This is the last formal “State of the Backcountry” report for the 2012-2013 season. The first day of summer is this upcoming Friday, June 21st, and if you feel like sliding down some snow there are still a few places in the Sierra worth checking out. In the above photo you’ll see Round Top and Sister #1 off Carson Pass. It’s no surprise that the coverage is going fast, but what you see here will hold on in thin panels and patches through summer. The snow up high is surprisingly smooth.
If you head down that way it might make sense to go a little deeper towards Ebbett’s Pass and check out Folger’s Peak. Most of Ebbett’s has been done for a while, but access via Highland Lakes Road will bring you out towards Folger’s and some more smooth snow. The hike is currently on dirt for a little bit before breaking climber’s left and heading up to the peak proper. The three prominent chutes off the top are holding smooth snow and worth the effort if you’re feeling it.
While Carson Pass and Folger’s are pretty easy day missions from most locales in Tahoe-even better when teamed up with some climbing, mountain biking, swimming or another couple of your favorite summer time activities-heading down to Saddlebag Lake is where you’ll find some of the best snow in California right now besides Mt. Shasta. From the trailhead/lake parking lot you can either hike the trail towards Mt. Conness and/or North Peak, mountain bike the loop, or chose the service of a boat taxi. The later knocks a few miles off the approach and is always a novel way to start this classic late spring/early summer ski mission.
Unless you brought your fishing pole, which you should if you fish as people were slaying trout when we were up there on Monday the 17th, jump off the boat and have at it. Both Mt. Coness and North Peak are holding amazing quality summer snow even though we’ve had such little precipitation in 2013. At first glance, as beautiful as it is down there, you might be thinking you should really be fishing or just hiking, not skiing.
But a little ways in towards Mt. Conness and the panels that are still prime start to appear. They’re not too long, but they’re super smooth. Either peel off early to ski around the Greenstone Lakes area, or keep heading up towards Conness proper for a solid start. Of course you can go right for North Peak, but passing on the quality found around the Conness area right now is not advised. After a nice climb that’s just as easy to boot as it is skin, take in your surroundings and think about what route you might want to climb in Tuolumne tomorrow.
Toby Schwindt and I were the only two people skiing back in the zone on the 17th, but we sure weren’t the only ones playing on Mt. Conness. Several climbing parties were heard while we were lapping the “Y Couloir”, and if you look closely where the ridge starts getting vertical in the following shot you’ll see a belayer ready to charge the classic North Ridge (5.6 II).
The skiing around Mt. Conness, including the glacier and the “Y Couloir”, is about as good as one could possibly ask for at present given the time of year. Both branches of the “Y Couloir” were perfectly smooth. Not just kind of smooth, perfectly smooth. Here’s Toby booting up,
and enjoying his reward on lap one.
Lap two was just as good. Here’s a shot Toby took of me,
and another one of Toby, as stoked as a couloir fiend can be for almost summer in the Sierra.
Over towards the Conness Glacier the snow continued to hold its smooth factor where there was a good pitch to ski, although the sun cups are out in full force on the flats.
After skiing as much as you’d like on the Conness side there’s still the classic steeps of North Peak to be had. Climbing up from Conness the route is a mix of loose gravel and snow right now. It’s not very difficult to get up there, and the extra effort really makes this mission stand out. The walls in the skier’s right couloir are some of my favorite on the Eastside. It’s even better when the snow in the couloir is just edgeable enough to lay the dependable, steep turns this line calls for. If you decide to drop this one be weary that the rocks are starting poke out at the choke. Here, Toby has a blast sending.
If you do head south for a Saddlebag Lake mission this late season and plan on skiing North Peak make sure you have your exit strategy dialed. If you hike in from the backside after skiing Mt. Conness it’s very tricky to find your way to the bottom. There’s some route finding and downclimbing involved to get out. If you’ve done this tour before you know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t it’s best to either go with someone that knows or come in from the front so you can scout access safely. No matter how many times you’ve done it, the downclimbing on the out is always a spicy way to end the mission.
After an amazing start to the season, things got challenging in late January. A few blasts in March and April, and I certainly know why many gave up on winter so early this year. That said, there’s always some snow out in the backcountry to shred, and more often than not it’s about adapting to the conditions more than anything else. That’s why we’re in the backcountry, right? We have no control of what’s out there, you never know until you go, and it’s usually better than you think.
Thanks for checking out another year of “State of the Backcountry”. It would not have happened without the support of Alpenglow Sports this season (The Mountain Festival starts this Saturday, see details below). A big THANKS to them and also to Unofficial Networks for continuing to provide the outlet for these reports. It’s perpetually an honor to provide this resource to our amazing Tahoe community. Along with cornerstone groups like the Sierra Avalanche Center we have one of the best communities of backcountry skiers and riders on the planet. Being safe, growing in education and keeping the stoke going in paramount. No matter what you find yourself getting into this summer be safe and take advantage of each magical day in the Sierra. Everyday holds the potential to be the raddest adventure of your life. I look forward to seeing you on a skin track in October (hopefully)! Have fun out there!
“State of the Backcountry” is sponsored by Alpenglow Sports. Established in 1979, Alpenglow Sports is Tahoe City’s original mountain shop. Specializing in backcountry and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, trail running, backpacking, hiking, camping, and the mountain lifestyle apparel, Alpenglow is always psyched to offer premier user-based customer service.
Alpenglow Sports is thrilled to announce their inaugural Mountain Festival from June 22 – 30, 2013.
This nine+-day festival will celebrate the natural beauty of Lake Tahoe and its majestic surroundings with fun, inclusive events like hiking, running, climbing, nature walking, and yoga, as well as demos and interesting educational presentations from industry leaders, athletes, and local heroes. Hopefully you can make it to as many of the events as possible. Stop by the shop or give them a call with any questions-530.583.6917. It’s going to be a blast!
You can check into more regular “State of the Backcountry” conditions reports through its Facebook page linked here.
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Previous “State of the Backcountry” Reports from the 2012-2013 season: