Sunday, January 31, 2016

Backcountry Skiing - January 2016

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Snow! We have snow!

Although California's exceptional drought officially continues, our trusty snowblower has enjoyed several outings up and down our road thus far this winter. We removed the handwritten cardboard sign that hung sadly from its handle bars for the last couple years. It read, "Will work for snow." We even had a white christmas.  Best of all, we've gotten into the backcountry on skis putting our 3 pin ski bindings to work!

It was like getting our sea legs back - not the skiing, but the driving on ice glazed slick roads.

Friends were climbing and skiing a local favorite peak. This is a long tour and required an eight am departure from the trailhead. We had a previous breakfast invitation with other friends so we'd be unable to join them and help break trail.  We left the trailhead around noon and skied the ridge out to Brown Mountain, an interesting volcanic plug of columnar basalt surrounded by Sierra granite.

It had stormed the day before with the storm clearing overnight. I took a telephoto shot to the south at Tells Peak, the northernmost peak in Desolation Wilderness' Crystal Range.


There are two items of interest in the above photo. First is the two tiny dots right near the summit - our two friends, Mr. Randonee and Andrew. The second is the evident line of rime ice deposition.  I love to learn about the natural processes unfolding around us. The storm clouds that blew over the summit contained super cooled water droplets; liquid water below the normal freezing point of 32°. This super cooled water froze onto the windward surfaces of trees along the high ridges.

Thanks Andrew for the use of your two photos below of the summit of Tells Peak, a close up of the tiny dots in my photo above along with the fascinating frosting of rime.

Here is a link with information on Hoar Frost and Rime Ice.

Italian - Swiss families familiar with mountain agriculture settled in California's Mother Lode area during the gold rush era. As many immigrant families did during this period, one family "Americanized" their surname to Tell. The story of the Swiss hero, William Tell, was well known and the name was a good fit, easy to say and a link to their heritage. The meadows below the peak named in their honor were summer range for their dairy cows. They prospered selling cheese to the hungry gold seekers.

From our perch up on the shoulder of Brown Mountain, we looked out on the winter wonderland around us.

We were happy to be up in the sunshine as we looked down on the fog enshrouded Sacramento Valley.

With our late start, the cold, soft powder of the morning was now afternoon sierra cement, high in water content and a lot of weight to carve turns in. We did our best and celebrated our first telemark turns of the season that looked more like gullies than sensuous arcs down the slope. Our thighs burned with rekindled passion. 

With continuing storms rolling through, we stayed home the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The following Sunday was, again, the tail end of a small storm that added several more inches to the snowpack. We skied a nice loop around a marked backcountry ski & snowshoe trail that is very dear to our hearts.

With the help and permission of our local National Forest we laid out the route of this intermediate trail, organized several volunteer work days, and put together the plan for signage. We thank all the volunteers we were able to wrangle into countless hours of hard work marking the trail and the Forest for getting the signs made.

It is now one of the most used trails in the area. It is heartwarming to see so many people enjoying the quiet winter landscape and using this trail.

We found friends enjoying a favorite snack spot and we joined them.

The temperature was dropping rapidly with the approach of another storm system. The Lady relies on muscle energy and metabolism of food for heat, not insulation - she cools down quickly and her body language is easy to read. Our breaks in the cold are short.

The powder was better as we carved turns on the downhill slopes. It was another wonderful day in the Sierra close to home.

The next weekend, although during a storm cycle, we skied both Saturday and Sunday. We also used the truck and camper so we could overnight. We invited our friends the Teds to join us with their camper. They have just purchased snowshoes and are getting out more and more into their nearby mountains. Other friends, such as the Barking Spiders, were also around for Saturday night. Ted knows just what to bring to make an evening very special.

The Lady & I do not consume alcohol so are unaccustomed to the language of hand gestures.  We believe the above meant either, "Look how steady my hand is!" or "You have to be at least this tall to drink a Pliney!"

It snowed around five inches overnight. The morning temperature was 25°. We knew the powder would be very special, a treat for us Sierra Nevada backcountry skiers. Breakfast was hurried, only to shove in fuel. We climbed a favorite knob as the storm continued. We met members of the backcountry ski patrol at the top with the same idea. They were pulling climbing skis, readying for the descent.

"Put that camera away!" the Lady said. "We have to ski!"

And ski we did, up and down multiple times, earning our turns in absolute bliss.

Snow! We have snow!


  1. Beautiful! The Sierra looks great in white, doesn't it?

  2. Such pictures! A treat to read and gaze at this chapter. Next precipitation is , perhaps, next Wed , Thurs, 2/17-18. J and I join you in hoping for a Good Solid Dumping of airy powder, grist for camera and blog. Look fwd to hearing about the coast!