Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 09, 2009 - Maggies North with Jeff K.

(Click any picture to enlarge it)

Map (c) The Backcountry - Truckee, CA

Here is a map from the Backcountry Store's web guide. The usual ski route is the blue line. A link for the complete guide is included at the end of this post.

Photo (c) The Backcountry - Truckee, CA

Snow had started again last night so by the time Jeff picked me up at 8:00am this morning there was another 4-6" of fresh snow on the ground. We were both thinking of shin deep trail breaking, but a plan was a plan, so we departed as intended for Maggies - a pair of matched peaks in the southwest corner of Lake Tahoe, directly above Emereld Bay, sandwiched between Jakes, and Mt. Tallac their more familiar and far more often skied neighbors.

However, as we made idle chat in the one hour drive south and off the summit down to Lake Tahoe's shore level, the storm abated, and shaggy bits of mountain slope duff began to emerge from beneath the tree canopy replacing the carpet of white we were expecting. Our hope was that above 6,500 feet the storm was still going strong and we were still salivating for some fresh tracks. Due to the low cloud level, we could not see very high up the mountaiside, so optimism and hope drew us onward.

Leaving the car at the Bayview campground pullout, we needed to bootpack the first 25 yards over thin cover until we could find a continuous lead of snow leading us upward. We followed a state forest road breifly, then pointed our tips up the ridge and gained elevation steadily. Routefinding was complicated by the occasional clumps of exposed manzanita brush. The forest is made up of widely spaced trees in the 50 to 100 year old age range with some older and large individuals scattered about. The slope is steep almost from the start and the 4" of fresh snow over the old compacted frozen corn made for careful edging.

The effort these trees have made to survive in the harsh environment is incredible - in this case the tree literally growing around and encompassing a boulder has allowed it to make a firmer grasp on the sandy soil - permitting this monsterous tree to survive the wind and elements.

We passed right, high and above Granite Lake on our way to the saddle between the two Maggies peaks. As we climbed a sound grew above the pounding of my heart and regular puffing of my breath. It was the errie deep thumping of a grouse trying to attract a mate. Even on the sparsley wooded slope we could not pinpoint the exact location of the bird - the sound seemed to come from all directions at once.

At last we achieved the saddle - but in the soupy haze of the wet storm we could not see into the Desolation Wilderness area beyond the ridge, or to Mt. Tallac, or even to Lake Tahoe behind us and below. We were traveling through a hazy, blowing bubble of grey mist, swirling around the boulders and ridgetop rock fields. At this point the snow was dropping so steeply on the east side that we needed to take off our skis to navigate the ridge. The sun had melted out deep pockets adjacent to the rocks, but the recent storm had blown a thin crust of snow and ice over the gaps. We stepped gingerly along - anxious to put our skis on again. In this picture, which is protecting the boulder protecting the tree, or has the tree blocked the boulder from the crushing force of ice and wind, allowing it to persist on the otherwise pulverized ridge?

Looking over the ridge of south Maggies on our way up the hill. Somewhere in here lay our path home, and I carefully studied the north facing slope to look for an open enough area to make the run down.

Jeff trudges up the ridge from the saddle. Behind him is the North Maggies and swirling in the mist even further in Jakes Peak.

At last, there is no more hillside above us and we have reached the summit. A large cornice protects the southeast couloirs from our view, but we both know there are dramatic ski routes down that steep side of the mountain.

Even with the cloud cover, my skiis absorb enough sunlight energy to melt the snow on them as we eat lunch on the summit.

Jeff looks about, turns skiis downhill and we harvest the fruits of our labor. The north facing slope above Granite Lake, seemingly crowded with trees from our scouting on the way up yields wonderful ski lines on the way down - trees perfectly spaced to allow our passage. Here the wind, and sun have not pummeled the delicate snow cover and we make joyous turns. We carefully hug the ridge making those left turns stick hard so as not to plummet over the edge on the even steeper side of the ridge.

Run silent, run deep. More great turns on the way down to Granite Lake.

The conditions deteriorate as we loose elevation and by the time we get to Lake Level, we have breakable crust and protruding willows to contend with. We make the decision to head down, instead of up for another lap, and circumnavigate the lake, not sure of its ice cover condition. The storms builds as we ski - blowing the icy crystals in our face.

Panorama photo from Jeff Kasten

Once back in the woods beyond the lake, we make slow, lazy turns on the lower angle slopes and wind our way back to the car. But wait - Jeff thinks a better slope can be found to skiers left and we turn to investigate. The last 100 yards is free of trees and protruding rocks, and at a wonderfully steep pitch. Only problem is it terminates directly on the road. No room for a swooping stop...we must ski down and surgically halt - or be stopped short by the asphalt barrier beyond. Down another 600 feet, you can see the wayers of Emerald Bay beyond the road.

Click here for a ski tour guide for this trip

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