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Ben, "Buddy" and
Chris atop Mt. Ralston.
and the Sierra is experiencing its heaviest snowfall
since New Years. The bad news is that spring corn season is
delayed for at least another
week. The good news? We will be skiing
powder in April and corn well into June and July.
had initially planned to head down to Bishop and ski up into
the Evolution Region for a four day loop tour. But
persistent snowfall (with the promise of more to come) gave me
serious reservations about an extended solo trip above 12,000'
into uncharted territory on the other side of the Sierra
crest. So I called up Mr. Sobchak (aka Ben) to
see if I could grab some couch space in SLT and ski a couple
of days in the lower elevations of Tahoe.
Thursday, Ben and roommate Sherpa Jeff skied out their
backdoor and up to the summit of
Trimmer Peak for some turns.
Meanwhile, I hooked up with Nils and Paul Lutes from the
TTips board to ski
the Carson Pass area. It was snowing fairly steadily all
day, at times outright dumping on us. With visibility
being crappy, we stuck to the south side of the highway,
skiing out along the ridge towards Little Round Top. We
yo-yo skied the mellow north facing slopes above Meiss Meadow
that hold the headwaters of the Truckee River, finding some
nice late season powder. It wasn't the lightest snow,
but hey, what do you want in April? Like they say, the
best powder snow is the stuff you're skiing.
Friday rolled around, the Weather Channel promised "afternoon
clearing". I was skeptical. The Tahoe basin was
totally socked in with heavy clouds, and it was still snowing.
Perfect weather to do a long ski tour, right?
and I made plans to meet bcrider (Chris) and Gimpy (Toby) in
Meyers and arrange a car shuttle point-to-point tour. We'd leave one car at
the base of Echo Peak, and drive the other up to the south
side of Ralston Peak. The plan was to ski from Highway
50 up and over Ralston Peak, drop the Ralston Lake Bowl, then
skin up above the Echo Lakes to the summit of Echo Peak.
From there, we'd ski down the Angora Lakes bowl and ultimately
back to the waiting car shuttle (see
drove up to the turnout at Aspen Creek Tract and unloaded the
gear. Chris was on his splitboard. Toby, Ben and I
were all on Alpine Touring (AT) gear. It was my first
day ever on an AT
and I was eager to give it a try. Toby (and his dog
Buddy) broke trail up the steep hillside, laying down a mean
vertical skin track in the process. The rest of us followed behind.
And let me tell all of you telemark purists out there, this AT
shit simply STOMPS up the mountain. We bagged the first 2,000
vert and I was barely sweating. (see photo:
absolutely stomping up the south side of Ralston). We
climbed up towards the “Ralstonia” peaklet near Cup Lake,
where Chris shot one of his
recent videos, and then continued up the last few hundred
feet to a resting spot on the Ralston-Becker ridgetop. On
this last pitch, Ben snapped a ski pole trying to whack the
gloppy snow off of his skins (not recommended). After
a quick field repair, he was on his way up to meet us.
our small saddle on the ridgetop (seen at the red “x” on
this map), we peered down over the other side into cloudy
oblivion. A super steep powder line ran north, straight down
into the fog. The run looked sweet, but with visibility being
so dismal, and with no sign that the weather was lifting, we
decided to continue up the ridge to Ralston Peak and hope for
better weather upon our arrival.
better weather we did find. As if on cue, the clouds broke
right as we started our climb up the SE ridge of Ralston (see
photo: Chris, Toby and Buddy looking out to the
Ralston Peak). To the left and 3,000 feet below us, we spied
Lovers Leap area coated in a fresh coat of white. To the
northwest, Pyramid Peak and the snowcapped peaks of the
Crystal Range emerged from the fog. And of course to the
northeast were the deep blue waters of Lake Tahoe. As we
climbed up the last hundred feet to the summit, adrenaline was
pumping. The weather was improving by the second, and a huge
open and untracked bowl lay before us.
chilled on the summit for a few minutes enjoying the view.
Following the hugely corniced ridgeline we had just climbed,
we saw monstrous Alaska-like lines pouring off of the north
face of Baldy (Peak
9,165’) (see photo below). We also saw a group
of skiers yo-yo skiing the bowl just east of Baldy. Now
it was our turn. We peeled skins and considered our
descent options: The face just below the summit had recently
avalanched, and there was a mess of chunky debris below us,
leading to a rather serious looking cliff band. Hmmm, not going that way. The
northwest-trending ridge from the summit was guarded by a
monster cornice and looked deadly. Hmmm, not going that way
either. So Ben and Toby skied down along the NW ridge to the end
of the corniced area. Chris picked out a narrow gap in the
cornice about halfway down, while I stayed on the summit to
shoot some video. Chris dropped in first on his splitboard
and ripped up the first 1,000 feet in a matter of seconds.
Further down the ridge, Ben also dropped in, followed by Toby
on the summit, I clicked into my skis and -- ahem -- locked
down my heel for the first time in over two years (and for the
first time ever in the backcountry). I skied down the ridge
with a somewhat uncomfortable feeling that I’m sure all
reformed telemarkers must feel when they clip back into
“normal” bindings after a long hiatus. There wasn’t much
time to get used to it, however, as I dropped in the cornice gap
where Chris did and started cranking parallel turns down
through the powder. OK, it wasn’t quite the feeling you get
when carving graceful tele turns, but I will admit that it was
pretty stellar nonetheless. (photo:
the north face of Ralston Peak).
regrouped a few hundred feet above Ralston Lake. I skied over
a roller and dropped down a steep narrow chute between some
rocks. In doing so, I stupidly kicked off a small slab
avalanche that broke up and oozed down about 100 feet. The
potential consequences were not severe (the new snow layer was
not deep, the chute was very short, and the runout slope below
was very gentle), and I easily skied out of the slide.
However, I shouldn’t have taken my chances with a little
terrain feature that I knew had a high probability of going
even a short distance. Live and learn.
ripped down to Ralston Lake and skied across it. Then down
into the meadow above Echo Lakes, where we skinned up for the
gentle climb up to the
of Echo Peak. An hour or so later of skiing through what
Chris called the "endless Hansel & Gretel forest" and we were on the summit.
The weather had turned nasty on us again. Clouds moved in and the
wind picked up. We didn’t stick around on the summit for
long. One by one we dropped down the steep glade towards the
Angora Lakes. (see photo: Chris dropping down to
snow-covered Angora Lakes). The snow here was a
bit more crusty, but still plenty fun and skiable. At the
bottom, a short tour in the flats brought us back to the car.
Thanks to Chris, Ben, Toby and Buddy for a perfect April day
in the Tahoe bc.
Click here to see the rest of the photos