Sunday, March 16, 2014

Carson Pass to Kirkwood Traverse. Epic or Epic Fail?

It took me until the very end of the day to realize that it was pretty damned good one.  For some of us, it was epic.  And it could have been for me too. But there were complications.  For starters, my go to touring rig had ran into issues the previous week, and with my Dukes on the way back to Marker, it was time to mount that second Dynafit onto my second Kusala.  Now, I had mounted the first one a bit off, but thanks to the huge heel adjustment, no extra holes were drilled.  Learning from my mistakes, the second one went on without a hitch.  That was the final full success in my planning of a super fun traverse Carson Pass to Kirkwood.  Now, this traverse can be done pretty easily, and you can even avoid doing any significant descents.  That was not our plan.  Our plan was to travel over eight miles, climb over four thousand feet and include three big face descents.  It was ambitious, but not ridiculous.

The Playground.  We were headed to the saddle in the middle of the picture between Round Top and the first Sister.

The second Sister has always been my favorite.  

The crew.  Buffy, Alex and Noah enjoying the traverse out to Winnemucca.  

She remains captivating even close up. 

My day started early.  It was March 7th.  My wife had to grumble to me at 3:30 AM that my alarm was going off.  Not an excellent start.  I try to sneak out of bed without waking the family.  Good things I had plans to meet Alex in Pleasanton, as I would surely need someone to do the majority of the driving in the state of mind I was in.  Turns out I was headed to Livermore.  Luckily he called to check in on the drive, otherwise we would have been in two parking lots several cities apart.  Not so great start number two.  Still, from here I thought I had it all under control.  We pulled into Kirkwood several hours later to pick up Buffy.  We would leave her car by the Tower Bar to get us back to the pass later in the day.  Noah was already at the trailhead when we arrived.  We all shuffled, packed and unpacked out bags, drank water, put on skins and we were on the trail around 8:40.  A later start than planned.  But not horrible.  We we on the way, and skin track was fast through the woods.

As you start to gain elevation on the northerly slope of Round Top, Lake Tahoe comes into view behind Red Lake Peak and Carson Pass.

The only super fun firm side hill on the approach has the group super excited.  The last twenty yards are the best.

Palisades Bowl at Kirkwood is just around the corner.

When you get right up into her face, she is still lovely.

But our goals lie on the other side of the ridge.  Buffy tests out the snow.  We are headed to Fourth of July Lake below.

Now the Kusalas are damn awesome skis.  I was on a pair last winter for four hours and they instinctively slayed the four inches on crust pow day.  Super grippy on the firm, but absolutely killed it in the drifts.  And they stomped so nicely.  But I was in alpine boots that day.  And they are a stiff ski that demands to be driven.  For this tour I was in an old pair of MegaRides.  Turns out (and I knew this) I don't love that boot.  For a number of reasons.  But more on that later.  I do love how they tour.  Comfy as hell.  Like a down booty.  The skin from Carson Pass to the shoulder of Round Top and the Sisters took us just under two hours.  It is a nice hike that starts in the shade of the trees, and then ascends up and across the north slope of Round Top offering alpine and lake views.  Hard to complain about that.  With the resent wet snows, enough coverage remained across the south side of the Sister such that we could easily skin or schuss across.  A rare treat indeed.  That put us atop Life on the Edge.  With late morning sun baking the slope, it was prime corn.  But we had something slightly different in mind.  I like to think of it as Beyond the Edge.  We worked our way south across the knife ridge into the next face.  Now this one faces a bit more northwesterly, as opposed to southwesterly.  It was not as creamy corned.

Our meeting location is a point about 200 feet below.  Mini AK Face is top center.  That will be lap two.

Noah enters.

Alex schusses.

Buffy follows my tracks.  I basically got right up to the looker's left edge and thought, uh-oh.  Then I think I may have cursed a bit as I side stepped back up.

She then easily slips into the main chute and finds turns to the valley below.

