000 feet so there was little elevation gain to reach base camp but there was about 6 miles of hiking and skiing. Rock Creek Road leaves Highway 395 at Toms Place south of Mammoth Lakes. This late in the year, the road is open to the trailhead. Due to the gentle terrain on the approach to base camp and above Lake 10,353 feet, this would be an ideal trip to take in the winter or early Spring (March and April). In the winter when the road is open only to the snow park, ascend directly west of the snow park, gaining about 1,000 feet before picking up the route of the summer trail to the Hilton Creek Lakes.

Day 1--Hiked up the trail to Hilton Creek Lakes (from the Rock Creek Road). The trail was nearly snow-free at the start. As the trail gained elevation and neared the Hilton Creek Lakes the snow increased. With an early morning start, I was able to walk on the firm/frozen snow all the way to Lake 10,353 feet without putting on my skis. It was windy and cold but the forecast was for the winds to stop and the weather to warm. Set up base camp in the trees at the lower end of Lake 10,353 feet.

After lunch, skied south up Hilton Creek towards the two large glaciers. This was an ideal cirque for skiing but the lack of snow turned me back. Earlier in the year with greater snow depths, this would have provided good skiing all the way to the ridge.

Day 2--During the night it snowed about 1-2 inches and the strong winds slowly died down. In the morning, I skied across the lake and followed the inlet stream west-northwest towards Mount Stanford. The snow coverage was adequate and the gradual terrain enjoyable as I headed towards a low saddle in the ridge. Ascend the saddle and gain the glacier on the other side. This large glacier cirque provides excellent skiing. Mount Stanford is directly behind the false summit that has been visible as you ascended the creek from base camp. I also ascended a peak (Peak 12,880+) located about 0.9 miles to the north of Mount Stanford. Early in the spring there would be adequate snow coverage to provide an excellent ski descent from this peak to Stanford Lake, nearly a 1,500-foot descent. I skied off of Mount Stanford into the glacier cirque, over the saddle, and quickly back to base camp. The ski descent from the saddle was a blast on fine spring corn snow. I quickly packed up camp and skied/hiked out to the car.

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Mount Crocker, and Red and White Mountain, May 3-5, 2002
Mount Crocker, and Red and White Mountain were the focus of this trip. These two peaks are located in the McGee Creek drainage near Big McGee Lake. The mountains in this area contain many small glaciers and is a great place to set up a base camp and explore for 4 or 5 days. The tongue-shaped glacier above Crocker Lake, the glacier cirque above Little McGee Lake, and the two glaciers southwest of Big McGee Lake make for relaxing and enjoyable skiing in a beautiful setting. For the more adventurous, ski over McGee Pass and ascend Red Slate Peak or the north glacier on Red and White Mountain. I only had 3 days so packed the most into my limited time.

Day 1--To start the trip, turn off Highway 395 onto McGee Creek Road. The road leaves Highway 395 just south of the turn off to Mammoth Lakes and Convict Lake. Drive to the McGee Creek trailhead over a mostly paved road. Ascend the trail as it follows McGee Creek. The trail starts on the right side of the creek and after a couple of miles crosses to the other side. If the water is too high for crossing, continue up the creek on a maintained trail for about 5 minutes and cross on boulders or over an obvious pile of logs. The trail soon crosses back to the other side. Cross on a log. I was able to put on my skis and begin skiing near the turnoff to Steelhead Lake. The ascent of the snow-covered stream to Big McGee Lake at 10,400 feet was over easy terrain and I quickly arrived at the lake before lunch. This large lake is located at the base of Red and White Mountain, an impressive peak rising 2,500 feet above the lake.

After setting up base camp at the outlet of Big McGee Lake (there was a small opening with running water), I ascended the shoulder to the southeast and skied to Crocker Lake and up the glacier to the ridge west of Mount Crocker and scrambled to the top.

Day 2--Although the steep east face of Red and White Mountain was clearly visible from camp, I was concerned about the potential for avalanche. The weather had been unstable for the past 2 weeks and 1-2 feet of snow had fallen above the 10,000-foot level and it had not completely stabilized. There were still fresh snow on the cliffs and the snow had not corned up. So I planned to ski over McGee Pass and ascend Red and White Mountain from the north. There is a large impressive glacier cirque on the peaks north-northwest that I intended to ascend. In the morning, I followed the route of the summer trail past Little McGee Lake to McGee Pass. Red Slate Peak is just to the right of the pass. If you plan to ascend Red Slate Peak, descend about 200 vertical feet down the west side of the pass to where the terrain levels. To your right, a broad gully merges into the south ridge and continues to the summit. Or ascend a steeper gully to the right of the ridge and a prominent cliff. The ascent of Red Slate Peak, from Convict Lake, is described in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.

