First off, this is the largest TR i have ever done. you guys who do the big reports are impressive for the storytelling as well as the actual trip. feels like writing a book. so, there are a few more pics than usual too. Although it was only 2 nights, this is the first "real" tour iv'e ever done. my previous 1 and 2 night missions have never quite satisfied what i think a tour should be. either out-and-back types, or have just been kinda disappointed with the work to fun ratio. i have also struggled mentally with this ratio for many years. which is another topic i'm sure you are all aware of. (more work, less turns, beer and comfort of car camp). that discussion could go on forever. but with another trying season in the sierra, why not. i can still "do something i have never done before and see something i have never seen before". even going solo, i was motivated. Started later and farther away than i had planned. parked at the gate closure at aspendell. no problem. there's gonna be a bright moon tonight, just go as far as i can. walked on pavement for about an hour, then began the skin just before north lake. now the pleasure begins. sunset. this is the start and end point of the loop. hang a right going in at those trees.
I was a little nervous about the fading light as i entered the trees. i knew the moon would not show right away. and there was enough snow to cover any sign of a trail. there were plenty of tracks going left to lamarck lakes. i found what looked like 2 faint tracks going in my direction. always feels better when you don't have to navigate, get to enjoy the scenery more. piute crags
i got to loch levon after only 3 hours. set up camp. ate dinner. and watched the moonlight take over
up the next morning. piute pass up ahead
an easy cruise to the top of piute pass. center of photo is goethe cirque. thats where i'm headed.
humphreys basin and desolation lake
this is where i left the tracks i was following. i would see no sign of man until my final downhill.RAD. this is also where i entered a touring state of mind that i have never experienced. i know that sounds cheesy. but i was in no hurry, my goal so far off, that all there was was this incredible serenity with skinning and the surrounding mountains. nothing to do or even think about, just travel and soak it in. the snow was great for skinning. hard windboard. all the little windlips weren't fun, but there was no sinking at all. THIS is backcountry ski touring!
looking back at mt humphreys and the cool, cup-like feature that is piute pass
approaching muriel peak on the left and the goethe cirque up ahead.
looking back again. humphreys on the left, emerson on the right
cross muriel lake, and on to goethe lake. then look left for alpine col
muriel peak, fun looking chute up there
climbing above muriel lake
goethe lake and cirque. very impressive wall with epic chutes
a short skin along goethe lake leads to alpine col. i didn't take any pics looking up the col. i remember feeling a little tired and intimidated at that point. and anxious to get up this kind of steep, stiff, rocky bowl. about 1/3 of the way up, i needed to go with crampons.(boot, not ski). climbing got tough, broke through that windboard/crust almost every step. booted for something like 30 minutes of the hour + to the top of alpine col. i was really happy to be at the highpoint of the day. there's darwin! just left of center, in the background. i need to drop in, get across lake 11,900, contour right. then i should be at my next camp spot. time to go a little deeper in
one more lake and i'm looking for home on the darwin bench
it didn't take long for me to find a good spot, set it up and relax
camp on the darwin bench. the hermit on the left and the evolution valley looking west
it was only six hours of travel that day. i arrived at camp at 2:30pm. so much time for rest, eat, hot emergen c, and take pics. i love lingering at places like this!
looking back where i came from. lake 11,900 is in that valley, with alpine col above and left(out of picture). this is lake 11,550. the ridgeline is the keyhole plateau
a few clouds for sunset
it was an all time day. i spent the remaining time contemplating my route tomorrow. looking up darwin canyon
the next morning i slept in, stayed warm, waited for some sun. this is one of those times that the pic just doesn't do the scene any justice. it was an amazing site to watch these colors change
touring up darwin lakes toward lamarck col. which climbs up the left
i made quick time of 4 or 5 frozen lakes through the canyon. watching mt darwin and mt mendel come into view
rest and fuel for the climb up lamarck col
this was an interesting climb. just the right combo of steep and stiff to make me wonder how much i would be able to skin. i had to scope every little contour to find the mellowest spots for every step. i was actually very surprised that the snow had softened just enough to allow the skins to grip at that angle. a very fine line of grip vs. slope angle. oh yeah, it was too stiff to traverse at all. i hate traversing when there is no edge to be had. so i managed to go flat, straight up the thing. killer! looking back at the darwin lakes
darwin, mendel. the climb up to lamarck col
directions say to stay left to avoid dropping down into the wrong drainage. i guess i stayed too left. oh well, i know i'm where i need to be. and soon, i will be on a very long descent. looking down the east side of lamarck col.(not quite proper, but close)
final look back at darwin canyon
dropped in that first short pitch. skinned across flat. looked at next downhill. i was very exited to get going. i knew that i had a long way to go and that it is seldom ever straight forward. and i was right. there are two ways to get down. i found the way to lamarck lakes(the straight forward way) was too steep for this stiff windboard. as the slope rolled over, beyond 40 degrees, i said to myself there is no way i'm trying that right now. i pulled over at a rock island surrounded by soft snow. put on the crampons. climbed out for about 20 minutes and saw a small strip of snow that led to a very mellow and welcome slope.(skiers right). this is the epic, moderate run that is mentioned in moynier's book. the snow up top wasn't the greatest. but with the low angle, i had a blast.
this has to be some of the worst conditions for anyone who is familiar with this run. snow quality and snowpack. i was loving life! it was an easy cruise through rock strewn open bowls that seemed to go forever.
as i dropped in elevation, the snow got much better. i got about half of that long run with great corn. and i ran into some skiers tracks to help me get out through the lower stretches. i read that it is about 4 miles to grass lake. it was one of the longer runs i have done on the east side.
on grass lake, piute crags again. closing that loop
some more fun downhill on decent snow takes me back to north lake and sunset.
an easy skin and walk out to the car and it is complete. yes, a "real" tour is everything its cracked up to be! it's worth the extra work. even just a 2 nighter. Tommy-thanks for the inspiration!
P.S. the next day on a very leisurely drive back to tahoe, i decide to do a small hike to loosen sore bones. a few minutes up mcgee canyon, i see three guys climbing this. middle of the afternoon. random. i love this place!!!
Awesome stuff man! Loved the writeup. I just went backpacking in the Humphrey's basin area for the first time this last summer and thought it would be an amazing place to tour in winter. Don't know if I could do it by myself though, so props to you for that. Had to be pretty surreal and scary at the same time being all alone in that vast high area. Also can't believe how little snow is up there! Even with this being the worst winter ever, I'd still think there would be more coverage at that elevation.
Joined: Fri May 13, 2005 8:05 am Posts: 1498 Location: 395
Rad! I did that same loop during the summer years ago. I've always wanted to hit those lines to the lookers right of Mendel. Crazy how thin the snowpack is. Kinda of depressing. I also remember one of my first exploratory tours up Paiute canyon and hitting one of those chutes on the left side of the canyon. And don't get me started on Goethe cirque! Been wanting to do a two day trip to shred that place for a long time. Such a rad zone! Nice job. Looks like you had a good time.