|On the way up photo Sam Piper|
This past Friday afternoon found Dave, Sam and myself zipping south on HWY 395 towards Bridgeport, CA. It was a nice time to be driving as the traffic was light and the scenery turned pastel as the sun sunk below the Sierra. We made Bridgeport by dark and found our way to a local watering hole for some beer and food. It was a nice way to unwind after the holiday madness at work. After a few rounds of pool we were feeling the pull of the mountains and decided it was time to go.
I was a little nervous about the approach for our tour as there was no snow along the shores of Twin Lakes. Sam and Dave each had running shoes for the hike to snowline, but me being new to this scene hadn't considered that. I wasn't looking forward to putting miles in with hard boots. I was game either way for the tour though as I have a bunch of new gear to test out that I am very excited about. We cowboy camped right at the end of the road under some pine trees and Dave slept in his car. It never really got cold this evening as the lows where 28* here. I slept with my bag unzipped and no snowhat on.
My alarm went off at 4:30AM and I was up first as I had quite a gear explosion going on here. I located a water spigot so I had water for our hike in. Dave and Sam were up at this point and rustling around in their gear. It was a good thing that there was no frost or dew last night as all my sleeping gear was dry to start out the weekend with. I sucked down some iced coffee and bars Micro Monkey had given me. Sam and Dave were packed and ready to go before me as I was still figuring out this whole ski on the pack deal, plus all of the avalanche gear. They waited patiently in the dark though and Dave used the time to move the car down the road to legal parking. By the time he returned we were ready to set off in the dark by headlamp.
Walking on dry ground with hardboots wasn't as bad as I though it would be. I would still prefer to walk in some mid hi running shoes, but the hardboots didn't slow me down too much. I was encouraged by the fact that I was seeing patches of snow right away on our climb up into the canyon. We were heading up Horsethief Canyon right below the Sawtooth Range. By the time we hit our transition point to skis the sun was coming out and the peaks were lit with a beautiful light. It was a special time to be out and I think all of us enjoyed the stillness of the Sierra. California is a big state with lots of people, but they weren't out here this weekend!
|boot packing photo Sam Piper|
My new skis and skins made quick work of the approach to our first big climb. We spied a boot pack route someone had already kicked in. It was time to switch on our avalanche beacons and get our Whippets ready. Sam tested all of our beacons to make sure we were broadcasting. Sam has worked for YOSAR, summited Denali and actually dug people out of avalanches. His experience was invaluable to me. The boot pack up the gully went well as the snow was plenty firm. At the top of this climb it was back to skinning up to our intended camp.
|camp below the Matterhorn|
We made camp thanks to Sam's breaking trail by 11:AM. We decided to set up the shelter and dump all of our camping gear inside. Our basecamp was at an elevation of 10,000 ft. We had a full day ahead of us still so we quickly transitioned back to ski mode with light packs. Again Sam lead the way up below the most dramatic peaks in the Sawtooth Range. Dave and Sam were swapping stories about the different faces they had rock climbed in here during the summer. The snow was changing from a hard crust to a little bit of powder snow as we made our way to 11,500ft. The route up to the col was actually pretty straight forward and I felt like I was in a special place here below the Sawtooth Crest. Dave transitioned to snowboarding here at the col while Sam and I went out below a rock face. This set Sam and I up for a nice run down the bowl. I flailed a little as much of my gear was new to me, but Sam waited patiently while Dave and I got set up.
|Sam and Dave skinning up above our camp at 10,000ft below the Matterhorn|
|Sam is breaking trail at about 11,000ft here|
|real nice approach below the Matterhorn|
|splitboarding in hardboots? Dave shows us how below the Matterhorn photo sam piper|
|this was a little bit of a spooky spot for me, but worth it photo sam piper|
Sam had dug some snowpits on the way across the rock face and felt pretty good about the stability of the snow we were on. Sam took the first run down and I was pretty excited watching his turns down into the bowl. The slope was steep, but the snow was actually really good considering how wet this last storm system was. Sam gave me a signal when all was good and I took my first turns of the year. They were wonderful (not the prettiest turns I am sure, but they sure felt good), my new skis being easy to turn and providing plenty of float. I didn't get one of my bindings locked back down as I still had one in touring mode and wondered why that sides turns felt funny. I fixed that pretty quick and took a few more turns. I stopped halfway down the slope to make sure Dave was doing ok. Dave locked into his board and took a few uneasy turns himself. He was trying a completely new set up too as he is making the transition to split boarding with hardboots. The main reason for this is the ability to use crampons if necessary on the way up. He is finding that soft boots in the mountains aren't the way to go for the kind of terrain he wants to access.
|Sam making wind effected, crusty snow look like powder skiing is one of his specialties photo Dave Campbell|
|first turns of the year... it just felt right photo Dave N Campbell|
|Kruds first turns of the season below the Matterhorn photo Dave Campbell|
Dave made his way the rest of the way down to Sam and I followed with some confident turns. When we regrouped Sam scolded me (and rightly so) for stopping on the face and waiting for Dave. It made Sam nervous to have me stopped on a face above him, which if the slope did slide would require him easily 10 minutes of skinning back up to where I was. On top of that Dave and I were both moving at the same time which in a bad situation might require Sam keeping an eye on both of us or worse yet having to locate two buried people. So lesson #1 for me was to ski top to bottom until in a zone of safety. I appreciated that Sam was taking this seriously as I was quickly learning that my understanding of avalanche hazards and how to avoid them is lacking.
