Date: Saturday, March 8, 2014
Locations: Sierra Crest, North Lake Tahoe Basin
Skiers: Colin & Nick
Photos: Colin & Nick (as noted)
Synopsis: Armed with high-pressure, clear skies, a decent re-freeze the prior night and a light, Southwesterly wind, Colin and I decided to head out last Saturday for the classic Sierra Crest tour from Sugar Bowl to Squaw in the North Lake Tahoe Basin. I don’t think I am surprising anyone in saying that this season has been pretty bleak in Tahoe for snow accumulation, and I think a lot of the pictures below will show how thin the sun-exposed aspects are right now. Still, it felt great to get out on a longer tour and get some exercise. I particularly like these “meadow skipping” type tours where you cover longer distances to see a lot of terrain. I particularly like multi-day tours in the Eastern Sierra in the Spring, but this season (like last season) is looking like May will be more devoted to High Sierra climbing.
Warning – there are not a ton of action ski shots in a tour like this, but figured I have not posted a TR in a while so why not.
For most of the route, you are pretty much right along the Sierra Crest. It is around 11-12 miles from Sugar Bowl to Squaw. There are a myriad of ski descents along the way if conditions warrant and you want to drop down off the Crest and skin back up. There are also two Sierra Club Huts in the vicinity en route (Bradley and Benson), and some folks turn this into an overnight. Colin and I were not trying to set any records, but also had quick conditions for skinning and didn’t veer of the Crest too much so we finished it in around 6 hours.
Looking out from the gates on Mt. Lincoln at Sugar Bowl, out towards Anderson Peak in the distance. Photo: Nick
Basically the entire day was frozen North aspects, and South aspects frozen in the morning and then turning to nice corn snow as the day warmed. Fortunately, the Southwesterly winds kept it from getting too gloppy for some descents later in the day on the South face of Tinkers Knob.
Colin in some variable conditions in the morning. Photo: Nick
Sometimes folks boot-pack up the North Face of Anderson Peak and ski it (or ski down the opposite side in bigger snow years). It was obvious the entire North Face was frozen solid, so we just planned on following the Pacific Crest Trail by skinning around the North and West sides. Photo: Colin
Royal Gorge to the West of the Sierra Crest. Photo: Nick
Getting up to the North Face of Anderson – definitely still frozen. I would like to come back in stable powder conditions and get some good turns on that. It can also easily be skied in a short day trip from Sugar Bowl (or you could stay at the Hut to take advantage of its location). Photo: Colin
A panorama I stitched together from the South Face of Anderson looking further South towards Tinker’s Knob and beyond. Click the photo for the full-sized version. Photo: Nick
After going around Anderson and to its South-side, we headed back up to the Crest above the cliff band and off to the Eastern side of Tinkers Knob. We just skinned up to the top of Tinkers Knob for great views and grabbing a bite to eat. Photo: Colin
Checking out some of the NE aspects along the way that normally would ski good in soft conditions. Here it was pretty much dust over avy debris and rain crust. No dice. Photo: Colin
A quarter plus century of 100+ mph winds along the Crest during storms will give you this. Photo: Colin
Great views up at the top of Tinker’s Knob. We got there in about 2 hours from Sugar Bowl (with no side-trip ski descents). Photo: Nick
Another panorama I stitched that shows the crest towards Squaw and Alpine and beyond. You can make out Granite Chief Peak, the Palisades, Ward Peak, Twin Peaks and even Tallac way off in the distance. Click the photo for the full-sized version. Photo: Nick
Looking across the Lake at Heavenly Resort, the avy paths on Trimmer Peak and Freel, Job’s and Job’s Sister above. Photo: Colin
Nice place for lunch! Photo: Colin
From the top of Tinker’s, we decided to drop off the Southeast side and work our way off the Crest way down to the lake bed, and then skin up another sub ridge line to re-gain the Crest right next to Granite Chief. So we basically skied down to the trees on the right side of this photo, and then skinned through them back up to the prominent ridge in the distance. Photo: Colin
Skiing from the summit of Tinkers. Photo: Colin
Colin following the upper pitch – it was great corn snow. Photo: Nick
We shifted aspects to the South and continued down to a bench by the trees, only to cut back East and work further down. Photo: Colin
Colin working further down the peak. It felt good to finally be getting some sustained downhill. Photo: Nick
Even further down it was not too sticky yet due to the South winds. Photo: Colin
Although we got way off the Crest and were about to get slowed down a bit with creek crossings and thin coverage, I for one thought it was totally worth it pulling back into the lake to re-skin! Photo: Colin
This avalanche path must go very big in storm cycles. It is not visible from Squaw as that is the West Face of Granite Chief Peak on the looker’s left. Photo: Colin
On low snow years like this, you pay the price descending too far. Wouldn’t be a traverse-type ski tour without an open creek crossing in my opinion! Having said that, this was around 7,000 ft. so in a normal year this would be buried deeply. Photo: Nick
We slowed down a bit with things like this and other boulder-hopping nonsense, but finally got back to the sub-ridge we wanted to use to re-gain the Crest. Colin following along with Tinker’s Knob off in the far distance. Photo: Nick
One exit is out of Shirley Canyon, which in this year is bone dry. So we avoided that entirely and headed up by Granite Chief Peak. Looking down into Squaw at Shirley Lakes. Photo: Nick
Shirley Lakes chair looks miniature from this vantage. Photo: Colin
We headed down to SV, grabbed a beer and Mrs. Nick picked us up to drive back to Donner Pass to grab Colin’s car. Super easy and a great, mellow day out!