It was a special invitation. That's the way the Lady and I felt about it. Our friend, Ted, aka Mr. Randonee, wanted to ski with us; just the three of us, a close, low-key day together in the mountains we love.
He was at our house before seven Sunday morning. We piled gear into his rig and we were on our way. It had been a rainy weekend with high snow levels. We all are comfortable in any kind of mountain weather. It's the road conditions that concern us. In the vehicle is always the dangerous part of the trip. But, the winter season in the mountains is drawing to a close and traffic to the resorts and snow play areas is a mere trickle of the earlier hordes. Thank god for Spring, a great time for back country skiing!
Boots were on our feet and climbing skins on our skis. Packs were ready and avalanche beacons on. We were ready to leave the trailhead at Carson Pass on the edge of the Mokelumne Wilderness.
(note - my photos used on the above linked webpage)
The Lady and her buddy, Ted.
"Let me take a photo of you two." I handed Ted the camera. He looked through the viewfinder. He moved to a different position. "It's about time," he said, "When we take pictures here, that we put something else in the background other than the outhouse."
Carson Pass elevation is 8574 feet.
The weather forecast was for a continuing chance of snow showers. The area was predicted to receive between 2 to 4 inches of snow Saturday and Saturday night. Instead there was a foot of new wet powder. The temperature was 33° with no wind. It was hot. We started out with just our base layer tops and our pants side zips open for venting. It was overcast with low clouds and fog.
It was a muted, almost black and white day until a splash of color appeared. The Lady is leading us up the open slopes to Winnemucca Lake.
Round Top Peak briefly came into view above us.
We took a short break along Winnemucca Lake.
The Lady watched the progress of three men on AT gear climbing the north slopes of Round Top ahead of us.
Their tracks indicated they had come up from the Woods Lake area.
Mountain Hemlock is my favorite high elevation tree. It is not hard to tell the direction of the predominate storm winds up here.
This is our favorite area for backcountry skiing. That Ted would suggest we come here was a perfect idea.
The cloud enshrouded summit of Round Top.
Most of the high peaks in this area, like Round Top, are remnants of ancient volcanoes that sent layers of lava down slope, covering the classic Sierra granite.
After our break, we climbed. Here's a look back at Winnemucca Lake below and our route up. The sky was very dark to the east.
The Lady and Ted hit the crest of the ridge overlooking Round Top Lake.
The steep slopes of The Sisters, above Round Top Lake, were covered with point release wet snow avalanches.
We skied down, feeling out our ability to turn in this heavy sierra cement. Turns actually came pretty easily. We climbed a small point to our north and took another break. The weather was mixed. It would either lightly snow or we would be in wet mist from the fog. We were at 9500 feet and in the realm of Whitebark Pines.
We plotted our route down. We would descend the ridge line to the west of Woods Lake and work the puzzle of stair step drops while avoiding the cliffs. It was challenging but so much fun. On one slope I buried a tip and then crossed my skis in the fall. The snow instantly sintered.
It was a struggle I did not want to repeat. The Lady helped release my binding. I wrestled out of my pack. The ski was completely buried. We dug it out of the concrete.
This really was fun! We continued skiing down drop after drop and rounded a corner to look at the next slope. It was over 40° and suspect. Today's avalanche forecast from the Sierra Avalanche Center was moderate for all aspects and elevations.
When traveling in the heart of avalanche terrain, it is good to never let your guard down. Ted did a fast ski cut across to an island of safety to test stability. The slope released behind him, a wet slab avalanche about 10 feet wide that ran 30 feet.
We continued our safety routine of avoiding the steepest slopes, skiing one at a time, watching one another, and stopping only in safe places.
Our next obstacle was finding a snow bridge across a creek. Running water was visible in open holes 8 to 10 feet deep. Ted zipped across a snow bridge below and announced it had passed the "ted weight" test. We followed one at a time right in his tracks. We had successfully worked the puzzle. One drop remained to be skied to reach Woods Lake. I pulled out the camera at the bottom and took a shot of our last turns, deep furrows in the snow.
We stopped for a break at Woods Lake.
The Lady was a happy girl. "This is the kind of skiing I love!" she exclaimed.
We skied up to Carson Pass completing one of our favorite circle routes.
Highway 88 at Carson Pass is the highest road in the area open in the winter. It is often closed while CalTrans uses avalanche control measures during storms.
We checked on rescue gear stored in the building and on our signage for the ski and snowshoe trails we helped develop at Carson Pass.
After so many drought years, it is so good to see a normal snowpack.
Driving home we encountered a wall of storm and rain as we dropped into Hope Valley. We were heading home at just the right time.
It had been a very special day skiing the backcountry with our friend. Thanks Mr. Randonee!
Here is an excellent short video on avalanche safety - Know Before You Go.