Evolution: Skate Ski Alpinism (TR)


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Truckee, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - May 15, 2009 - 01:37pm PT
Sitting at the kitchen table one day later raw is how I feel, like I rubbed my whole being hard up against the earth, scraping away layers, physical and deeper. Eyes, brain and skin absorbed a little too much sun, muscles drained, soul still tired. Left with the rare feeling of wanting to stay indoors for a day to regroup, recover and reflect…

4:00am Wednesday May 15th. With a nice bit of late moon I am trotting up the closed road to North Lake, through the campground easily finding the trail to Lamarck Lakes. Patchy snow and some footprints lead me up the hill, I’m off to a good start. Dawn and a beautiful place,

walking the rocky ridge between the upper lake and the correct drainage leading up, way, way up, to Lamarck Col. I herringbone the steep sections, skate the lower angle ones, perfect smooth corn.

7:30am Walking the final steep pitch to the col, I reach it, 4,000ft of up, a good mornings work.

I am traveling light, Fischer Revolution Skate skis (147cm) Salomon carbon skate boots, Swix alu team poles, ice axe, Salomon gore-tex hiking shoes, day pack with water, food, down coat, clothes I’m wearing, headlamp, camera.

Light is the whole point, I think of it as a math equation, seeking for the ultimate optimization of fitness +skill + psyche, with just the right amount of food and equipment, needed to traverse the maximum distance of mountain terrain effectively. I figure I can survive a night out if equipment or body failure slow me down.

Add more weight, I would need wider skis to handle it, slowing down, I would need more food to stay out longer, spiraling down to a “normal” trip of 4 days. Carry less, I would be stupid.

Best words I can think of to express this ethic come from my soul mentor,
Doug Robinson,
“Technology is imposed on the land, but technique means conforming to the landscape. They work in opposite directions, one forcing passage while the other discovers it. The goal of developing technique is to conform to the most improbable landscape by means of the greatest degree of skill and boldness supported by the least equipment."

Though I am one of the pioneers of this particular style of back country skating, have to shout out to two other pioneers, fellow racers and visionaries, Mark Nadell and Jeff Schloss who did this same same skate over 10 years ago along with many other big routes, and provided me with the inspiration and loaned equipment to do it now.

On with the journey, slapped with the big views of Mt. Mendal and Darwin,

I put the skis on and step out to make some turns. The snow is bullet proof perforated crust, bone jarring roughness as I skid first one way, stemming jump kind of turn, and skid the other, terrible skiing really, mitigated by the glorious views in stunning morning light. ¾ of the way down the snow smooths and the turns get fun.

Down into the bottom of Darwin Canyon, linking frozen lakes, this is where the skate gear really shines, man flies over snow…

Turning the corner, I stay high on the Darwin Bench, ending up well above Evolution Lake, threading snow and talus, the carbon skate boots are not so great for walking on rock, I switch shoes and climb down a ways, till back on the snow I swoop down onto and across this gorgeous lake.

View of Mt. Huxley is stunning, what a fine looking peak, I can’t wait to come back for the ridge traverse that Croft raves about.

On up the valley, looking across to Mt. Goddard, the dominant peak of the area, across Saphire Lake, then a rest stop to refill on water at the now open creek/river pouring out of Lake Wanda.

I feel like a little guy all alone in a very big place…time for another inspirational quote, this one from Clarence King:

“As often as one camps at twelve thousand feet in the Sierra, the charm of crystally pure air, these cold, sparkling, gem-like tints of rock and alpine lake, the fiery bronze of foliage, and luminous though deep-toned sky, combine to produce an intellectual and even a spiritual elevation. Deep and stirring feelings come naturally, the present falls back into its true relation, one’s wearying identity shrinks from the broad, open foreground of the vision, and a calmness born of reverent reflections encompasses the soul.”

Skating on, I get to Wanda Lake and stop at an incredible set of tracks, look like a bear, but hard to believe one would be strolling way the heck out here. (Regret that I didn’t pull the camera out for these). Snow is softening, but still good glide, some of it has this quality of being topped by glass that makes a cool sound as the little plates slither away after being cut by my skis, I head up past the next lake, and can see the pyramid shape of the stone hut at Muir Pass at the top of the hill.

Suddenly movement, and a guy is heading toward me making nice turns! He stops, name is Alvin, a cool older gentleman, out on a ten-day solo, base camping and skiing as many peaks as he can. We admire each others outfits, opposite ends of the gear and weight spectrum.

He tells of skiing Mt. Goddard, a grand objective and just one of the many peaks that have felt his edges this week. I am totally digging my one-day jaunt, but would love to come back, hang out and ski the peaks like he has. We say farewell and ski off in opposite directions, he like an adventurous turtle with his home on his back, and me like a hare, with a long way still to bound toward home.

Coming up to the hut at the pass, more people, party of 4 doing the same loop as I in opposite direction and out for a week. They are bemused by my setup. “Are you training for some kind of race?” one asks, “No, I raced all winter to train for this day!” I reply. I sit with them and have my lunch, devouring a full package of smoked salmon, they insist that I take a slug off their bottle of port to wash it down. They give me some good beta for the end game linking the lakes below Echo Col, and I am off.

Perfect corn skiing off Muir Pass to Helen Lake, making nice tele turns. Over the next drop off, my caution meter goes red, and I stop to course correct and avoid a cornice, a chuck of which I see looking back, has collapsed and slid down. The low point perched on the edge of LeConte Canyon, and then up the final climb. Now I am a bit tired, I take another rest stop, taking in the views of the awesome Black Giant, then start hiking up the slope.