Now continue descending west to the 11,200-foot level. You will see that there are two glacier cirques on your left as you descend. Pass by the first and ascend the second. At the top of the notch in the second cirque, descend the other side slightly and then make a downward traverse into the great glacier cirque on the north side of Red and White Mountain. This size of this cirque is impressive. Make a long upward traverse across the glacier toward the peak. The glacier reaches to the crest of the ridge on the left and right sides of the summit pinnacle. Pick the one you prefer. From either ridge it is a short scramble to the summit. To fully enjoy the entire ski descent of this massive cirque, a base camp at Tully Lake or Black and White Lake would be ideal.

An alternate route to reach the glacier, would be to ski up the glacier above Little McGee Lake to the ridge over looking the glacier (12,080+ feet). At the low point, a steep gully descends to the glacier. Down-climb on loose rock to the right of the gully for about 60 feet and then enter the snow-filled gully and descend another 100+ feet to the glacier. If this gully is not to your liking, ski along the ridge a short distance and another gully provides access to the glacier. This one was filled with snow to the top but is equally steep.

That evening back at camp, the east face of Red and White Mountain sure looked inviting. I decided to ascend the glacier cirque above the lake and below the east face to view my options in the morning.

Day 3--As I headed up into the upper glacier cirque, avalanche debris was clearly visible at the base of the east face. However, I felt that it would be safe if I ascended the right edge and stayed out of the center. Although a wide face, it appeared that avalanches were funneled to the center. As I ascended the right side, the slope seemed to reach about 40 degrees or maybe a bit steeper. I was able to ascend on snow to within a couple of hundred feet of the top. I reached the ridge crest (northeast of the summit) and a cornice where the glacier from the north side also crested the ridge. I dropped my skis and scrambled to the top. It was 10:00 AM. I ate a bagel with cheese and drank some Gatorade and hustled back to my skis and pack. The snow was soft, too soft. The day was clear, with little wind but not particularly warm for early May.

I started down my ascent route. The steepest section was not at the top but in the middle third of the 1,600-foot face. I continued down toward the steepest area in soft snow. At this point, I decided to traverse across the face and descend the far side. I thought it would be safer as I wanted to stay away from the funnel effect that I seemed to be headed towards. On the far side I made some cuts on steep terrain just below the rock cliffs to see if I could initiate a surface avalanche. Repeated attempts failed to dislodge a slide. Finally, with my dog Prince below me, I triggered a surface avalanche. It swept Prince down the mountain and I could see him running/swimming in the debris to keep his head above the snow. A couple of time he disappeared but finally the snow came to a rest about 400 feet below and he ran free to the side. He figured it was not a good idea to be directly below me, so he moved away from my fall line towards the center of the east face. Now that the surface was cleared of soft snow I began to ski down the route of the avalanche on firm snow. The skiing was great. The slope was about 40-45 degrees I would estimate and I was now in the middle of the steepest section. With every turn I kept an eye up the mountain for avalanches from above.

Suddenly, high on the summit rocks the heat from the sun set off a major avalanche and it was headed down the middle of the east face. This was no surface avalanche as it ripped down the mountain with considerable speed. Looking up, I could see that part of the avalanche was airborne as it rushed by me about 100 feet away. Fortunately I was on the far side and out of danger but Prince had moved to the center of the east face and was in direct line of fire. I called to him and he quickly ran out of harms way. If I had stayed on the other side or had been skiing in the center of the east face I would have been easily killed by this major release of snow starting a thousand feet above. Wow that was a close call.

This route with its obvious dangers is not recommended. Rather, consider the north glacier instead or make sure the snow on the east face has been completely stabilized and there is no snow on the cliffs above the snow field. I started my descent at 10:30 so felt that the danger was minimal compared to say a noontime or 1:00 PM descent. I was wrong.

After the close call, I returned to camp and skied out to the car. WOW, what an action packed 3 days. Experiences like that make one appreciate being alive to enjoy yet another day in the mountains.

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Mount Cedric Wright, Arrow Peak, Vennacher Needle via Taboose Pass to Southfork Pass--March 28-April 5, 2002
Our plan was to ascend Taboose Pass (the road to the Taboose Pass trailhead leaves Highway 395 between the towns of Big Pine and Independence) and ski north exiting from the mountains over Agassiz Col to the Palisade Glacier and out to Glacier Lodge climbing a number of select peaks along the way. We altered our plans and existed over Southfork Pass as there appeared to be a lack of adequate snow in the Glacier Creek Cirque below Mount Sill, one of our primary objectives for the trip. The road to Glacier Creek Lodge departs Highway 395 at Big Pine.

