Over the last few weeks, winter has finally arrived in Southern California. This Friday afternoon, I packed up my car, picked up my friend Brett, and headed north for my first trip of the year to Sequoia National Park. We arrived at our friends' Chris and John's house in Three Rivers 6.5 hours after leaving San Diego (gotta love LA traffic!).
We set out from the Wolverton parking lot (7200') at Sequoia around 7:30. We initially started on the Panther Gap trail before taking a left and heading up the Pear Lake trail, which took us up to the "Hump". (9200') The trail is marked with Yellow Reflective Squares on the trees. However, they are spaced very far apart. If there isn't already a skin track in place, the best recommendation I can give is to aim to stay on top of the ridge as it climbs up.
From the hump, we left our skins on and descended a few hundred vertical feet to get to Heather Lake. After crossing Heather Lake (watch out later in the season...my buddy Carl broke through the ice 2 seasons ago), you climb a few hundred feet to the base of the ridge on the other side of the lake. This is the base of the run we call the Soccer Fields. They're called the soccer fields, because the top looks like 2 soccer fields that were placed end on end at a 20-25 degree pitch.
We broke trail and after another hour (4h20min after leaving the parking lot), we were up at the top (10,100').
View From the Top of the Hump
John, Steve, and I made it up to the top before all of the others. We were surprised when we saw how far back Brett had fallen. When he got a little closer, we saw him clutching a single pole with both hands to help him on the skin up. It turned out that one of his 10 year old Life Link carbon fiber poles had snapped when he used it knock snow off his boot. Since backcountry skiers have to adapt and overcome, that's what we did. Using duct tape and a piece of a tree branch, we built a splint to hold the two pieces of his pole together. The pole was a few inches shorter, but it held up for two laps and the skin out.
The top of the soccer fields is a wide open 20-25 degree slope. Because of its northern exposure, the snow had stayed dry despite the warm temperatures (45F in the sun) and we got in some fabulous turns. After about 550 vertical feet, the wide open slope gives way to a fun 350 vertical ft mix of rocks and trees. Overall, we were skiing on 8-12" of soft, relatively dry fluff.
On the second skin up, I started cursing myself for the steep skin track I had laid. Apparently, my thin straight skins had better traction in the fresh snow when I was breaking trail than in the slicked beaten-down skin track when we were heading up the second time. Once again, I seemed to be moving back 1 ft for ever 2 ft I went forwards, was cursing Jim (from Norpine) and was thoroughly frustrated.
The second run was also great. This time we went a bit further to skier's right when going through the rocky section. Towards the bottom, John skied past us over what he thought was a rollover. It ended up being a 20 ft cliff. John, being the great skier that he is, took the surprise with ease and landed it beautifully. So then, after a bit of goading, I decided to huck myself off of it too. John said the landing was super soft and that the conditions were ideal. Still I had never really jumped anything bigger than 10' before. So I was very nervous and I thought about it a little too much. I didn't chicken out. However, I also didn't approach it with the right attitude. Even though I decided to jump, I was hesitant about it. I took one turn too many, killed too much speed, got leaning back too far and the result was a complete yard sale. I ended up being fine and I'm glad I did it. But in the future I really need to approach it with an attitude of success. Attitude really is everything!
At this point we decided to head home for the day. Once we got to the hump, instead of following the skin track back, we went to skier's right along the ridge and skied down a beautiful, north facing, 25-30 degree meadow with a sprinkling of sequoias. Due to the lower elevation, the snow was much heavier than the Soccer Fields. But with a little speed it was very skiable and a lot of fun. It would definitely be a great place to come back to after a fresh snowfall. Once we made it to the end of the meadow, we traversed to skier's left until we made our way back around the ridge to the Pear Lake Trail. After a fun luge run, we found ourselves back at the parking with a cold 12 pack of beer waiting for us. All in all, it was another great day in the backcountry.
Labels: Adventure Report, Backcountry Skiing