Trip ReportA Winter Traverse of the California section of the PCT Part 6
I spent four days in Bishop regrouping and sitting out a major storm.
I give Herm back his la sportiva’s that I borrowed. He offers to let me have them, I consider it thinking I could throw them away in a bear proof trash can at the Onion Valley trailhead. It comes down to the fact that I don’t want to carry my ski boots. I pull on my Scarpa T4’s and Herm drops me off on 395. I walk a short distance to the edge of town and catch a ride to Independence.
I walk a mile towards Onion Valley and a kind soul takes me to snowline which is the housing development at Seven Pines. Grateful I put on skis for the long ski up the road. It is another nice day.
One of the greatest things about this trip is always watching the sun rise and move across the sky and finally set. Every day is stunningly beautiful at times. The climb up to the trail head takes the rest of the day. My pack is heavy again. I camp at the trailhead.
Another brisk morning finds me skinning up towards Kearsarge Pass. It is deep and sticky. It takes a long time but the climb gets easier as the snow gets wind funked the higher I get. I timidly climb the last slope to the top of the pass.
I try to do a big traverse but get funneled down to Bullfrog lake. It is early evening now. I climb up to a knob above Charlotte Lake for a camp to enjoy the last rays of sun.
What a beautiful day. Hot! I had good skinning all the way to the top of Glen Pass. The other side was a different story. A funky wind slab powder that had slid out in places. I carefully pick my way down to Rae Lakes and have a big drink. The drainage lower has had some big slides come down during the last storm. The debris comes all the way to the bottom of the drainage. Glad I was in Bishop for the storm.
Tricky skiing through tight timber leads to a camp on Woods Creek near the suspension bridge
Spending the night at the top of Pinchot Pass. What a day again. Crossed some severe avalanche terrain today. Two avalanches have crossed my route. The snow was perfect for travel today. The sun warmed it enough to get a good grip with just my fish scales. The wind kept it cool enough to keep it from getting gloppy. I put on skins for the last climb to the pass then tried to kick steps but the snow is still a little loose for that. Arrived at sunset and didn’t want to descend the other side in the dark.
So last night on Pinchot Pass 12,130 feet was a mistake! The wind howled incessantly all night and I mean incessantly. I was worried about the tent failing. At one point I thought about building a wall but didn’t want to waste the energy at 4 o’clock in the morning. The sun hit me early and it got toasty in the tent. It is a good drop to the South fork of the Kings River then the snow got funky in the trees. The meadows above were better. Warm at times and I got into a base layer until Upper Basin. The left side of Mather Pass had avalanched out recently. I skinned up the right side mainly to stay of the hard slide bed. The slope was in the shade and was starting to freeze back up so I felt good about it. The drop down the other side was a hard wind slab that was fast. Down lower I got a few turns in good snow to a camp between the Palisade lakes. The Golden staircase tomorrow
The skiing down to Deer Meadow was rough. It was an icy breakable crust that sucked. To tell you how bad it was I fell down twice. I have only fell down one other time since I started skiing three weeks ago. The slopes to the south had avalanched and it was full of debris chunks that had to be navigated.
I follow the trail up past the Leconte Ranger Station to an amazing little knob where I camp. It is a fantastic setting and I watch the peaks as the suns rays put on a dramatic show
It is a hot day and I make it to the top of Muir Pass without skins. It is deep on the other side and a long slog past Wanda Lake. I am a little cautious about skiing across lakes after swimming in one in the Wind River Range years ago. My skis are still in the bottom of that lake.
The slope down gets steeper above Sapphire Lake and I am able to pick up some speed to carry me across the flats towards Evolution Lake. I camp on the flats past Evolution Lake.
In the morning it is another tricky descent into Colby Meadow. The snow is really firm. I point my skis downhill enough to move but not so much to go racing out of control. I cross Evolution Creek on a snow bridge and follow the trail down to the San Joaquin with just enough snow to ski it. The warm days have taken a toll on the snow so I have to walk in a couple of spots after crossing Piute Creek. Water is flowing everywhere and I bivy on a flat spot.
The climb up Senger Creek has enough snow to ski and I make it to Selden Pass shortly. The north side has a few good powder turns between wind slabs. The drop into Bear Creek is kind of fun. I get on some big boulders that are pillowed drops. I get a renewed appreciation for the Telemark turn as it allows you to power through the crud. I camp a mile further at the Lake Italy junction.
I have multiple cups of coffee waiting for it to warm up. It is only 13 degrees but feels cold. The skiing up Volcanic Knob is good. I follow the trail seeing occasional blazes. The drop into Mono Creek is a mess. The undisturbed snow is ok but where the trees have dropped their loads off there are clumps of ice on old powder. Tricky
Feb 14th I have it up to 61 degrees in the tent this morning by burning the stove. I count my used food pouches and come up with ten. The last ten days have been spring like. Every day I have been in a base layer at some point in the day. Incredible for February
Clouds come in as I ski up to Silver Pass. I take the real pass instead of climbing higher like the trail does. I am now able to cut switchbacks without the guilt of being an erosion creator. The drop down to Fish Creek is good!
I find the bridge and see a note left from Sept 28th. I am sure it is garbage but I leave it taped to the bridge anyway. The climb up to Virginia Lake is steep and hard. I zigzag up being cautious about slipping backwards. The ski over to Purple Lake is good. I climb the hill for the traverse to Duck Creek. Last time I skied this I came in to low. I make sure to climb high enough and have a perfect route following blazes from the actual trail at times. I see ski tracks at Duck Creek that drop into the Fish Creek. One more traverse through open terrain demands attention then I get to the next gentle traverse an I camp again as darkness creeps close.
The morning is cold and it is a quick ski to the Red Cones. I cover several miles in a short time. I pass through the wind event that happened a few years ago. Everything is leveled. I find the pay phone but it isn’t working. I decide to come out at Minaret Summit as it is still early in the day. I ski around the edge of Sotcher Lake keeping close to the shore but there are snowmobile tracks across it.
There is another storm coming so I leave Mammoth the next day. I am hoping to get over Donohue Pass before it hits but it is not in the cards I have been dealt.
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