Day 1--Ascend Taboose Pass Trail. The 5,400-foot starting point makes this a challenging first-day ascent to the Taboose Pass (10,400 feet). Under normal snow fall conditions, you will have to carry your skis to about 8,400 feet before starting your skiing. Camp near the small lake at 10,800 feet or continue on to the pass to camp.
Day 2--Traverse the pass and descend to the John Muir Trail. Turn south to Lake Marjorie. Camp at the upper lake north of Pinchot Pass.
Day 3--Ascend Pinchot Pass (12,130 feet) and descend the south side of the pass skiing along the base of Mount Wynne and Mount Perkins. Ascend the north side of the col between Colosseum Mountain and Mount Cedric Wright. The southwest slopes of Colosseum Mountain may not have adequate snow coverage in below average snow years but the slopes of Mount Cedric Wright provide excellent skiing from either of its summits. Return to camp and move camp to Bench Lake
Day 4--Ski across Bench Lake and into the valley east of Arrow Peak. Ski across an unnamed lake at 10,600 feet and ascend a rounded ridge that bisects large open bowls to a half moon/unshaped pass at 11,600+ feet. Turn northwest and traverse steep slopes to a heavily corniced ridge and ascend the east face of Arrow Peak (12,959 feet). The ascent steepens as you near the summit. There was snow to the summit register. This is a special ski descent and rewarding for the advanced skier. Return to camp and move camp up the South Fork of the Kings River to below Vennacher Needle. Follow the route of the John Muir Trail and camp near the 10,400-foot level.
Day 5--Ascend the stream that flows southeast off the large open bowls of Vennacher Needle. Ski across several unnamed lakes before reaching the steeper slopes of the Needle at 12,000 feet. Ascend the steep bowl and upper slopes to the summit at 12,995 feet. From the summit the skiing is exceptional. Vennacher Needle is not nearly as steep as Arrow Peak. Return to camp and move camp to below Mather Pass.
Day 6--We had hoped to ski the north slope of Split Mountain but there was not adequate snow coverage. I have passed by Split many times and there never seems to be adequate snow coverage on the upper slopes above the pass between Split and Prater. Also, we were running out of energy so declared a rest day and moved camp over Mather Pass to around the 11,200-foot level above Palisades Lake and rested in the afternoon.
Day 7--We had planned to ski into the Glacier Creek Cirque and ascend the upper slopes of Mount Sill but lack of snow coverage discouraged us from making the ascent. See the "Circumnavigation of the Palisades--April 1996" below for a detailed description of the ascent and descent of the Glacier Creek Cirque. Instead we ascended the beautiful snow slopes south and west of upper Palisade Lake. These unnamed peaks provided great snow and wonderful skiing. The northernmost peak of this group of peaks had snow to its summit. We ascended it and had an enjoyable descent. We returned to camp and moved our camp over Southfork Pass to Willow Lake. Before crossing Southfork Pass, from the upper lake south of the pass (11,775 feet), there is a great opportunity to ascend and descend the south east slope of Balcony Peak (13,840+ feet). This peak is located 0.1 mile southeast of Disappointment Peak. We did not make the ascent but there was ample snow coverage all the way to the summit even this year when the snow coverage was about 60% of normal.
Day 8--Skied out to the Glacier Lake Lodge. The ski descent of Southfork Pass down to Glacier Lodge is a difficult descent in rough terrain that many times lacks adequate snow coverage. The lack of adequate snow coverage makes the descent a bit tricky. If you have the time and energy, I would recommend that you traverse under the Middle and North Palisades Groups through Cirque Pass, Potluck Pass and over Bishop Pass down to South Lake. This route is preferred for its high Sierra beauty and spectacular scenery. This will add a day or two to the trip but well worth it. For more information on this route, see the "Circumnavigation of the Palisades--April 1996" below.