We all skied off the top, one at a time, and met back up at a point about 200 feet down.  From there, I skied the entire face, to set up for pictures from the across the valley.  Another thing about my new skis.  I never did a hard detune on the rockered tips.  Turns out that can cause some hooking.  Paired with a weak, soft boot, it made for some adventure and comedy as I began to make high speed, large radius turns down the face.  Funny thing is, the skis were working great.  I just could not quite stay on top of them.  As I descended though, the snow began to soften up, and my turns became more regular.  I was finding my rhythm just as I realized that I had gotten out onto a shelf I meant to avoid.  What is this?  Mistake number seven by now?  Anyway, I slowed, and  then stopped.  Edged left.  Edge right.  Yup.  Here I was on a forty degree roll over above an eighty foot cliff.  With no pow pow below.  Crap.  I shuffled backwards, and then side stepped upwards and them performed a very delicate kick turn, and found a sliver of snow rolling through the rocks into the chute below.  I yelled up for folks not to follow my tracks and to go left.  Then I slid into the chute.  Good times.  Once in the chute, it was easy street to the meeting location far below.

Noah apparently heard the word "left" when I called up, and went that way.  Entering the chute from the top.

Alex decides to spice things up a bit.

Slaying turns all the way through the apron.

After a good 300 foot vert boot pack out of the lake, we don skins.  You can't say it is not beautiful out here.

And the imagination always runs a little wild.

Buffy was up next.  She followed my tracks.  On a snowboard.  Luckily she sensed my error and made it into the chute using the same sliver of snow.  Tragedy avoided.  Noah was up next and made it far left and skied the chute from the top.  As did Alex.  Once rejoined, we continued down to the lake.  It was fun, soft, hippy corn, with plenty of small jibs to hit.  From there, we decided to boot pack out from Forth of July Lake.  We were climbing a south east face, and it was slippery and steep.  Hence the choice of boot packing.  While boot packing always sucks, it seemed like it was wiser than skinning until the slope mellowed and snow was not as wet.  It was here that the super comfy touring boot on my right foot transformed into the  heel crushing son of a bitch that it really is.  I think it was also here that I started to get too much sun exposure that would result in a dried up, beat up, skin flaking man that I became a few days later.  Anyway, wear a hat.  A big floppy one.  And re apply sunblock.  And drink a ton of water.  Or suffer the consequences.  So, anyway, we climbed.  I was beginning to feel like we should forgo what Alex calls Mini AK Face, and some others call Dodge City.  Regardless of what one wants to call it, it is a pretty sick face.  One, that once you see from a distance, you get stuck in your mind, and want to ride.  Conditions did not look perfect.  A dusting of snow atop rain crust and avy debris.  While the early march sun was hot, it was not quite warm enough or late enough in the year to get the north facing aspects to corn.  But we kept heading in that direction, knowing we might need to turn away for multiple reasons.

Some people pay good money to develop water spots.  I get mine for free.  Deadwood.

The crew rests, prepares and spots lines as I massage my heal, atop of Corrie Lochan

Looking back toward the line we had just skied.  Life on the Edge is the obvious large bowl starting looker's right in the pic.  Our line was above the big cliff well right of that.

Buffy slices the wintery buff and crust that was the shaded slope.

Noah drops the opposite sun lit wall.

In retrospect, I'm glad the group was ambitious.  Several of us had been eyeing this face for seasons.  My foot hurt.  If we continued, we would miss last lift and add an additional 400 feet of climbing to our tour.  The snow was neither corn nor powder.  Not very inspiring.  But we pushed up.  Once off the top of the bowl lookers right of the face we had a quick consult.  I was feeling tired, in pain with a pitched heal and not feeling like the descent would be awesome.  But I had wanted to ski this thing for some time.  Everyone else was learning toward continuing our ascent.  So, we pushed on.  At the peak, the views were great.  The faces across the creek are awesome.  Deadwood Cirque offered up its siren call.  We rested quickly.  I massaged my heel.  Folks scoped out there lines.  Buffy dropped, then Noah.  Both looked and sounded as if they enjoyed their run,  You could really only see their first few turns, as this face has a wild rollover a few hundred feet down.  Then Alex spent what felt like an eternity trying to strap in while balancing on a knife edge.  It was almost vertigo educing to watch him, as one false move forward or back would result in quite the tumble.  Finally he dropped, and schralphed the face.  I could here his hoots drifting up from far below.

Anf invokes his best Scot Schmidt.

Once in the bowl, the angle moderates before the rollover below.

Buffy and Noah wait in the valley far below.

Everyone always enjoys a good knife edge ridge.

Especially when on a snow board and trying to strap in while performing a circus balancing act.  

