It's that time of year when combo adventuring is coming into play, and right now's a great window to take advantage! Why not take a canoe ride into Desolation Wilderness to go for a ski? STATE OF THE TAHOE BACKCOUNTRY 2012: XI | Unofficial Networks






It’s that time of year already, it’s time to get creative. Maybe a bike ride through the gate up to Ebbett’s Pass, a dirt bike access mission on the Eastside, or a canoe ride ice-breaking trip through Echo Lakes en route to a Desolation Wilderness adventure. Adapting the Sierra combo formula to a “normal” mission is where it’s at right now, and if you’re one of those people still hoping to get out in the local backcountry for some snow sliding, the added fun of bringing a second activity into your ski day will help make the most of the rapidly receding snowline, and tap into the highest available fun factor.

It’s obvious that for a few weeks now, many people have straight given up on the season. While that’s fully understandable based on the light winter, copious amounts of recent sunshine, and top-notch summer activities like mountain biking and rock climbing that continue to come into play, fun snow-centered adventures remain available.  The snow is going fast, but there continues to be enough snow for some quality skiing and riding on Castle Peak,the Carson Pass area-especially Kirkwood, and Mt. Rose. Even Squaw is still holding pretty solid seen here from the Mt. Rose area.

There was actually a strong enough east wind this early week that north facing terrain was too firm to ski. Tom Day and I were touring in the area, with ambitions to head deeper into the greater Mt. Rose area, but we detracted based on these strong east wids. As you can see in the lead shot of this report there’s still some decent coverage on north aspects of the Rose area, and luckily we were still able to find some fun on east, south, and southeast aspects shown here by Tom, even with the east winds.

The higher elevation areas around Tahoe, including the ski resorts, are holding the best base and current coverage, while Desolation Wilderness continues to showcase great skiing found on its high north aspects. Speaking to the creative side of things, I always look forward to accessing some local skiing by improvised methods this time of year, and luckily Tom was game for an interesting outing into Desolation that ended up being one of the more fun local adventures I’ve had in recent memory.

With Desolation on the mind Tom and I decided to take a stab at accessing the area via Echo Lakes. Instead of hoofing it on dirt, which was the obvious way in, we decided to use the lake hoping it was melted out enough for a paddle. Initially the day seemed off from the start as there was just enough snow on the access road to warrant us to park and go scope further down the road, towards the lake, to see if we wanted to continue. After a walk to the lake, and several continued pushes near the Pacific Crest Trail, we determined the ice was a hazard, but should be passable enough for our mission.

In the morning, the lake was as still as glass,

so we loaded up our gear,

and shoved off. It wasn’t long before we encountered floating ice that had to be broken up with an oar before proceeding,

but we were soon able to bust through, and be on our way gliding amongst the serene landscape.

At the end of the first lake we popped out of the canoe for another scouting mission only to find the next waterway totally covered in ice. With no worries,  we buried our beers in snow, unloaded for the ski portion of the trip, and were able to skin right from the canoe.

A little bit later we found ourselves on the top of Mt. Ralston with a commanding view of Lake Tahoe, Desolation Wilderness, Lover’s Leap, Carson Pass and Kirkwood, and back towards our starting point. Here’s Tom checking out where we came from as we started discussing our best path back.

Part of the reason I mention the combo formula specifically for this time of year is you’re either already “over it”,   or since you’re reading this report you may still have some interest in local snow sliding. In that spirit adding something like say, a canoe ride to get into Desolation, makes the whole “slog” for backcountry ski turns that much more fun this time of year. In this case,  I almost forgot we had an amazing ski right in front of us. Here you can see the coverage on the Crystal Range and some of the accessible north side lines of Mt. Ralston.

Some of the terrain in between Ralston and Talking Mountain were looking prime as well.

After some nice leisure time chilling on the summit Tom dropped in on Ralston as fluidly as it could possibly be skied.

Our turns off the top were fabulous. I especially enjoyed these first few turns,

but the rest of the way down to Ralston Lake was just as good.

With a relatively easy traverse back to some cold  beers by the lake we kicked it in the sun for a bit before jumping back in the ship of fools. However, due to a moderate southwest wind, with reasonably stronger gusts, the ride home wasn’t as simple as we had anticipated. The ice had shifted due to the winds, and while there was some breaks to take advantage of,

ice-breaking was also a mandatory once again.

Still, this has to be  one of the more fun ways to get back into Desolation, especially when a perspective like this is gained after a solid effort of negotiating ice. Thanks to Tom for the high stoke on this long, unique day, and for sharing so many great photos.

I go into detail on this TR partially because of what a fun mission this was, and also for how this time of year the power of a combo day can really turn a backcountry ski day into something a bit radder. That said, I’m also understanding of where people’s mentalities are at right now in terms of breaking out summer toys and putting away the winter goods. So with that, even though Shasta is reportedly going off and people continue to seek out quality turns in places like Tioga Pass, this piece will mark another end of the season for the State of the Backcountry series. Of course I plan to continue to head out and harvest some fun locally as well as to the north and south, especially via snow, but looking ahead in the near-term I’ll plan to report more specifically  on conditions when it’s useful and appropriate.

Thanks as always to all of you who read these reports and help make our Sierra backcountry community as great as it is. It’s always a pleasure to be able to share stoke and conditions reports with you through the winter season, and I wish you all continued bliss along your next adventures on tap. Remember to be safe, stay aware of spring time avalanche concerns (last issued SAC report linked here), and have as much fun as you can with everyday, especially when your day involves skiing in the backcountry. Cheers to more great spring skiing and the summer solstice less than six weeks away!

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