Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Summary slide show from 2008/2009 ski season

Click on link below to watch a summary slide show from the ski season's best photos...


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

22April09 Wildcat Canyon Regional Park

Wildflowers are blooming and the temperature is balmy. A strong east wind carried sweet aromas of wildflowers, sage, and farms as we explored Wildcat Canyon Regional Park on Wednesday afternoon. This vast greenbelt area lies north of Berkeley/ElCerrito, and south of Susuin Bay. The grassy hills conceal the built-up alluvial land closer to the bay.

Wild Lupine and California Poppy carpet the hillsides.

Unidentified snake crossing the trail.. Anyone can help me identify this guy?

Looking south over the green hills.

Butterfly on coyote poop.

Walking on the fire trail.

Then the low thump, thump thump of a helicopter disturbed the quiet. The bird swooped in low and hot, then did a steep banking turn and reversed course. It circled us, then fired up the siren. I was just beginning to formulate what was going on when a mountain biker popped up from the roll behind us. He swerved left, swerved right, then hopped off the fire trail onto an adjacent and intersecting single track. The helicopter swooped in again, in hot pursuit of the biker. They both dropped behind the rise ahead of us and we scampered ahead to see the resolution. See the fields of wildflowers beyond,

The chopper set down smack dab in the middle of the trail ahead of the biker (who was no having to peddle up hill). By the time I got this shot off, the park ranger was out of the bird, biker was kneeling down by his bike. You can see the faint single track trail beyond the helicopter. The two stayed in conference in this position for a long time, then a 4WD truck drove over the rise and blocked off the biker's escape route.

Ticket issued, the biker hiked back up the trail to where it joined the road, hoped on and rode off, even as we tried to catch up to hear his side of the story. The rotors whirred, and the chopper lifted off the meadow and circled us as it flew up and away.

Bird of Paradise on our front hillside

Monday, April 20, 2009

18April2009 - Back in Oakland

We meticulously packed the car so every square inch was full, making last minute additions by rolling windows down and then up again from the drivers seat, with one person holding contents in place. We had a floor lamp secured to the roof top bike rack, and a large duffel strapped to roof as well. One last sweep over all the rooms of the house and a final pull on the front door and our winter adventure was coming to a close. Water was pooling at the edges of the driveway, as the massive accumulations of snow were finally succumbing to rising spring temperatures. We could hear chickadees in the trees, and the steady dripping from roof eaves.

One short side trip to drop some stuff off that did not fit in the car at Jeff's house and we were on our way. As we dropped in elevation the temperature rose until we hit the valley floor when the dashboard display topped out at 90 degrees. We were sweltering after 5 months in the cold, this seemed unbearable. Traffic came to a stop on 80 for no perceptible reason somewhere out in the Delta, so indefatigable Diane unfolded our dog-eared map and rerouted us on a meandering path through Rio Vista and a variety of other bucolic Delta towns. We drove unhindered over the raised levees, and old draw bridges - spying delta speed boats and jet skis plying the waters all around us. We chatted about how we would amuse ourselves in the coming months and continued to sweat even with the air conditioner running.

Then, before we knew it, the green rounded hills of the East Bay loomed ahead and we followed the narrowing highway gorge into the Caldicot tunnel. Due to the east wind and the odd atmospheric conditions, even crossing under the hills did not produce a drop in temperature and we pulled to a stop in front of the house at 90 degrees. We were greeted warmly by our neighbors as they offered assistance to haul our winter packings up the 45 steps to the house. Box by box the dining room filled and the car emptied until everything had made it up to our hillside perch. Looking around I wondered how we were going to find a place for all this STUFF, when the house already appeared full. Moving back into an occupied house was certainly a different experience from moving into an empty house - like we had done at the beginning of the ski season 5 months ago.

