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Backcountry ski and snowboard gear, camping

Mount Conness and North Peak, June 2004

Tioga Pass, California

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Looking like a friggin' tourist on top of Mount Conness  (photo:  M. Howard)

Tiogahh…   The name says it all.  Even in a below average snow year, Tioga Pass is still holding the goods well into June.  To close out the 2004 season, our weekend menu included Mount Conness and the sweet northeast couloir of North Peak.  All trips should be this good.

One Last Trip Before the Big Melt

Thankfully I was able to get away for one last weekend before the summer sun completed its annual cycle of destruction on the California snowpack.  The trip was at the suggestion of my friend Matt, who hadn’t been backcountry skiing in a couple of years and really needed to get out and breathe in the mountain air.  My regular backcountry partner Chris was also going to try to meet up with us on Sunday, so it promised to be a great weekend.  I considered a trip to Shasta, where I have been coveting the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge for years.  But I quickly dismissed the thought in favor of a return to one of my favorite places on earth:  Tioga Pass and the Yosemite high country. 

Part 1:  The Departure Epic

As with most trips originating in San Francisco on a Friday, the crux was getting out of the Bay Area.  As if this weren’t difficult enough, we had a frustrating delay obtaining Matt's rental gear at Marmot Mountain Works in Berkeley. We finally walked out to the car with the following package:  Some 178 Rossi Megabangs, in good shape, but set up with Fritschi Diamirs that looked like they had been mounted on about 8 pairs of skis before the Rossis; BD clipfix skins that were way too narrow for the skis; and some Garmont GSMs, probably two seasons old but looking more like ten.  The price tag for this ultra-sweet setup?  A staggering 86 dollars for a mere weekend rental, without poles.  To add insult to injury, we later discovered (rather inconveniently, I might add, since we were about 200 miles east of and 11,000 feet higher than the Marmot shop), that Matt’s bindings hadn’t even been adjusted for his boots. In the future, make sure your shop tech takes the time to address that small detail of making sure boot attaches to ski. 

Our epic continued when we merged onto I-580 and promptly ground to a halt due to a nasty rollover accident that happened right in front of us.  This event, together with the Marmot delay, conspired to place us in the (not very) Pleasanton area at peak Friday rush hour time.  We literally crawled up the Altamont Pass and finally crossed over the Coast Range at around 4:30 pm – a full three hours after leaving San Francisco.  Our plans to meet Sierra Fred, Mark and Lucy at the Tioga Gas Mart for dinner were dashed, and instead we headed for the next best thing – a burger and a beer at the Iron Door in Groveland.  A final kick in the nuts was administered at the Big Oak Flat entrance to the park, where we waited for about 20 minutes behind a line of gapers, each and every one of whom it seemed was paying with a credit card that wouldn’t go through or was asking dumbass questions like “what time do you guys shut off the waterfalls in Yosemite Valley?”  We finally made it up to Tioga Pass by dark, and after grabbing a couple of coldies at TPR, found a roadside bandit camp near the Warren Fork hairpin with a sweet view of the Powerhouse Chute.  We fell asleep supremely confident that our luck could only improve tomorrow.


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