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Crystal Range Sufferfest, June 2003

Desolation Wilderness, California

(click on any photo for a full-sized version)


It Ain't Over Yet.  Not even in Tahoe.   Not even in the middle of June.  For Fathers' Day weekend of 2003, two dads snuck away for a one day sufferfest trying to find skiable snow in the Crystal Range.  It wasn't easy, but it was a blast.

"How About the Crystal Range?"

I'd love to say we skied the Crystal Range because we were ambitious.  In reality, we wound up there because we were just lazy -- not wanting to drive all the way down to Tioga Pass for just a one-day trip, we settled for less driving (and, of course, less snow).  Originally, we wanted to hit Mt. Conness for our annual season-ending chute skiing trip.  But since the Saddlebag Lake Road was closed, I had suggested to Chris that we hit the Dana Couloir.  Chris had other plans.  "How about the Crystal Range?", he asked. 

The Crystal friggin' Range?  Was he serious?  It was an honest and simple inquiry, but it had suffering written all over it.  Closer to home, the Crystal Range caps the western half of Lake Tahoe's Desolation Wilderness.  It is a beautiful set of peaks west of (and taller than) the Sierra crest, with ample late season snow and steep lines worthy of several mouthfuls of drool.  So what's the problem?  Unlike the roadside attractions of Tioga Pass or Virginia Lakes, getting to the Crystal Range involves hiking, bushwacking and climbing through fields of alder-choked talus, steep granite slabs and endless marshy bogs.  Oh yeah, and you do it with skis and boots on your back.  Its a regular masochist's triathalon.  (photo:  Chris hiking in the lower canyon before it got ugly.  Lovers' Leap cliff in background).

Because we are both desk jockeys in our "real" lives, we decided to hike into a bivy site at Ropi Lake in the dark on Friday night after work.  This wouldn't be a long hike -- about 2 1/2 miles and 1,500' of climbing -- but it would involve a steep rock scramble up the cliffs to the left side of Horsetail Falls.  People have died trying to get up these falls, and there have been countless rescues conducted here.  Well, at least we had a full moon, right?

So Friday night we hiked up the falls in the dark.  The hike was spectacular.  Full moon rising over Mt. Ralston, the falls were absolutely nuking, and the bugs were scarce.  We made our way up the cliffs and talus without incident, topping out on the saddle between Ralston and Pyramid and into the lowest reaches of the beautiful Desolation Valley.  (photo:  Rich scrambling up the cliffs near Horsetail Falls.  Notice the thinning hair on this budding geezer.)

Now that we were wandering aimlessly in the flats though dense trees and around tarns and small streams, our chances of getting utterly lost were rapidly approaching 100%.  We finally decided to call it quits for the night when we inadvertently stumbled out onto a razor-thin peninsula jutting into Ropi Lake.  With water on all three sides of us, Chris confidently pronounced that we had found the lake.  "Let's camp here".  I didn't protest. 

We hunted around the rocks and found a flat spot just large enough to accommodate two sleeping bags.  Soon thereafter, we were fast asleep.  (camping tip:  when sleeping without a tent on full moon nights, bring a multi-purpose bandana to tie around your head like a blindfold to block the moonlight).


photo:  Rich admiring Horsetail Falls in the last light of day


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