January 28 2017
This weekend I had a real itch to get into the Back Country (BC) via skins and skis. My plan initally was to gain the back country via the Emigrant Wilderness. But as the plans began to materialize, things fell apart and the expedition shifted north. I saw a trip report from a friend (Paul Lito) who climbed the Elephant Back and Round Top Mountain on the Carson Pass (CA). The Carson Pass Summit is located on (CA) Hwy 88 east of Kirkwood Ski Resort. The pass is the point of entry to this back country wonderland. As you drive up Hwy 88 you can see how much snow we’ve recieved in this drought ridden state. When its all said and done this means one thing. GLACIER!
As I pulled up into the Carson Pass Snow Park (its a pull out on the side of the road) I noticed a problem. I needed a pass to stay parked overnight at this glorified pull out.. Or I faced a 95 dollar ticket… Now I faced a delima. It was about 2pm and I needed to beat feet down the trail. 2d… I only had so much fuel to get back to the next gas station. I was down to 60 miles before bingo (out of fuel). Needless to say, If I went down the road to get a parking pass I’d be burning fuel I need later. Now IF I rolled the dice and prayed to the ticket gods maaaaybe I’d come back to no ticket… But more on this subject later.
INSERT: 18:35 zulu time – 17/01/28
The snow banks at this entry was about 10 ft. Thank god for the previous folks who dug out steps. I climbed and summited the first of a few steeps for the week. As I shouldering my pack I met these 2 lovely ladies who just returned from the Elephant Back. I explained why I’m doing these training cycles. Told them I’m incharge of Operation Awakening and trips like this are helping me get ready for my PCT trip. I made some final adjustments, stepped into my bindings and started the slog toward the Elephant Back.
People tell me how much they want to do a wall with me or “I want to come into the back country with you”. Well it aint all sunshine and puppies.. Skinning with 40lbs of winter gear on your back takes a little getting use too. Not to mention I’m skinning above 8,000 ft in the blazing Sierra sun. Just some silent suffering and problem solved. I had 70 liters on my back and I really didn’t want to touch that till I hit camp. I was pretty well hydrated so I wasn’t that dry going into this trip. At this point I had to take a break and peel off a few layers.
Once I got my skinning legs underneath me I was moving a little more efficently. Still sucking wind but moving forward. As I left the treeline the Elepant Back rose above my approach. The mountain (more like a Sierra mound) rises 1000ft from the Round Top circ “area”. Lake Winnamucka sat frozen at the base of the Round Top. Growing up in Syracuse NY frozen lakes always freak me out. Perfectly inviting, perfectly flat but if not solid… You sleep with the fishes. At this point it was getting toward the end of the day and I wanted to begin the process of looking for camp and maybe an evening skin of the area.
I decieded to make camp on the north east shoulder of the Elephant Back. Great looking feature. The western slope has about a 45 degree grade with intermitent rocks exposed from wind blasting. Another annoying feature was the Sierra “Wind Waves”. Thats what I’m calling them.. They look like small to medium size waves that are actually shaped by the constant gail force winds that occur at this altitude. It turns the snow surface into a violent washboard ride. Beyond the Elephant lies the real objective – Round Top Mountain.
I set up camp and did some filming.. Beautiful surroundings..
Soon after camp was established, I set up for dinner. Nutrition will be a big issue once I start the hike. They say as a PCT walk through I should consume 3 to 5,000 cal a day. I dont even know how thats gonna happen. Watch this video and you’ll see my issue.
That evening I tried to capture the sunset hour.
The sun has gone down (sucks – 7pm). I tried to stay up by looking at the days film I took. But once you crawl into a warm bag all you want to do is return to the fetal position, and make the night go by quickly. Especially a winter trip.. Like clockwork my 50 yr old bladder wakes me up. I love this picture it says it all. If you ever had to get up in the middle of the night (freezing cold) to take a leak, you know this look..
Yep didn’t want to answer mother natures call. Funny how she (mother nature) even fucks with you in your sleep. Once she finds out your in her backyard.. She needs to put in her 2 cents. Or 2 quarts of water filling my bladder. Next morning I got up at 04:00 hrs. B E A U T I F U L sunrise!!!
That morning was pretty mild. I checked my temps and it was showing 22 degree’s. As soon as you get up you bundle up to step outside the bivy (tent). So I geared up and stepped outside the hootch. BAM COLD! But in this picture I point out one of the most valuable piece of clothing to keep a body warm. This is my turtle fir neck scarf. An old climbing buddy turned me onto this article of clothing. If you do not have one and live in the cold.. Pick one up.
I made my breakfast and coffee and got underway. My planned route was to go around the west side of the Elephant Back and up the north east ridge of Round Top Mountain. I left camp still in tact so not to waste the morning cool temps. The skinning was perfect. The snow was light with a firm layer under foot. I moved quickly through a potential slide area on the western slope of the Elephant.
At this point I could see my objective. The summit of Round Top Peak. The only problem is I may have approached from the wrong side. I should’ve approached from the west to gain the lower angle south west side of Round Top Peak. Oh well… Keep moving forward! So I began the slog up to the saddle between Elephant and the eastern ridge of Round Top. I could see an approach to the summit of the east side of Round Top.
9,500 ft & The Cornice of Hope
Getting closer to the summit..
Time to earn my mountain paycheck.. This next section was kinda sketchy. I needed to climb up a 45 to 48 degree slope. The previous tracks traveled up to the overhanging cornice and then traverse under it to gain the high ridge that leads to the knife edge walk to the summit… Easy right.. Riiiiiiiiiiight!
Guzzled my last bit of water and started the final ascent to the ridge line. I gained the base of the cornice and traversed skiers right. As I arrived on the top of the ridge line I could see my day was done. From my highpoint I could see a knife edge summit ridge line that would allow you to gain the true summit. The only problem was I didn’t have my crampons and ice axe. It was a steep snow / ice covered knife ridge line. That’s ok because the best part of the day was just about to happen.
After snapping a few pics on the summit I started thinking about my descent. As I walked back over to the cornice it occured to me.. I might be able to drop in from where I climbed up.
HOLY SHIT!!! Talk about a dreamy drop in. Take a look.
I dropped in off this deck and it led right to the perfect fall line into 2 inch of light snow on top of soft crust. The line was totally carvable but speed was the tool you needed. I stopped and gave a hoot for my stoke!! What a great line. What a great trip.
As I made it back to break down camp I thought about this short trip. Initially I had much bigger plans to execute, but unfortunately; It never happened. But the time I did spend in the back country was worth every penny I’ll have to pay for the ticket I recieved upon my return. Ticket gods didn’t hear my call.
Until our next adventure.
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