Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jake's Peak with Jeff Kasten

A few selected individual images first...
From Jakes Peak with Jeff Kasten

From Jakes Peak with Jeff Kasten

(Slide show is embedded below. Click on the large "Play" button in the cetner of the screen to launch the slide show in a new window...)

The trail starts unambitiously and unpretentiously as a a few ski tracks leaving a dirty snowbank at the edge of route 89 past DL Bliss State Park, across from a few plowed out parking spaces on the side of the road. For a few minutes it seems like any other ski track, hewn from a fresh snowfall winding around the contours of the landscape headed in some vague direction slightly uphill through the forest.

Then, everything changes.. in a hurry. The vector of the proceeding track heads straight uphill, perpendicular to the fall line unwaveringly seeking the summit of Jake's Peak, like a compass needle pointing north in a lumpy sea - in the most expeditious way possible. If I were a cog railway, or a motorized cable car, or even a overpowered long track backcountry snowmobile this would make sense, but being a mere 50 something year old ordinary male specimen with far too much safety gear on my back this rapidly becomes a exercise in futility. Perhaps for the first skier, breaking trail in a fresh snowfall, with a wide ski and matching skin underfoot, the route the up track takes might make sense. However, one day after the fresh snow, on skis once proclaimed fat just a few years ago, but considered quite wimpy by todays 100+ cm underfoot standards I am working hard to cling to the mountainside without sliding backwards.

For the first hour I struggle to deny the inevitable tug of gravity carefully stomping my feet to set my skins into the firm thaw-freeze surface of the track, making steady, but slow progress upwards. The contours tick off in my mind, and the exquisite views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding snow covered mountains begin to unfold behind me and to either side. My heart is thumping in my chest and sweat is beading up and falling off my forehead. I've stripped down to a poly tee in an attempt to radiate off the excess energy my muscles are foolishly wasting, and I must stop every 15 minutes to recover a normal respiratory rate. Then, what seemed previously impossible, became a reality, The trail got steeper.

My skis no longer could hold traction in the track, and the distance between me and Jeff slowly and inexorably grew until he was out of sight ahead of me. I diverged from the broken trail and made my own way up the steep shoulder, crossing the main trail occasionally, dusting fresh snow off low hanging branches hanging tightly between trees, and sinking 6 inches with each step as my ski tips plowed a fresh furrow in the virgin slope. Unrelentless is the best word that comes to mind when thinking of the effort required to reach the 8,800 foot summit of Jakes peak from lake level. In the fresh snow, and at a more human angle, my skis, poles, and body again worked as they should and I followed a more rational looking sinuous route up the remainder of the climb to the summit.

What a view.... To the south and west the massive of Tallac, Jennies, and Dicks peak filled the horizon. To the east Lake Tahoe spread out before us - emerald blue with turquoise bays. To the north, Rubicon Peak, and off in the distance Mt. Rose snowy white against the deep blue sky.

After a rushed sandwich, pounding more liquids, and adding a few layers, I joined Jeff who was waiting patiently at the precipice, to consider our options for skiing down. We had spied and discussed a broad gully on the north east side which opened comfortably to widely spaced trees as far as the eye could see. The new snow was much more stable today than yesterday. The new snow seemed much better bonded to the old pack so a cracking slab seemed a small risk. Jeff led off and we skied leapfrogging pitches down and down and down and down over the undulating mountainside. We both recalled some cliff bands about 2/3 of the way down, so as we approached those pitches we slowed to more carefully scope out the roll-overs and run out of each pitch.

Before I wanted to admit it, the steep pitch gave way to a rolling hillside and once over the small rise at the base of our route, we were coasting to a stop near a ranger maintenance station just north on the road not far from our parked car.

Once again, the Sierra had dished up a sweet adventure, the weather and snowpack cooperated and we headed home with fresh memories of the beauty of the mature Sugarpine covered slopes of the west shore of Lake Tahoe.

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