I count 100 steps then pause catch breath, and continue. This counting keeps me on track and the slope is over soon. Finally the last 40 feet on rock to the Col. Beaming as I realize this is the last uphill of my day! Though wide-awake knowing how much skiing I still have to do.

Top of the Col, and only 10 feet of downclimbing before putting on skis.

The slope is very soft, and I am very cautious, bad place and situation to set off a wet slide. I traverse and kick turn a few times till trying out my jumping stem turn, which works great, whoppeee! I am skiing down this steep col with my little skaters!

my proud survival tracks.

On down to Echo Lake and the lakes below, thick wet snow on the downhills, but still fun to ski. I get very cautious about skiing across the lakes, starting to sink into water pockets occasionally.

I think this wild looking peak is a spur off of Mt. Wallace.

At Topsy Turvey Lake, I follow the beta gained over lunch, and head up and over the ridge to the east finding a good line down to Emerald Lake. Now it gets hard, soggy deep snow, interspersed with open wetland.

I thread my way to Blue Lake and find the tracks of the party from two days before. I get on another big patch, back on skis and work my way down, till it becomes too much of a thrash to keep skiing. Realizing I am off the route of the trail, but not caring too much I thrash on through very rough terrain, steep gullies filled with deep wet collapsing snow, my shins get barked repeatedly as I poke through into talus.

This sucks, but I am so high from my day, that I am aglow even as I am truly thrashing. Trying to follow the grain of the land and becoming adversed to the soft slushy treacherous stuff, I follow the rock ridges down and left preferring to down climb on dry rock than to wade. I realize I am way off the trail.

Finally I say fuuck it and just head straight down to the far south edge of Lake Sabrina, enjoying an off-width downclimb after tossing my poles down. Now I am trying to walk the bathtub ring around the lake, sand and loose rocks a few of which I surf after dislodging them. This won’t work, and I can’t handle such an inglorious end to such a fine adventure. I give it up, and thrutch straight up through the willows a few hundred meters until I hit the real trail, an easy mile takes me past the dam, onto the road, and back to my car.

Whew! What a day…15 hours, apx. 34 miles, lots of elevation gained, a loop through the heart of the high sierra, ready...for...rest...now...



Trad climber
May 15, 2009 - 01:54pm PT
awesome, great tr.
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
the greasewood ghetto
May 15, 2009 - 01:59pm PT
Excellent adventure . Thanks for sharing it .

right here, right now
May 15, 2009 - 02:01pm PT
A busy busy day out!
I didn't hear any mention of climbing skins?
That Black Giant really is quite something to look at ...

Trad climber
May 15, 2009 - 02:03pm PT
What an adventure. Good style.

Truckee, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 15, 2009 - 02:04pm PT
No skins, the kick is in the edge! All skating except two sections of straight uphill stepping.

Inner City

Trad climber
East Bay
May 15, 2009 - 02:12pm PT
Great report Peter, I enjoyed every bit of it. Thanks!

Trad climber
May 15, 2009 - 02:17pm PT
Respect! Way to go light and fast.
Juan Maderita

Trad climber
San Diego, CA
May 15, 2009 - 02:42pm PT
Wow, great TR. I did the same trip, but in reverse, back in 1973 or '74. Took most of a week...
Double D

May 15, 2009 - 02:48pm PT
Dang hardcore Peter. I did almost the same trip but reversed way BITD but, I may add, took 5 days on it.

Yer a cat o many lives I tell ya!


Boulder climber
Salt Lake, UT
May 15, 2009 - 03:30pm PT
Impressive trip and great TR.

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
May 15, 2009 - 03:44pm PT
That looks super fun!!!

That's why I bought my cross country skis, for sh#t like that. Now I just need to use 'em!


Social climber
Berkeley, CA
May 15, 2009 - 04:46pm PT
most excellent!
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
May 15, 2009 - 05:27pm PT
Awesome trip.

I think I'd like to go like that old guy, Goddard? Who skis that? Way cool.

The terrain around south lake is tricky to ski once you are off the trail, down to the lake or up to the trail? The usual debate.

I find that there are a few long open snow areas that take you where you don't want to go, but you follow them anyway because they seem fun and fast in the short term.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
May 15, 2009 - 05:28pm PT
34 miles?! You've got to be kidding!
Unbelievable feat of mountain savvy and fitness.
Thanks for sharing it.



Truckee, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 15, 2009 - 08:42pm PT
Thanks you all,


May 15, 2009 - 08:50pm PT
Best TR in a long time.
Beauty and style.

Social climber
WA, NC, Idaho Falls
May 15, 2009 - 08:58pm PT
Most I've done in a day on skis was 'prolly 16 miles and that kicked my rump!

You rock Peter!

Trad climber
Sacramento, CA
May 15, 2009 - 09:03pm PT
Just fantastic.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 15, 2009 - 09:04pm PT
So cool, Peter!

There is a peak near Vail Pass, whose name escapes me at the moment. I first skinned up and teled down it, I think it's a thirteener, It's a popular tour; they drag people commercially up there to run down on ortho gear and snowboards. I used to do it a few times a season .

One time, late in the year, when the temp was like 65º and the crust on the ten foot deep snow was like baked meringue, it occurred to me that one could skate it. The next year I talked with an advenurer who did just that, all the time! There was no looking back! I always went up there, when the conditions favored that approach.

Skate ski, distance alpinism; what a cool kind of adventure!

Sometimes, I almost, miss, Vail........
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