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Mount Brewer and Midway Mountain via Kearsarge, Longley, Thunder, and Shepherd Passes--April 2001
Day 1--From Onion Valley (west of Independence and Highway 395), follow the general route of the summer trail past Flower Lake, Heart Lake, and the Big Pothole Lake and ski over Kearsarge Pass to Bullfrog Lake and camp. This route provides an excellent opportunity to climb University Peak. To climb the peak, camp at Flower Lake or Bench Lake before crossing over Kearsarge Pass. Ascend the north slopes and northwest ridge to the summit. This will add an extra day to your trip. Various ski and snowboard ascent and descent routes on University Peak are described in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.
Day 2--From Bullfrog Lake descend to Vidette Meadow, cross Bubbs Creek and descend on the left side of the stream. Just above Junction Meadow, ascend to East Lake located just below Mount Brewer
Day 3--From camp at East Lake ascend to Lake Reflection and up the distinctive gully to an unnamed lake below the east side of Longley Pass. Camp at the lake below the pass.
Day 4--Ascend Longley Pass, ski around the west side of South Guard, ascend/descend the south face of Mount Brewer (we ascended to the left of the rock rib in the center of the face). Ascend over the top of South Guard, descend to Longley Pass, and return to camp
Day 5--Ascend Thunder Pass (Kings-Kern Divide), descend to the Kern River and camp at a small lake near Milestone Creek
Day 6--Ascend Milestone Creek, attempted Milestone Mountain but high winds, blowing snow, and poor visibility turned us back. We turned our attention to Midway Mountain. Ascended to the summit and returned to camp. A storm was moving in.
Day 7--Head towards Shepherd Pass. The original plan was to ascend the east shoulder of University Peak and descend to Bench and Flower lakes but a strong storm pointed us towards Shepherd Pass. In rapidly deteriorating weather we attempted to cross Shepherd but high winds and zero visibility convinced us to retreat to the west about a mile to set up camp for the night.
Day 8--The next morning we attempted to cross Shepherd Pass again in high winds and poor visibility. This time the visibility was slightly improved, but not much, and we inched our way down the top 200 feet of the east side of the pass. From there, fresh light powder made the ski descent a wonderful experience. Wow!!!

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San Joaquin Mountain--April 6, 2000

This is an exceptional ride for skiers and boarders as the route drops more than 4,000 feet in a little less than 4 miles. Much of the route lies over intermediate terrain bringing joy to all who grace the mountain's slopes. An added benefit is the exceptional views from the summit of the nearby Minarets, Banner Peak, and Mount Ritter located just across the San Joaquin River.

From Highway 395 north of Mammoth Lakes, turn south on Highway 158 towards June Lake. Drive through this small resort community and past the June Mountain Ski Resort to the Fern Lake Trailhead. Follow the route of the hiking trail to Fern Lake. The first 1.2 miles are exceptionally steep as the trail traverses the lower slopes of Carson Peak. At 8,400 feet the slope lessens and you enter the narrow valley that Fern Lake occupies. Continue up Fern Creek to Fern Lake and southward up the valley. Between 9,600 feet and 10,400 feet the slope steepens markedly. Above this steep step in the valley, the slope moderates but continues at a constant, unrelenting angle to the top of San Joaquin Mountain. Bring crampons just in case the snow on this steep pitch has not softened by the time you ascend the slope in the morning. This is a north exposure and the narrow valley also limits the amount of sun that reaches these slopes in the winter.

The ski and snowboard descent is fabulous. You can speed down the mountain at breakneck speed as the angle of the mountain is perfect for establishing a land speed record or a personal best. Or in the more sane alternative, take your time to perfect your turns as the broad slopes are perfect for the intermediate and advanced skier/boarder. This is one of my favorites.

An alternate ascent route is to ride the June Mountain Resort lifts to the top of June Mountain (10,115 feet) and ski southwest down to a saddle at 9,700 feet before ascending San Joaquin Mountain.

To the west of the Fern Creek Trail is a well-known chute known as the Devil's Slide. This prominent feature on Carson Peak can be viewed from Highway 158 near Silver Lake. The lower portion is in the shape of a natural half pipe and is a favorite of the locals, especially boarders, but requires exceptional ski and board skills. A description of this route is included in John Moynier's fine ski mountaineering book, Backcountry Skiing: California's High Sierra.
Starting Point
: Highway 158 and Fern Lake Trailhead located about 2.5 miles west of the resort community of June Lake
Starting Elevation
: 7,340 feet
Summit Elevation: 11,600 feet
Elevation Gain: 4,260 feet
Mileage to the Summit: 4.0 miles
Best time to go: January-April
Special Equipment: crampons

Mounts Irvine, Pickering, Newcomb, Chamberlin, Joe Devel--May 2-5 1998
Day 1--From Whitney Portal Campground follow the route of the summer trail and ascend to Meysan Lake. Leave the trail and ascend to the top of Mount Irvine, cross the pass near the intersection of the ridges from Mounts McAdie, Irvine, and Mallory, descend to Sky-Blue Lake. Near the summit of Mount Irvine, my ski broke and my binding pulled out of one of the skis. At camp that night, I remounted the binding moving it slightly forward of the break. The next three days I continued to ski on the ski but it bends in the middle like a wet noodle. I must be careful not to stress it too much.
Day 2--Ascend east gully of Mount Pickering, head northeast and ascend Mount Newcomb, descend and then ascend the southeast slopes of Mount Chamberlin, return to camp by ascending the Newcomb-Pickering col and descend to Sky-Blue Lake.
Day 3--rest day??? Descend rock creek, ascend to Erin Lake and Joe Devel Peak, return to Sly Blue Lake. A relative rest day compared to day 1 and 2.
Day 4--Descend Rock Creek briefly and ascend towards Iridescent Lake, ascend Tuttle Creek Pass (between Mounts Langley and Corcoran), descend Tuttle Creek in exceptional powder snow. An inspiring descent. This trip is detailed in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.

