Sunday, February 24, 2008

08Feb22 Alpine Meadows to Squaw Valley

(You can double-click on any image to enlarge it) The predicted winter storm materialized with a big bang this weekend. We snuck out early on Friday and skied north of Route 80 at Donner Pass - just off the snow park permit area at Norden - along Andasite Ridge. I was breaking trail the whole way, off the main ski trail, but it was glorious to be all alone in the woods with a fresh blanket of light snow covering weeks worth of melted and icy Sierra cement. My heart was pounding and I was gasping for air, but it was as if a strong cord was attached to my core and pulled me upwards. After each short break to catch my breath, I would be re energized and trudge off again in search of animal tracks and some recognizable feature which would permit me to know really where I was. Once we reached the more widely spaced trees on the watershed boundary it all came back to me and I was overwhelmed with a flood of memories from past trips to the same area. Once we reached our turn-around time, we skied fresh tracks off the ridge to the west, then followed the snowmobile trail markings back to the car.

On Saturday, we left right from the Alpine Meadows parking lot and began the ascent up to the saddle adjacent to KT-22 - hoping to drop off the north side of the ridge into Squaw Valley and shuttle back to Alpine with our friends Steve and Angela who were at Squaw for the day. About 45 minutes into our climb we encountered a film crew shooting an Ad for Sony in the back country - and as it turns out - on private land managed by a firm called White Wolf. Click here for their slide show The owner drove his snowmobile down to meet us and explained how the area is kept track free for film crews and that we'd need to turn around. After some friendly conversation while he subtly scoped out our back country skills, preparedness, and gear we explained we thought we were on forest service land and were headed for 5 lakes basin and the saddle. We showed him our threadbare map full of annotations from previous tours with estimations of the current ski area boundaries - all of which are not shown on the topo maps. He then explained there actually was a permitted trail crossing on the property for those who had been "informed" about 3/4 mile further down the road. We skied out his access road, walked back to the parking lot, repositioned our car and started up the mountain once again.

It was an amazing climb through the open rolling alpine terrain. We were cognizant of the copious quantities of fresh snow and picked our route carefully, sticking to the ridges and avoiding the terrain traps. White Wolf has started building a lift up the back side of KT-22, but the lift poles are the only evidence of that effort this time of year. We hit the shoulder just as we were instructed and found a trail sign attached to a lift pole. From here, we could easily see the remainder of the route into the lakes basin, and from there up through a stand of large fir trees to the saddle. All the while, KT-22 was looming over our right shoulder. The cliffs were already wiped clean of fresh snow, and the wind had been depositing cornices on the opposite side of the ridge. As we reached the lakes, the storm front hit, the wind picked up, and we were engulfed in a near white-out. We hunkered down in the tress for a standing lunch and spot of tea, then zipped all the flaps, put on goggles and climbed the last 25 yards to the saddle. From here - we could see nothing. As we removed our skins ("ripped leather") in the howling wind, we tried to study the almost worthless Squaw Valley trail map I had brought along to help us navigate the terrain after crossing in from out of bounds. Diane properly identified the proper saddle where we had crossed over and thusly discerned that were were standing directly above a cliff band, which in these conditions I very much wanted to avoid. Traversing to skiers right (east) we followed the trees along the edge of the the precipice and the terrain slowly opened up into a broader bowl. Staying to the edge we used the trees as guide posts and slowly felt our way through the clouds and swirling snow to lower angle terrain, and eventually to the remnants of a groomed trail. Now we were surrounded by similarly blinded skiers and snowboarders making the best of a difficult situation. As we continued to ski downhill, we dropped below the cloud base and then easily followed the ski trail to the Squaw Valley village base.

This tour has got to be repeated again in clearer weather. The views were stupendous all the way down to Lake tahoe, even though we only caught them for a glimpse.

Sunday morning found us even more buried in fresh snow. We dug out the cars and headed home. Route 80 was like the arctic with 60 mph gusts blasting clouds of snow across the highway. We crept along at 20 mph all the way to Applegate on the west side of the mountains where the chain control finally ended. Even though the drive home was 6 hours it was still aprt of our adventure and we had a great time.

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