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Who needs friggin' Powder? Scoping out the
early season chuting conditions on the Sisters.
No snow for a month? No problem.
Itching to do
some more snow sliding, Chris and I downplayed the
reports of thin bulletproof snow and made plans to
meet at Carson Pass in late November. I won't
lie and say the snow ruled, but it wasn't exactly
Having negotiated a hallpass, I made my way up to Tahoe on
Friday night of Thanksgiving weekend. I left late, so
I brought along the mandatory 2-pack red bull driver's
companion. I made it in one piece and promptly crashed
out in the Tahoe Pad. Early the next morning, I picked
up my new minty green sumos at the Backcountry in Tahoe
City, where they had mounted up my hammerheads & UTB
lifters. Coffee and a bagel at Syds, and then down the
west shore towards Carson Pass. En route, one couldn't
help but notice that the entire top of the Tallac's north
bowl was windblown down to the rock. Not a skiable
line to be found on this aspect. Hmm.... I sure
hope the snow's better 20 miles south of here.
the pass at 9am and geared up. Chris was camped
somewhere up near Lake Winnemucca. I skied south from
the pass and made it to the lake in about an hour. On
arrival, I called Chris on the radio. "Dude, I'm down at
the lake, where are you?" Reply: "What lake?"
This should've been my first clue that we were in for a
mini-epic, if not a full-blown epic. "Um, the huge
friggin' lake at the bottom of Round Top." I figured out
that I had skied right past Chris's tent, but he didn't see or
hear me. "Sorry dude, I had my tunes on too loud."
Clue #2 logged.
Chris, his dog Sierra and I then began the skin up towards the
Round Top/Sisters saddle. As the slope steepened, Chris
popped on his Burton split-crampons. My skins held fine,
however, so I continued cruising up the slope. "Shit!"
I turn around to see Chris on his stomach, sliding downhill,
with his splitboard below him and boots in the full heel-up
position -- basically the
most awkward, compromising position you can be in on a
slippery slope. Below him is a nice clear sheet of ice
with a small rock band below for good measure (see photo).
Chris manages a self-arrest through some combination of rapid
ice axe deployment and what I'll call the "Wile E. Coyote
frenetic snow clawing technique". Mini-epic Clue #3
registers internally, but I say nothing. Well, OK, maybe
I snicker ever so slightly when I conclude that Chris will not
in fact slide down to his death. Ice axe now fully
engaged, Chris is back on his feet, muttering something about
having lost his sunglasses.
Catastrophe avoided, we continue uphill. We pause for a
snack at the flat spot at the base of the Cresent Moon Couloir.
It looks absolutely unskiable in these low snow conditions
(photo). Chris thinks it could
doable. We debate this for awhile but then continue up
towards the saddle. "Shit!" Again I hear Chris
yelling. I spin around expecting to see Chris sliding
down the mountain. Instead, his Sony Memory Stick is
straightlining down the mountain like Seth Morrison in AK.
Since the memory stick didn't bring an ice axe, it was
resigned to careening down the fall line until gravity gave
up. I volunteered to ski down and get it.
Unfortunately, I forgot to put my heel lifts down when I
turned downhill, so I promptly stacked myself. Clue #4
that this isn't to be our day, check.
skinned back up to Chris and started needling him. Only
because he is otherwise the most organized and together
backcountry traveler can I get away with this. "Dude,
you are struggling.com." I'm rewarded with a smile.
We continue up towards the saddle with Sierra in tow.
Winnemucca is getting smaller below us. Above the lake,
Elephant's Back is laid out, completely bare of snow on its
upper half (photo). Once at the saddle, I drop my
skis and head up the ridge towards the summit of Round Top.
Somehow I take the hard way up around the backside. I
drop my poles at the bottom of some steep class 3-ish cliffs.
I scramble up to the top, only to find myself on a nice sandy
slope leading down towards the saddle. I guess I'll go
down that way. But then I realize I'll have to downclimb
the cliff to retrieve my poles. Oops. I get up to
the west summit of Round Top and peer down the Crescent Moon.
Nasty and definitely unskiable right now. I enjoy
the views for a minute, despite the onset of snow squalls.
Notes are taken of future skiable lines: A real nice
chute dropping down to Fourth of July Lake; some ridiculous
looking steeps over across the way in Devils Corral, and a
monster 2,500'+ run down the NW side of Deadwood Peak to the
depths of Summit City Creek. Yum.