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Circumnavigation of Banner Peak--April 1999
Day 1--From Silver Lake (near June Lake on Highway 158) ascend to Agnew, Gem, Sullivan, and Weber lakes before ascending to Thousand Island Lake. Ski through the North Glacier Pass to Lake Catherine and camp.
Day 2--Ascend the glacier above Catherine Lake to the Banner-Ritter col. Ascend Banner Peak's steep southwest gully to the top. Descend this same gully and return to the Banner-Ritter col. Descend on steep snow towards Lake Ediza. After dropping several hundred feet in elevation, ski around the south and east slopes of Banner Peak, and return to camp through North Glacier Pass. Route descriptions for a ski ascent and descent of Mount Ritter is detailed in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.
Day 3--Ascended Mount Davis, descended to the lake basin east of Mount Davis that is between Mount Davis and Rodger Peak.
Day 4--Ascend an unnamed peak between Electra Peak and Rodger Peak. Then ascend Electra Peak and Rodger Peak before returning to camp.
Day 5--Ascend Nick Clinch Pass (between Rodger Peak and Mount Davis), descend to Davis Lakes, Waugh Lake, Gem Lake, and Agnew Lake. Return to the car at Silver Lake. In January and February, there is a popular ice climbing area along the road near Silver Lake at the winter/snow road closure.

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East to West Traverse of Yosemite National Park--April 1-8, 1995
Day 1--From Silver Lake (near June Lake on Highway 158) ascend to Agnew, Gem, Waugh lakes. Follow the watershed to Marie Lakes and camp.
Day 2--Ascend directly up the steep north gully/couloir of Rodger Peak, or cross a pass to the east of Rodger Peak and ascend to the summit from the east. See trip itinerary above--Circumnavigation of Banner Peak.
Day 3--Ascend the pass between Mount Lyell and Rodger Peak. Descend past the series of lakes west of Rodger Peak and Electra Peak. Camp at the last of this long string of lakes.
Day 4--Ascend the northwest shoulder of Foerester Peak. Usually a small but impressive cornice will need to be overcome. Ascend Foerester Peak and continue south along the mountain range passing by Harriet Lake, Long Mountain and Ishberg Peak. Camp at the lake north of Isberg Pass.
Day 5--Ascend Post Peak Pass, ascend Post Peak and return to the pass. Continue west along the ridge, dropping to the north of the crest and then to the south of the crest to climb Triple Divide Peak. Great skiing from the summit of Triple Divide Peak on the southeast slopes. Ski through the pass due south of Triple Divide Peak and head towards Merced Peak. Camp below the southeast slopes of Merced Peak. Ascend the southeast slopes to the summit of Merced Peak, great ski descent.
Day 6--Ski around the south side of Merced Peak and the next peak to the west. Turn the corner to the west of this peak near the 9,700-foot level and camp at Ottoway Lake. Ascend Red Peak. (Alternatively, from Merced Peak,continue west along Buena Vista Crest, Horse Ridge, and on to Glacier Point Road.)
Day 7--Ski west northwest descending Red Creek and Clark's Fork. Camp just above Nevada Falls.
Day 8--Descend to the trail and hike down it with your skis in your pack past Nevada and Vernal Falls and inquiring hikers who are honestly surprised to see you with ski boots and skis.

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Mount Lyell--Ski Ascent and Descent of the Highest Peak in Yosemite National Park--February 13-16, 1999
Day 1--From Silver Lake (near June Lake on Highway 158) ascend to Agnew, Gem, Waugh lakes and camp.
Day 2--Ascend Donohue Pass and descend a short distance towards the Lyell Fork to camp.
Day 3--Ascend the drainage to the Lyell Glacier. Ascend the glacier angling towards the pass between Mount Lyell and Mount Maclure bypassing to the right (west) of a major rock buttress in the middle of the glacier. Ascend a snow ramp leading from the glacier to the upper summit snow field. One can ski to within a few feet of the summit block. Descend to camp over exceptional ski terrain for advanced and confident intermediate backcountry skiers.
Day 4--Return back to the car or add a day or two to the trip by ascending Mount Davis via Davis Lakes and the long narrow gully glacier above the lake. This trip is detailed in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.

