At this stage in the game I feel pretty confident in my ability to find quality snow when it seems there’s none to be found. Even when Mother Nature, the supreme ruler, throws a curve ball (like this early season in the Sierra) some dedicated thought and research will usually illuminate some place that is worth a visit. Whether that place is near or far is always a question mark, but right now with schools on break and my remaining obligations capable of being performed from afar, the window was pretty open for another spit flow migration.
After a rare week long break from skiing, something I almost never do during the late fall-spring, it seemed opportune to use this time wisely and search out some fresh snow. The break was nice and felt warranted given the start to our season in the Sierra, and truth be told a little mountain biking with several days of surfing and exceptional music to welcome 2012 was joyous to say the least. However, it’s winter and it had to be snowing somewhere, thus the research began…
After a few hours the call was Baker. It had the best bet for pow and coverage, unless we threw down to make the trek even farther north into Canada. Jillian and I were not really that down for the jaunt, a trip we’ve both done a couple of times, since it’s so far and we didn’t have what we considered ample to time to make it work. Jackson sounded appealing, that is until a few friends touched based with what they called overall “scary as shit conditions in the local backcountry”. With a last minute call from a Nor Cal buddy who mentioned it had been precipitating in the Trinity Alps and Mt. Shasta all week, coupled with another check from a friend that Oregon backcountry conditions were fresh and smooth we headed north a few hours to Castle Lake where the shots that accompany this piece were taken.
Castle Lake is a regular backcountry hit for Mount Shasta area locals. The local guiding outfit offers trips to the zone coupled with missions to the obvious Cascade destinations of Lassen Peak and Mt. Shasta. It holds a primarily north facing aspect, has a wealth of adjacent opportunities for the backcountry snow slider, like trips into the Castle Crags Wilderness,
and lies on the eastern edge of the Klamath Mountains. Since my buddies beta seemed to point to potential powder conditions we figured we’d head to Castle Lake first, then perhaps venture back into an area we’ve both skied on several occasions, but have a tough time leaving Tahoe for-the Trinity Alps and surrounding wilderness areas. From there it’d be easy to bail to Oregon if that was the call.
The plan was set and we departed, but even before waking up at the trailhead for Castle Lake something seemed off. “Where’s all this new snow?” we both wondered. The half full moon shone bright, but didn’t seem to be reflecting off of anything all too white. When we woke up and starting getting gear together it became clear that either my buddy was too fogged in his coastal domain to be accurate, or he just had no real idea about what had been going on up here. Still, we scoped a nice skin route to the top and headed up.
It was a relatively short, but beautiful tour, and the surrounding vantage points were all beyond worthy. This is definitely a tour to come back for and great place to look for powder if you’re ever in the are with that objective on the mind. Mt. Mcloughlin to the northwest, Mt. Eddy and the Trinity Alps to the west and south. Castle Crags and Lassen to the south and southeast, and Mt. Shasta dead north. Simply Spectacular!
While the inspiration in terms of objectives ran wild, with the scenery so profound, the snow seemed completely lacking. Having spent quality time in the Trinity, Lassen, and Shasta areas it was clear something was indeed off. It turns out heavy winds combined with a recent warm event strengthened by rain had actually graced the area after whatever snow had been received.
Oh well, after gaping for a while there was nothing left to do but ski, so that’s just what we did.
The turns weren’t too shabby, although it was the softened slightly east aspects that skied the best beyond the mock winter snow at the top. It was more of a Juneuary corn descent since as soon as a turn was made back towards the north the crust was there in full force. But the smooth corn turns and views outweighed anything that could be viewed as bad. We were stoked and ready to move on.
However, back at the car we knew after looking at the west and south sides of Mt. Shasta, and across into the Trinity there was such a major lacking of snow we’d have to get creative. In fact, there was more snow up there in November when we made our first split flow migration. What that meant was any thoughts to get back into the dense, tricky, and luring terrain of the Salmon-Trinity-Klamath Mountains was unfortunately a wash. So I jumped back online and called my buddy about Oregon…
Oregon! That’s where the last report of something good had come from. We’ve skied throughout the state and had a few ideas of where to go and what other objectives we might be able to get into. That was the call, but I wanted one more glance at the weather to see if Crater Lake or Bend would be to better first stop of the tour. Snow level 8500 feet at Crater Lake?!? Seriously? Calls were made, more calculations were performed. It seemed the total of southern to mid Oregon was about to get a warm blast that would hurt any chances of getting to ski quality snow. “I guess we’re going to Hood” I thought. That is until their forecast said rain up to 9100 feet!
With the Sierra as thin as can be, Nor Cal rideable but similar, and Oregon about to get rain that high it was basically Washington or the Rockies. Thinking back to my friends Jackson report, the poor news I’ve recently heard from our boy Daryn in Utah, and not feeling the worth in other destinations I reluctantly started the trip back to Tahoe (with a detour towards Medicine Lake that basically gave us nothing but burned fuel and that killer sunset shot). The five hour drive went quickly as I just couldn’t believe there was no where worth it for us to post up for a bit. All I did was scheme for the duration of the drive. Baker was heavily on the mind. “Should we have just gone?” I kept wondering. I recalled missions of the past, living out of a Subaru Outback in rainy Glacier, two dogs, two people, lots of ski gear, a questionable USFS road, and feet upon feet of pow.
By the time we got home I was convinced that was the answer, until I saw this on our site. Rain to the top?!? What is going on with this winter? The sandbag started to settle in. It wasn’t that bad. I know it’s all about patience, we did get a few enjoyable turns in at Castle Lake, and there’s been several good days this season even with this (not so) crazy start to winter, but seriously, I thought this split flow crap would be gone by now? But it’s not. The call for now is keep trying to make whatever is possible work locally, and in the meantime figure out where there’s ample new snow (that isn’t overly saturated), backcountry conditions aren’t ridiculously dangerous, and head to where the split flow is just a plain old flow. Besides AK and Japan, I’m thinking…