Next it was me.  Now, I really want to go back this face.  It is so much fun.  But I found it to be a bit challenging this day.  See, another thing I had forgotten to do was to purchase leashes for my bindings.  I had to remove the breaks when mounting, as they could not fit around my ski waist.  So, here I was at the top of a killer run with several thoughts on my mind.  First, how I did not feel confident in these boots and how my heel hurt.  Second, how I feared my binding mount would rip out, just because I did them myself instead of paying some stoned, but practiced, shop rat to do it instead.  And I feared my dynafiddle binding might just decided to pre release and send a ski sliding 1200 feet to the valley below, leaving me stranded one turn from the top.  Not the kind of thoughts you want to have atop a run a friend had nicknamed Mini AK Face.  But I dropped in, and successfully skied, if tentatively, to the bottom with no major fail.  Perhaps some major flail, though.  But now I just want to go back more than ever and rip it.


Buffy took the shade.  Noah took the sun.  Alex tows the line.

Looking almost creamy.

And this is where the slope really gets going.

It is nearly impossible not to enjoy the beauty of this place.

From there it was a relatively easy skin to Stove Pipe or Sally Alley, which is a popular run in the Kirkwood side-country.  We reached the top at 3:50 and could see lifts still loading inbounds.  Still, after this final face, we would still have a decent skate and traverse to get back to the resort.  No chance of getting there by 4:05 for last chair out.  Oh well, we all knew we wanted a little suffering in our lives, otherwise we would not be out there anyway.  We made out way down quickly, enjoying, at least for me, some of the best snow of the trip.  No pics, as we were late, tired, at at least for me, really enjoying the turns.  Late day corn was the order, and the Kusalas easily sliced through it.  With that ski, and that snow, it really did not matter what boot I was wearing.  Just stand tall, point and swivel.  All the way to Emigrant Lake and across.  From there, it is a short hike up to the usual traverse back in bounds.  Super easy on skis, and not horrible on a snow board.  We poked and looked at Temple from above, but the twenty foot to firm did not get any of us excited.  And we schussed down to the base of chair 3.  There we had a little conversation with the lifties, and after them telling us to mind the time, and asking where the hell we had been, they allowed us onto the chair, after our request.  So gracious of you folks.  Last lift of the day at 4:45.  I have to admit, it felt mighty good to be sitting on a lift.  At the top, we debriefed. with patrol, who also let us know we were super late.  After explaining we had been planning to skin out, they asked us about our day and the snow stability.  It is nice to talk with a pro.  From there it was a quick 800 foot vert ski down a beat to hell groomer to the car below.

Dodge City, Corrie Lochan, Mini Ak Face, Whathaveyou.  A good slope to explore.

I call these the Horseshoe Chutes.  Anyone know the real name?

Sometime the most inspiring trees are dead.

West Shore and vicinity is looking like it would be a blast.

Our line from the ridge down to Emigrant Lake.  This area offered the best steep corn snow of the trip.  

Soon after, we were all sitting up at the Pass again, out of our boots, and sipping on a cold IPA.  Well, semi cold.  We did not stash them in the snow bank in fear they would be stolen.  Apparently that is a thing at this trailhead.  Shame.  Anyway, it was about at this point, as the sun began to drop low on the horizon, that I realized my day was pretty damn epic.  Sure, I had had a whole series of issues.  Another one I would only figure out a day or two later is that I was also sick, coming down with something that I picked up while surfing a few days before.  But all that did not matter.  The fact that my skiing felt sub par did not matter.  The fact that I crimped my heel, got slightly dehydrated, got way too much sun exposure, got hung up above a no fall cliff, and more, did not matter.  The day had been epic.  I don't know if it was the fun of being out there with our group, or the periods of quite slog were you can get into your mind, or the working of all your muscles, or the conversations along the way, or just the fact that we scored last chair, but right then, in the parking lot atop Carson Pass, while kicking back with a nice adult beverage, it sure felt epic.  It was a good day.  Now I just want to go out for more.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

This winter begins in March.