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Circumnavigation of the Palisades--April 1996
This is a strenuous tour traversing spectacular ski terrain with fantastic scenery of towering peaks, glaciers, and open bowls. Only hardy, well-conditioned, experienced backcountry travelers should attempt this tour. The over-all rating is advanced intermediate with some portions requiring advanced skiing and mountaineering skills. The difficult portions over Jigsaw Pass, Cirque Pass and Southfork Pass can be down-climbed but the descent of Cirque Pass and Southfork Pass rather challenging.

Day 1--From the end of the Glacier Lodge Road/Big Pine Creek Road (intersects Highway 395 at Big Pine) follow the route of the trail past First, Second, Third lakes and camp near Fifth Lake. A little easier starting point is to ascend Bishop Pass from South Lake. South Lake Road intersects Highway 395 in the center of Bishop.
Day 2--Ascend east up one of Fifth Lake's inlet streams towards Jigsaw Pass. Take a short side trip to climb and descend Gendarme Peak. Ascend Jigsaw Pass and descend to Bishop Pass camping in a protected area south and west of the pass.
Day 3--Traverse under Mounts Agassiz, Winchell, Thunderbolt and North Palisade. From Bishop Pass stay high, between 11,600 feet and 12,000 feet. Ascend through Thunderbolt Pass (12,400 feet southwest of Thunderbolt). Continue on a high traverse through Potluck Pass and descend to the large lake on Glacier Creek.
Day 4--From the lake, ascend north and then northwest in the large glacier cirque below Mount Sill. Ascend to the ridge between Mount Sill and North Palisade. Ascend the ridge to Mount Sill and begin your exceptional 2,500-foot descent back to camp. This trip and route descriptions for a ski ascent and descent of Mount Sill is detailed in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.
Day 5 and 6--A brutal storm rocked our tent with high winds and drifting snow for 3 nights and 2 days. We did not leave our tent, except to answer nature calls and to repair a broken tent pole, for 60 hours. We had planned to move camp to nearby Palisade Lakes and ski the beautiful bowls and summits but the storm changed our plans. The campsite was selected because there was running water at the outlet of the lake but the location was quite exposed and received the brunt of the storm.
Day 7--Concerned with potential for avalanches, we stayed close to camp and did short tours on safe terrain.
Day 8--Ascend Chimney Pass (12,560+ feet) and traverse below Middle Palisade staying well above Palisade Lakes. Ascend Southfork Pass and start the long and enjoyable ski descent to Glacier Lodge and the car. Alternately, ascend Cirque Pass (12,000+ feet) and descend to Palisade Lakes and ski across the lakes before ascending to Southfork Pass.

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Circumnavigation of the Kaweahs--April 1993
 Day 1--Begin at the Wolverton Ski Area in Sequoia National Park near Lodgepole. Follow the general route of the summer trail to Pear Lake Hut taking the Hump Trail option. Camp near Pear Lake Hut or Pear Lake. Hut reservations must be made in advance and can be secured through the Sequoia Natural History Association. Also see Huts for more information on backcountry huts in California and elsewhere.
Day 2--Ascend to Table Meadow and the Tablelands. Traverse into the Lonely Lake basin and cross the divide above the lake. Traverse high above Deadman Canyon west of Elizabeth Pass. Cross the dividing spur ridge and traverse into Cloud Canyon. Ascend to a very small lake just below the pass (the pass is southeast of Glacier Lake) and descend to Lion Lake.
Day 3--Ski south into Nine Lake Basin and past Kaweah Gap on your right. Pick up the general route of the High Sierra Trail and head towards the Chagoopa Plateau. Camp for the night south of the summit of Mount Kaweah near the 10,600-foot level.
Day 4--Ascend the south-southeast slopes to the summit of Mount Kaweah. This is a marvelous 3,200-foot descent back to camp. Traverse around the south and then east side of Mount Kaweah. Ascend Chagoopa Creek to the 12,400-foot lake due east of Mount Kaweah.
Day 5--Descend into Kaweah Basin and down to Rockslide Lake near the Kern-Kaweah River. Ascend the river and follow the route of the summer trail to about 1 mile southeast of Colby Pass and camp near the 11,000-foot level.
Day 6--Turn southwest and ascend a steep slope (this is not an obvious route), cross the shoulder of the ridge and drop into a lake basin. Ski southwest below the main ridge towards Triple Divide Peak. Ski through the pass to the east of Triple Divide Peak and ski down to Glacier Lake and camp.
Day 7--Drop below the lake and pass below a large rock bluff. Ascend up into Cloud Canyon and pick up your route from 5 days earlier. Ski through Cloud Canyon, Deadman Canyon, past Lonely Lake, onto the Tablelands and down to Pear Lake Hut. You will find the descent from the Tablelands one of the best in the Sierra Nevada as it continues for several miles of ideal telemark ski terrain.
Day 8--Follow the Pear Lake Trail out to the Wolverton Ski area and Pear Lake trailhead and parking lot.
This trip is detailed in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.

