State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: XV

State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: XV

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State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: XV


Tahoe skiers and riders are absolutely killing it on the Eastside right now. We saw a brief window of fun surf at Sand Harbor this week, and the high elevation backcountry in Tahoe is still super fat. Life is good.

Our weather pattern over the past week remained unsettled, and we even got a few pasty inches of snow that set up some nice north facing almost powder skiing for a few days. As we look towards the next week it looks like high pressure is finally coming in and a legit California corn cycle is about take hold.

Down on the Eastside, if you haven’t taken notice yet of all the local Tahoe shredders getting after it, you should. In the past few weeks the greater Tahoe Tribe of backcountry skiers and riders have been slaying it from the Matterhorn in the north to Lone Pine Peak in the south. Middle Palisade, Mt. Sill, V-Notch, Mt. Humphrey’s, Peak 13,192, Dana Plateau-they’ve all seen some beautiful tracks from locals, and there’s no let up in sight over the coming weeks.

My crew and I took a gamble this past week and headed out for the notoriously grueling ascent of the Eastside giant Mt. Williamson. Our hope was to get on a line on the massive north face, although by the time we crested the summit plateau the forecasted weather system slated for arrival the next day was already on top of us. We got to peer down our intended objective to confirm that surprisingly it was not in, and even though the cold air and scattered snow showers were quite ominous as we skated across Mt. Williamson’s summit plateau we were still treated to almost 6k feet of smooth butter corn to slide down.

But the big thing with “Big Willy” is not always the skiing you get at the upper elevations; it’s more about the ridiculous bushwhacking one needs to negotiate at the base of this massive peak before gaining snowline.

Here’s what it looks like to start up Willy at dawn,

and some of the “fun” you get yourself into before you’re able to skin (yes, there is a skier in the middle of that Willow patch).

After several thousand feet of elevation gain (8100’ in total) you crest toward a huge ridge that yields some of the best views in the High Sierra. Notice the Mt. Whitney summit plateau in the background.

All was going smooth as can be on our tour until we noticed Whitney completely socked in. And then this happened to us,

so we picked our way back down a thousand feet or so,

and finally locked into some amazing corn skiing.

Jeff even found this really cool boulder to cross-train on signaling the rock-climbing season is getting closer and closer as we approach the month of May.

Back in Tahoe Monday saw a brief, but stellar window of surf at San Harbor,

while reports of good skiing from Donner Summit on down to Carson Pass filed in.

While I found some decent skiing around the Lake this past week the best tour I had was out to the peaks behind Rubicon and Jake’s that we all stare at every time we stand on top of either of these local classics. Peak 9310’ and 9056’ aren’t the bang for your effort that Ruby, Stony Ridge, Hidden, or Jake’s are, but they’re great peaks to get you off the beaten track and into the goods of Desolation Wilderness. You’ll probably have the greater zone to yourself if you do go out on this tour, and there’s a ton of interesting terrain to access as well as unique views to capture that will for surely remind you that if you’re willing to walk, there’s lifetimes of terrain to slide down right out your back door in Tahoe.

Dan and I approached this tour by heading up the shoulder of Rubicon,

skiing the backside down to the frozen lakes, heading up a mellow gulley, and skinning  the ridge that tops out on both Peak 9310’ and 9056’. We eyed some great terrain to come back to in the future while on this tour, beyond noticing how caked peaks like Dick’s and Price are looking for some potentially great turns later this May.

We also came across some of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen in the Tahoe Basin,

and got ourselves into a bit of a situation off Peak 9056’ when Dan dropped into the steep face late in the afternoon and was caught by a pretty powerful wet slide. Reports of all the good backcountry skiing in Tahoe this past week have also highlighted that many snow sliders have been ripping off some big ones so please take caution and remember that even though we’re not dealing with huge fresh dumps of new volatile snow, there’s always inherent danger when you head out into the backcountry. Your decisions on what and when you ski are crucial. Dan was fine after our incident, but it shook both of us as he did get carried for 300-400 feet past some nasty rocks that could’ve turned our day into an unwanted epic. Notice his 11’s coming out at the bottom of the slide debris.

Hopefully next week’s forecast is the beginning of the real weather we’re most used to in these parts during spring with warm temps during the day, and solid freezes at night. There’s no real sign of any disturbances coming through as of Saturday and on into the week, but keep a watchful eye out for rapidly warming slopes as temperatures might spike above 60 by Monday, which will undoubtedly bring an increase in the potential for large wet slide activity. Have fun going deep this week as the time to head off for longer tours is now. Of course if you’re game to rack up some bigger vertical you’re bound to run into other locals down south as Tahoe is just killing it all over the Eastern Sierra right now with quality north facing snow in protected locales, windboard in open stretches, and a forecast that looks prime for some great corn skiing to develop on sunnier aspects through the week.

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