Usually by this time of year, I have things dialed.  My gear.  My plans.  My expectations.  My packing.  Not this season.  It is only just starting.  The two to four feet of snow that fell in Tahoe this past week has not finally put us on the upper end of low tide.  What that means is that everything is either still real fun, or not yet going.  I just needed to get there.  When I left my home at 3:55 on Sunday, I felt that I had finally packed everything and had forgotten nothing.  Nothing important at least.  Then, ten minutes down the road I remember that I like to take pictures.  With my camera.  Which was at home.  Then, back at home, I could not find my fresh battery.  Knowing that I would really only be able to get a few pictures off, I headed back out the door.  I was making good time until I hit the caravan headed up to Kirkwood, near which, I would be meeting with some friends to go for a hike.  The resort had got skied out the day before, so there was no point waiting in line to ski bumps.  I mean, who does that?  Apparently 2700 cars worth of people do that.   Power to them.  But we were in search of something else.  Namely, fresh tracks and small hits.  We found just that.

Wanna go ski Kirkwood?   These people do.  

Tried to look back toward the resort to see how crowded it was, but we could not see past Notch Rock.

So Bob decided to give the skiing a try.

I met up with Alex, Colin and Bob around 8:45.  After a bit of gear talk, adjustments, and car shuttling, we were on the trailhead. performing a beacon check.  The snow did not feel blower.  In fact, it felt rather dense.  As we headed up, things began to get a bit lighter.  It felt pretty good in the trees, but out on the open face, things were a bit wind blown, with small soft slabs forming.  But were had plans to head to were we could find a few steeper pitches tucked into more moderate terrain.  At the top, during our switch over we discuss the day's conditions and made plans for our descent.  Felt good being with folks who take the snow seriously.  SAC had called the danger for the day moderate, but there still existed chances for an avalanche stepping deeper down.  No one wanted that.

Turns out, the snow was pretty good.

Colin enjoying himself, even though that pretty good snow, was also heavy, and could stop you in your tracks at times.

Alex getting himself up and over this little jib.

The upper slope is a bit more exposed, so a line through the trees held the best snow and offered the safest option.  The face, though, still skied well, even if it had a bit of a wind crust.  Once down toward tree line, it was basically jib city, with some moderate features, and plenty of small ones to jump around on.  This area is a series of three benches.  The first one is fairly small, and in a few more storms, will be just a roll over.  The second is a bit bigger, and grows to huge the further left you go.  The third ranges a from fun bowl, to a cliff band ranging between twenty to forty or more feet.  In between, it is low angle tree skiing loaded with small hits.  In short, good fun.  We enjoyed our selves, so took a second lap.

Once down in the trees, the skiing was quite fun.

Alex follows and tries playing "Touch the Nipple"

The climb takes just under an hour.  It is not a whole lot of vert.  On a good day, you can easily pull off four, or even five laps.  A group of four could ski five laps and slowly work there way around the hill, never crossing a track.  But we did just two.  Some had to get going and take care of life.  I just seemed to break my climbing bar.  It took a three people, a rope and a file to jam it back in place with out actually busting the binding.  We got it into ski mode, but putting it back in climbing mode just was not an option.  So I headed inbounds with Alex for a few laps.

And then finds a nice stump to launch off of.

Colin thought it looked like fun, so follows suit.

Here is a lower mountain wall slash.  Can you tell it was getting pretty think down low?

All in all it was a good day.  What struck me as odd were the number of cars piling into Kirkwood Valley.  At about 10AM, we could see a line of vehicles backed up to the Kirkwood Inn on 88.  I think they eventually parked cars over there.  Now, it was not a powder day.  That was Saturday.  It was not sunny.  In fact, it was blustery.  And chilly.  And precipitating.  It was snow, but juts barely.  I have never seen that many people at Kirkwood before on such a day, and I have been going to that place for well over a decade.  Good for them, but I am sure glad I was not waiting in line to sit on a slow cold life to skied hard packed bumps.  I was enjoying a hike with some friends, having conversations and jumping off rocks and landing in deep, soft snow.  Sure, I went inbounds at the end of the day, but by then, there were no lines.  Just four ski onto the lift laps.  Three of them through the fingers.  Which are a go for the season.  Get up there and have some fun.  Next Saturday looks sunny to boot.

So, the camera battery never lasted past the first lap, so there are limited pics.  When I walked in the door at home at 10PM that night, I found the battery within five seconds.  Right were it should have been.  Right were I did not look in my early morning haze.  Went to bed feeling pretty bummed about that.  Turns out, that battery was already dead.  So, no harm no foul.  Sort of.