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The High Sierra Route: An East to West Traverse of the Sierra Nevada--March 26-31, 1988 and April 1983
Day 1--From Independence on Highway 395, drive west on the Onion Valley Road and then turn onto Foothill Road to the Shepherd Pass Trailhead. This dirt road is passable in a vehicle without four-wheel drive. The Shepherd Pass Trailhead is relatively low for eastside starts so you will likely have to hike while carrying your skis for several miles before reaching the snow. Once snow is reached, follow the general route of the trail to Shepherd Pass. It is more than a 6,000-foot climb to the pass. At the beginning of the traverse your pack will be heavy with 7-8 days of food. And if you encounter soft snow, the ascent to the pass may take more than a day. Camp at Anvil Camp or the Pothole, or on the west side of Shepherd Pass.
Day 2--From the pass, descend alongside the Diamond Mesa to the Kern River and cross near the confluence of Milestone Creek and the Kern River. Ascend Milestone Creek. The creek turns sharply to the north a short distance above the river. The natural tendency is to continue in a westerly direction along a tributary to Milestone Creek that leads to a beautiful lake and cirque. Unfortunately, this leads into an impressive cirque with no way out. To follow Milestone Creek, climb steeply alongside the creek to gain the large and beautiful lakes basin that stretches several miles to Midway and Milestone Mountains. Select a sheltered camp in the trees near one of the many lower lakes.
Day 3--This is a wonderful area to spend a rest day exploring the Milestone lakes basin. Ascend Midway Mountain, it makes for a challenging ski descent with expansive views of the region.
Day 4--Head towards Milestone Mountain. The pass between Midway and Milestone looks like the obvious route but it is not. Make a high traverse under the summit of Milestone and cross the pass to the southeast of the peak. Ahead of you is one of the better downhill runs in the Sierra--Milestone Bowl. Descend this beautiful cirque to about 1 mile southeast of Colby Pass and camp near the 11,000-foot level. If the snow conditions are good one can really fly across the snow on your skis.
Day 5--Turn southwest and ascend a steep slope (this is not an obvious route), cross the shoulder of the ridge (12,000 feet) and drop into a lake basin. Ski southwest below the main ridge towards Triple Divide Peak. Ski through the pass to the east of Triple Divide Peak and ski down to Glacier Lake and camp.
Day 6--Drop below Glacier Lake and pass below a large rock bluff. Turn the corner around the bluff and ascend up into Cloud Canyon. This is the same route used on the Circumnavigation of the Kaweahs. Ski through Cloud Canyon, Deadman Canyon, past Lonely Lake, onto the Tablelands and down to Pear Lake Hut. You will find the descent from the Tablelands one of the best in the Sierra Nevada as it continues for several miles over ideal telemark ski terrain.
Day 7--Follow the Pear Lake Trail out to the Wolverton Ski area and Pear Lake trailhead and parking lot. The skiing above the Pear Lake Hut and the Tablelands is detailed in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney. To keep with the itinerary above requires ideal snow and weather conditions, and a strong and physically fit group of skiers. The route is strenuous and crosses 7 passes and gains many thousands of feet in elevation. Plan a couple of rest days that will come in handy if bad weather hits or progress is slowed by the difficulty of the terrain.

