| Early season turns
The weather forecast called for snow on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, so I figured Friday would be a good day to head out for some early season skiing. A few days prior, I got a good view of Traver Peak’s large snow field from North Star Mountain.
The road was plowed all the way to the west end of Montgomery reservoir, and I parked at the turnout near the aqueduct. Once past the gate, I was able to skin up the jeep trail on a fresh layer of snow. The snow was only about six to twelve inches deep and most of the road was apparently devoid of snow previous to Thursday’s snow fall.
In spite of having to break trail the entire way up the gulch, the road allows a quick pace.
This is a color photo
I found this little guy and a couple of his friends crossing the snow in subfreezing conditions without any sunshine.
I don’t know how those little f#@%ers do it. Crazy!
Democrat's N face
Heading up the gully seen at the left of picture #4
The plan was to take the gully at the left of picture #4 and then play it by ear, with the snow field that descends to the left of the peak as the default ascent/descent route. However, I felt that with the thin snow pack, I should be able to find a steeper, more interesting line that could be skied, with perhaps a few ski cuts and an avy bailout option. On the way up, I found a few such lines, probably just over 30 degrees. I didn’t notice any signs of instability in the snow pack, but considered any loaded gullies over 30 degrees to be suspect. Nonetheless, I chose a loaded gully just over 30 degrees (estimated) as my descent route and ascended the sides of the gullies I hoped to ski, in hopes of following my tracks on the way down (visibility was not great).
Below 13 000’, there was absolutely no wind, and my physical exertion was enough to keep me warm without a jacket. Once I got above about 13 000’, a strong east wind picked up, thick clouds rolled in and I lost all visibility. It was quite chilly too.
Due to the lack of visibility, I don’t have any pictures to show you of my approach to the summit, but if you submerge your head in a large bowl of milk and open your eyes, you will get a good sense of what it was like. It was very difficult to discern depth and slope angle. I had to skin in one direction and then readjust my direction whenever there was a brief break in the clouds. I imagine my skin path up the snow field looked like connect-the-dots from one rock to another. Fortunately, the snowfield route to the summit is more or less idiot proof.
Shortly after arriving on the summit, I got about a four minute break in the clouds and got these shots.
Looking down E face
By the time I clicked into my skis, the visibility was gone. I decided I would have to descend my default route down the snow field and that there was little chance I would find the gullies I surveyed on the ascent. Visibility was too low to even see my skin tracks.
Although I don’t have any pictures of the descent, if you can imagine skiing soft, bouncy powder, while wearing an astronaut’s helmet filled with milk, it was kind of like that. Fortunately, this route was more or less idiot proof, and I was able to keep the route under 30 degrees.
I regained visibility below the cloud level around 13 000’ and then was able to make a few more turns down to the willows and back onto the trail.
The ski down the road was slow since the distance was long and the elevation drop was little. But all in all, I can’t complain about making deep powder turns on a high thirteener in mid November.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):