New bird sounds filled the house as we opened the windows to air things out. The aroma of the blooming grasses and flowers wafted in with the fresh air - the sweet jasmine among others alerting and exiting our nostrils after months of only woodsmoke and sweaty ski clothes. Our feral cat returned, demanding to be fed, and all the deferred chores seemed to be calling out to me as I tried to relax on the deck and simply absorb the significant changes this day had produced. The camera batteries were exhausted, so I simply hung it back up on it's familiar hook in the closet, shut the door, cleared off the bed from piles of unpacked clothing and went to bed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

17April09 - Pacific Crest Trail & Donner Lake Run

The snow has been melting around the house. The first floor windows are now exposed to the sun - HURRAY! - even though the north and west sides still have deep deposits. On the west side, the snow tunnel is beginning to show daylight through the thin remaining frozen crust. I suspect by tomorrow we'll have a porthole through to daylight on this side as well. The temperatures are already in the mid 40's when Tim picks me up fr today's tour.

We hitch a ride on the Lincoln lift and head down the Pacific Crest trail south towards Squaw Valley. The Eastern slopes call to us - we look for a break in the heavily corniced ridge - and find the perfect spot for our first run down in the Grade A choice corn.

The snow holds well - evidence of wet slides are visible on the steeper sections - but this early in the day the surface has not warmed enough for that to be a threat to us. Down to the meadow 800 feet below.

No rushing today - but the conditions won't last as the temperature is rising rapidly. We skin back up for another run. The ridge we came down is in the background here. We study it carefully during the climb - thinking of where we'll come down next.

During the climb we come across this sign - posted high on a tree by the Sugarbowl Ski Patrol - Our feelings are just the opposite. We MUST hike back the way we came - but not to escape - but to ski the run again.

Up to the ridge again.

You can see the heavily corniced ridge line. We stay well back and can often see the glide crack forming where the cornice has already begun to separate from the rock base and begin it slow (or perhaps dramatic) separation from the underlying rock.

This is a shot up of the route I took for the second run... Just off the summit, to lookers right of the big cornice there was a small spot on the ridge where there was no cornice, but a clear break onto the steep slope below. I skied down the steep ridge lookers left of the gully - watching the slope carefully should it begin to move. I had escape routes to each side of the ridge, and chose skier's left at the end, and came out between the two rock spires at the base of the gully - heart pounding almost as fast as right after the climb up...

We take a short lunch break, and begin to skin back up again. Another view of the amazing line down from the ridge. Whoo Ha!

This time we arch around to skier's right and climb up the shoulder of Mt. Judah. The wind and sun have eroded the snow on the summit, so we follow snow leads at the very top. Donner Lake in the distance - our final destination this afternoon.

Skiing the ridge below Judah to the radio reflectors.

We've left the summit of Judah and are touring over the ridge to connect to Donner Peak.

The ridge of Judah is also heavily corniced - an avalanch here a few years back reminds us to stay clear - especially in this warm weather.

Boot packing up to the summit of Donner Peak

Donner Peak summit.

Skiing down the"Lake Run" - beautiful conditions - exploring the route - roll after roll - reading the terrain to find a fin and safe route down to Donner Lake level where Diane should be awaiting us with a ride home back up the mountain. Looking back up at Donner Pass beyond Tim.

At last - a coyote - I've been seeing tracks all season. This guy was surprised to see us and trotted along to get out of the way. I barely had time to grad a quick shot before he crested the hill and shot out of view.

One more pitch and we are down to the road. We can see the houses in the trees below and are looking for a fun way down. I spot Diane's car at an open intersection. What a great tour to end the season with.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

16April09 - Relay Peak - North Lake Tahoe

(Click on any image to enlarge it)

Dallas Glass, a ski patroller from Mt. Rose, and avalanche forecaster has agreed to lead us today in the mountains north of the Mt. Rose Highway (Rt. 267). This is his stomping ground and he is exited about showing off the great terrain here on the NE side of Lake Tahoe. For almost the entire tour there are commanding views of Lake Tahoe and the eastern side mountains. The groups start up from Tahoe Meadows on the Mt. Rose Highway (Rt. 267). From left to right David G., David S., Tim F., Jeff K., and Dallas (elevator) Glass.