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Black Giant and Mount Goddard via Echo Col, Muir Pass, Ionian Basin, Evolution Basin, Alpine Col, Piute Pass--April 23-May 1, 1995
Day 1--From the road closure at Aspendell (on Highway 168 west of Bishop), ski up the road to Lake Sabrina and across the frozen lake. Follow the general route of the summer trail to Blue Lake and continue on to Topsy Turvy and Moonlight Lake. (Blue Lake or above makes for a wonderful base camp to explore the area for several days. Check out Mounts Haeckel, Wallace, Thompson and Powell and their respective glaciers and couloirs).
Day 2--Ascend over Echo Col (steep at the top), descend to Lake 11,428, the John Muir Trail, and cross Helen Lake before reaching Muir Pass (12,000 feet) and Muir Hut. Set up your tent or seek refuge in the stone hut. In high winds it can be a lifesaver but it is cold and dark inside.
Day 3--Ascend Black Giant Pass (12,160 feet) located west of Black Giant, and head for the summit. Great skiing awaits from the summit. Return to Muir Pass and ascend Solomons Pass (12,400 feet) located west of Mount Solomons and descend into Ionian Basin. Follow a series of lakes in Ionian Basin skiing toward Mount Goddard ( Lake 11,592, Lake 11,837, Lake 11,818, and the largest lake in the area Lake 11,951 feet located southeast of the peak.
Day 4--Ski north across this long lake and ascend the basin and then the east ridge/slopes to the summit of Mount Goddard. Exceptional ski descent on the return to camp.
Day 5--Head west and ski across Martha Lake, cross the divide and camp near Holster, Six-Hooter, Schoolmarm lakes.
Day 6--Ski north toward Mount Hutton and ascend the peak. Return to the pass east of the peak (Hutton Col) and descend to Arctic Lake. This pass may have a large cornice that you may have to spend some time digging through to descend. Continue north and ascend Hell-for-Sure Pass. Descend the north side of the pass and traverse around Red Mountain on the east side. Drop your pack and ascend the peak. Continue along the LeConte Divide towards Mount Henry. We had planned to climb Mount Henry but a large cornice blocked our passage on the spur ridge north of the two unnamed lakes at 11,328 feet and 10,632 feet. Camp at either lake. It may be possible to cross the LeConte Divide above lake 11,328 and continue to Mount Henry along the west side of the divide but a storm was fast approaching so we headed down and camped for the night.
Day 7 and 8--Descend to the Goddard Canyon and then up the route of the John Muir Trail in Evolution Valley. Ascend to Mathes Col. We attempted to cross the divide at the col on Day 7 and then again on Day 8 but could not descend due to high winds and zero visibility. Upon reaching the col each time we could not discern up from down due to the blowing snow and high winds. Each time we retreated to set up camp for the night.
Day 9--The weather was beginning to clear a bit but we were concerned that another storm was close behind. Since we had crossed the Alpine Col on skis many times before we decided to head to more familiar terrain. We headed to Darwin Bench and skied past three large alpine lakes before ascending Alpine Col and then traversed over to Piute Pass before the next storm hit. Skied down past Piute and Loch Leven lakes to North Lake. Skied out the road to Aspendell. This trip is detailed in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.

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Kearsarge Pass to Mount Whitney--April 21-29, 1989
Day 1--From Onion Valley (west of Independence and Highway 395), follow the general route of the summer trail past Flower Lake, Heart Lake, and the Big Pothole Lake and ski over Kearsarge Pass to Bullfrog Lake and camp. This route provides an excellent opportunity to climb University Peak. To climb the peak, camp at Flower Lake or Bench Lake before crossing over Kearsarge Pass. Ascend the north slopes and northwest ridge to the summit of University Peak. This will add an extra day to your trip. Various ski and snowboard ascent and descent routes on University Peak are described in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.
Day 2--Descend to Vidette Meadow and follow the route of the John Muir Trail to Forester Pass. We were caught by a snow storm and camped on the north side of the pass at 12,400 feet.
Day 3--Ascend to the pass. Crampons may be needed as the south side is steep and the trail passes through numerous cliffs. An alternate route is the Ski Mountaineers Pass that is located between Forester Pass and Junction Peak. It is less steep on both sides and is an excellent way to bypass the steep cliffs of Forester Pass. To reach Ski Mountaineers Pass, ski across the large lake (12,200 feet) on the north side of the pass and follow the drainage to the pass.
Day 4--From the pass, descend past the Diamond Mesa and head for Tawny Point and Wallace Creek. Wallace Creek makes for an excellent camp. Climb Mount Barnard if you have the energy or hit it first thing in the morning.
Day 5--At this juncture you have a decision to make. One option is to ski up Wallace Creek to Tulainyo Lake and camp before ascending the Russell-Carillon col and descending to Upper Boy Scout Lake and out to Whitney Portal. The preferred route is to head for Crabtree Meadow and Guitar Lake and camp for the night.
Day 6--Guitar Lake is a wonderful place for a rest day, complete some short tours in the area or climb Mount Young and Mount Hale.
Day 7--From Guitar Lake, head north into the Arctic Lake recess and cross the Whitney-Russell col. Drop drop down to Iceberg Lake and camp. The Whitney-Russell col is not the low point in the ridge between these two peaks. The low point leads to Upper Boy Scout Lake and is rugged on the east side. The correct pass is a little higher and is located to the south of the low point near Mount Whitney. It is less steep on the east side and your ticket for climbing Mount Whitney the following day.
Day 8--From your camp at Iceberg Lake, ascend the Mountaineers Route to the summit of Whitney. The route ascends the distinctive and steep gully/couloir west-southwest of Iceberg Lake. In a good snowfall year, this is an excellent route for the advanced and expert skier/boarder. A detailed description of the route is included in 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney.
Day 9--Ski out past Upper Boy Scout Lake and Lower Boy Scout Lake to Whitney Portal. A great trip was had by all.

Backcountry Resource Center by Paul Richins, Jr.

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