|if you click to enlarge this one you may be able to make out our lines (mine are in the middle) photo Dave Campbell|
|looking back up at the promised land photo Sam Piper|
From here back down to camp Sam lined me up on a sweet run. I kept him in sight and stayed just to his right on the way down. The snow was actually the most consistent right above our camp and I was making confident turns now. Dave hiked up above us into the route of our skin track and put in a nice line too. We all regrouped in camp and enjoyed the last of the days sun as it set early behind the crest. I was stoked to look up into the bowl above our camp and see our turns! We fired up the stove and started making water as some of the crew was feeling a little bit of a dehydration headache after last nights beers (this guy included). After we got hydrated it was time to open the bar! We had a wide variety of libations we had packed in so the mood in camp was festive.
|Dave and Sam fire it up in camp|
|Sam adding a little whisky to his cocoa photo Dave Campbell|
|looking out the shelter at the Cleaver, tomorrows objective photo Dave Campbell|
|Sam: Got some Beef Stroganoff here... Dave:mmm, tough call... REACTOR|
We couldn't believe it was only 7:PM, but we had all had dinner by this point and were situated for sleeping. I was a little claustrophobic in the shelter at first, but once we got situated it was warm and cozy. Many a yarn was spun until we all drifted off to dreamland beneath the peaks of the Sawtooth Range.
|looking down Horsethief Canyon|
It was plenty warm in the shelter overnight. The low was 25*, only 3* colder than our camp last night 3,000 ft below! No doubt having 3 of us under the shelter helped. My alarm went off at 4:30AM, but I got the feeling from Sam and Dave they weren't ready to get up yet. Fine by me as I dozed off until the first light.
Dawn found us blasting more snow for our days water. Dave and Sam had spied a route they wanted to investigate up near a rock formation known as the Cleaver. We did a quick coffee and breakfast to get fired up for the days adventure. The sun was back out and warmed us as we got our skis and splitboards set up with skins. Sam and Dave were ready again before me, but this was ok as they broke trail! Sam picked really nice lines to set up our skin track and I was getting pretty good at climbing.
|Sam put in a really nice skin track up below the Cleaver photo Sam Piper|
Unfortunately our route up around the Cleaver proved risky so we made the call to back off. Sam found us a good way out of there, but the snow had a pretty mean windcrust on it so my turns where sloppy. With rocks just under the surface of the snow I had to be very alert. I felt a little safer using a new helmet Dave got me dialed in with from Pret. I have never worn a helmet ski touring before and this was a good fit for me because I quickly forgot I had it on. That is really one of the key differences that sets Pret apart from the other helmet options on the market; Pret helmets are the lightest! I took a tumble just below Sam in the windcrust and once the snow had settled I saw a rock right below me that I had just missed. Even though a helmet won't save my body from impact with a submerged rock it made me feel a little safer to have my head protected. Thanks Pret!
|those are Sams turns on our way down from the Cleaver photo Sam Piper|
|trying my best to stay on Sams line below the Cleaver photo Sam Piper|
Just below this tricky stretch we got a nice run. Dave went first with me following and Sam spotting us from above. The snow was really good in here even though I scraped over one submerged rock. All the rocks I was finding today made me very nervous and I wasn't looking forward to the ski out. We traversed high out of this run back to our skin track. From here it was a short drop back to our camp.
Back at camp it didn't take much arm twisting to get Sam and Dave fired up for one more run before breaking camp down. We transitioned back to skinning up our skin track from yesterday which accessed the terrain I liked the best. We didn't go all the way to 11,500ft again though as we still wanted to make sure we were out of camp by 2:PM. I believe all 3 of us topped out at 11,000 ft. The snow was still good and Sam found us a bowl we had been spying from camp yesterday. Sam scoped me out a safe sweet line and pointed out were we would regroup. Dave had decided to take his last run down near our skin track. Sam was definitely putting in the sweetest turns of this tour so far! I waited until Sam got down to a safe spot and signaled me to come down. I put in some nice confident turns in good snow. I linked several all the way down to were Sam was. Sam and I then noodled our way back down the gully to our camp. I got in several more turns just sticking close to Sam's tracks.
This time in camp things were coming down fast. I basically took all my gear and just dumped it in my pack. We had camp broke down and packed by 1:45PM. Sam had figured it would take us 2 hours out to the car. Honestly I was dreading the way down as I didn't like hiking with my skis on my pack. Again Sam found us a way down that didn't involve bootpacking down the steps we had kicked in on the way up. It was definitely icy out on the slope we had traversed onto, but my edges were sharp on my new skis. I am happy to report that when the conditions are sketchy I can just do little hop turns too. This will help a bunch when threading my way through brush, trees and variable snow conditions. We all regrouped below this icy slope for the slog/ bushwack out the rest of the canyon. This was a thrill threading our way down a narrow hiking trail and much care was taken not to spill on rocks. I wore my helmet all the way down to where we transitioned back to hiking and appreciated having it on. So far I like the fact that I don't even know it is there and when I put it in my pack to hike it is lightweight.
|hiking out the last few miles photo Sam Piper|
Sam was dead on in his estimate of 2 hours out to the car. We all got our gear loaded fast and enjoyed an ice cold frosty while looking back at where we had been for the weekend. Even though it was a quick weekend it felt like a long one because of what we were able to accomplish and see. This outing will undoubtedly help me keep my sanity for the next few weeks of retail holiday madness!