(Slide show embedded below. Click anyhere on the the cover photo, then look for the slide show controls at the bottom of the panel..)
Wind was howling out the window, blowing the 8" of fresh snow from last night in all directions. We know there will be more snow up high, and that on the north aspects more wind transported pockets await. Jeff picks me up at 8:30 am for the drive down to the south west shore of Lake Tahoe and the majestic peaks that tower over Emerald Bay. At the trailhead we back up to a snowbank - the only car there and break trail up the steep summer jeep road towards the wooded shoulder that will lead us to the summit of North Maggies - 8,800 feet - almost 2,000 feet above lake level.
The wind continues to howl during our first ascent, but as we round up onto the ridge, the topography somehow protects us from the gale and the temperature rises as we approach the summit. After a quick transition and a bite to eat, we pick a promising line and look for places on the mountainside where the wind has not scoured the surface down to the frozen base left from last week's warm temperatures. Jeff picks wisely and we are floating down in knee deep fresh snow through the widely spaced mature trees. We stay in the trees and away from the larger open slopes as we judge the stability in the snowpack in preparation for our next run. Even so, at the steeper roll-overs and other submerged trigger points an ankle deep slough cascades down the slope with us - moving slowly, and not gaining momentum as it moves downhill, we simply ski off to the side and let these disturbances pass - coming to rest at changes in the pitch.
Before we know it, we have crossed the filled-in and almost obliterated up-track so it's time to stop, attach skins to the skiis and return to the summit. The second climb seems easier, since the route is well enough defined and we have recent memory of getting up it - well mixed with the pumping adrenalin circulating in our bloodstream. This cycle, we linger on the summit and hope the clouds will clear to show us an unobstructed view of Lake Tahoe.
Now, we pick the steeper, more direct line off the summit on the north side - a gully sandwiched on both sides with rock outcroppings. The slope is over 35 degrees, so we are prepared from some surprises. Moving cautiously from one safety point to another we leapfrog down the exhilarating run - keeping eyes out for moving snow - triggered by a propagating crack or the sudden loading of a sharp turn. Sure enough, just below the summit, an ankle deep crown forms and the slope releases. We are out of the way and safe as the excessive snow rolls down the hill - never really gaining any speed and coming to rest in the meadow runout below. Now, with the slope cleared, our minds ease and we carry more speed and linked turns down the first pitch to the alpine meadow below.
The views improve as the clouds clear briefly and we tour from one pitch to another, looking for signs that will lead us to the favorable slopes we seek and a safe route down the mountainside. The angle of the slope eases and the tree spacing widens. We relax and take breaks to enjoy the views of Jake's Peak, and the always incredible Lake Tahoe spreading out at our feet.
Before we know it the sinuous highway unravels before us and we must take off our skis and hike back up the road to our parked vehicle. What a rush. A great climb, good fellowship, a comfortable day in the high alpine all around without chills, or spills (except for that one bush Jeff discovered lurking just beneath the surface). We are not 5 minutes in the car before we are planning tomorrow's outing. Stay tuned.