Looking Across to Devil's
Corral From Round Top
a brief second I contemplate running up to the higher east summit
of Round Top, but then Chris checks in on the radio.
He's at the saddle and is heading up towards some nice looking
chutes off the east Sister.
I remember that we are here to ski, so I climb back down, get
my poles, and run down
to the saddle. When I get there, Chris is already up at
the snowline below the east Sister. He radios down that
there's a nice little shooter dropping down into the bowl.
I start skinning up from the saddle. Immediately, the
angle of the slope moves towards the vertical. "I can
skin this sucker," I think to myself. Wrong.
Within seconds, I am relegated to an embarrassed heap of gore-tex
and ski gear, sliding back down towards the saddle. I
manage to stop the unplanned glissade. Clue #5 anyone?
Looking back at Round Top
from the east Sister.
finally get up to Chris, who is piecing together his
splitboard. The plan is to drop the chute, bank hard
right and head over to the lower bowl and look for Chris's
sunglasses. Chris drops in first. Some nice turns
and he's at the bottom waiting for Sierra and me to follow.
But Sierra is spooked
by the slope angle and won't go down. "She'll follow
you, just drop in."
And drop in I do.
Fully expecting to find ice, breakable crust or some other
form of "good backcountry snow", I am surprised to find myself
cutting tele turns down some nice edgeable windpack.
Soft enough to make nice turns, but solid enough that it
wasn't breakable. Actually, it was pretty friggin' fun.
I turn around to see Sierra absolutely tearing down the
mountain. If anyone had fun on that slope, it was
Sierra. What a killer dog.
Working our way back down to Chris's camp, we don't find the
sunglasses, but we do actually find a small stash of powder
below a small cliff band -- only about four turns worth, but
hey, I'm not complaining. We also find a natural
half-pipe lower down, which I promptly arc into and eat shit.
Chris snickers from afar, happy to know that it is my turn to
at camp, we feast on backcountry ambrosia -- red bull, salami
and cheese. Its about 2:30. "Think we'll make it
to the car by four?", Chris asks. "Sure," I spew
confidently. "Half an hour to break camp, and about an
hour back to the pass." A leisurely hour later, we're
still at the campsite. Oops. Clue #6. We get
going around 3:45 or so. Chris doesn't feel like
skinning out, so he keeps his splitboard together. He
thinks we can slide downhill much of the way, avoiding the
need to skin up. I am skeptical. "Um, I think we
need to stay pretty high and close to Elephants Back to get
back to the pass." Chris demurs. "Nah, I came in
this way, and it was uphill most of the way." Still
skeptical, but unwilling to split up, I follow. A half
mile later, we come upon a creek. "Um, Chris, I think
we're way too low. Creeks flow downhill, yet we're
trying to get up to a pass. I think we're hosed."
Chris looks unconvinced, and the map is buried deep in the
pack. Laziness trumps cautiousness; we continue on.
By this point, its getting dark, and we are bushwacking
through increasingly thicker trees. I tell myself this
could be the beginning of a mini-epic. But I know that
in a pinch we can simply jam down the drainage to the highway,
so I mellow out somewhat. That said, I'm not relishing
the thought of a cold walk up a dark highway in duckbills.
I start contouring to the east, but it is too late.
We're too low, and I resign myself to a long walk.
get to the highway right as it gets dark. We start
walking up the road, but with all of our gear on our backs and
a rambunctious dog that seems to want to play chicken with
oncoming traffic, that plan quickly becomes just plain stupid.
I volunteer to walk up to the pass and bring the car back.
Little did I know the pass was nearly 3/4 mile away.
Clue #7 hits me and I realize that this was not the most
organized bc outing I've ever been on.
get the car, and head back to pick up Chris and Sierra.
As we're packing up the car, two headlamps approach on the
shoulder of the highway. "Which way is Carson Pass?",
asks Headlamp #1. Now even after our dumbness of this
day I still know that Carson Pass is uphill from
wherever you are on the highway. I point that out to
Headlamp #1 and tell them it is "about a mile thataway."
I offer them a ride in the back of the Jeep with Sierra.
Headlamp #1 conferences with Headlamp #2 and sneaks a furtive
glance in the backseat at a drooling and quite hairy Sierra.
"No thanks, we'll walk." OK, maybe they were smarter
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