Relay Peak south summit from just above Tahoe Meadows. "This is where we are going" Dallas explains, and before I put my hands on my poles to begin, he is gone, rocketing up the mountainside - thus he is aptly nick-named from this point on as "The Elevator". We are sking higher than we are accustomed to and will top out at around 10,000 feet on the summit ridge.

Warm meadow snow sticks to our skins. We scrape off the snow and ice and apply "gobstopper" skin wax to preclude similar build-up later in the day. Even so, Dave S. manages to break a pole attempting to knock off the heavy accumulation. Jeff and he jury rig the pole by cramming a stick in the handle and top tube which lasts for the remainder of the day's tour.

We pick a protected ridge and begin the steeper climbing to the summit ridge. Even though Dallas skis a line straight up the ridge, the rest of us mortals make occasional kick turns to lesson the pitch. Here, Tim executes a "french" kick-turn, uphill leg first while mid-conversation with David - or is this mid-mountain yoga?

Dallas on the ridge as we ascend to 10,000 feet. The north summit of Relay peak is in the background. Relay peak is so named because of the large television relay station on the north summit which was used to bounce the 1968 Squaw Valley Olympics out of the Tahoe Basin and on to the rest of the world watching beyond.

David Stepner on the summit ridge - Washoe Valley in the distance.

Dallas heads south on the ridge looking for the best line down the west slope . Lake Tahoe and Heavenly Ski resort far off in the distance.

We go down now.. wonderful spring snow - long pitch - great views. Dave getting the rythm of brand new skiis on their first downhill run.

Jeff powers through one of many perfectly executed tele turns.

and there he goes... Wait for me!

Dallas follows Jeff. Using the small crumholtz (tree tops protruding through the snow surface) as turning marks he is looking downhil and spying his next turn.

The snow softens and deepens in the small gully into which we decend.

Tim launches off the summit.

Dave S.

Whoah, checking speed before the next turn, the surface here is thinner and the skis speed up with each turn down the fall line.

Ah, some deeper snow, or not. One more turn and then a dull thud and groan (not captured on film) as Dallas colides with a crumholtz. For a secod there all we see are the bottom of his skiis facing up hill - with no movement. This is not a good sign. "Dallas, are you okay" we all yell down - almost in harmony from all corners of the slope. A groan - " I'm not realy sure" muffled by tree branches we hear back. Dave S. is closest and activates his ski patrol persona approaching the scene. Dallas has untangled himself from the tree and his bindings and is inspecting the point of impact on his shin, just below the knee. Ouch, but just a bad bruise. A bit higher and the impact would have been with Dallas's bomber hard plastic knee pads, a bit lower, and possibly a tib/fib break. We are lucky this time.

We continue the ski down, into the meadow below and flatter terrain. Skins on, we begin the slog back up for more fun.

Now the soft snow is too steep to skin up - the thin layer of fresh snow does not adhere to the firm icy layer beneath and our attempts to traverse and skin up are foiled by repeated slides away from our intended objective. We chose to strap skis to packs, and boot pack straight up, our boot toes more firmly kicking into the mountainside.

We follow a route in the shadows of a tree line so the snow is not so soft, and we are shielded from the scorching mid-day sun.

We crest the ridge, then drop in on the southeast face for some more skiing. The snow becomes very slushy as the slope flattens. We begin the long downward traverse back to the meadow below.

Dave is bored skiing on two skis so he tries it on one during this daring maneuver.

Looking back up the south east face - if you enlarge this photo you'll see our tracks - both down and up.

Again, a wonderful slope transected by our joyful down tracks - this is the east facing slope we skied second on our way back to the car.

The Google earth approximate route