Ypsilon (Blitzen Ridge), Chiquita, Chapin

Ypsilon and Spectacle Lakes


Ypsilon Mountain is one of the better peaks in the Mummy Range in northern Rocky Mountain National Park. While its west slope is unremarkable tundra, its steep, complex southeast face rises 2000 feet from Spectacle Lakes, containing several interesting routes. Blitzen Ridge is one of about ten routes that have been on my list of to-do potential classics for years, and I was pleased to finally check it out in manageable early-season conditions.

Enter the suck

After sharing my normally-peaceful camping spot near Estes Park with some people who rolled in late and noisy, I woke early and was headed up the trail to Ypsilon Lake by 6:00. A guy who looked like a climber had started a few minutes before me, and despite his wearing clunky mountain boots, we leapfrogged for most of the approach to Spectacle Lakes. The trail started out clear and dry, then became a small stream, with the snow going from patchy around 10,200′ to near-continuous by 10,800′.

Blitzen Ridge

It had been warm overnight, and the snow had formed the usual, wretched Colorado spring slush-bog in the trees. I cursed and floundered along an old set of boot-prints to just above Ypsilon Lake, then found relief on some bare, south-facing slabs on the way to Spectacle Lakes. I skipped the lower, easy part of Blitzen Ridge, crossing between the two lakes and climbing a spur ridge and gully to reach the main ridge just below the four crux towers (the “Aces”).

Looking back at a tower

I skimmed the route description on my phone, but mostly just figured out something reasonable to get over the towers, summiting them all but not trying to stay directly on the ridge crest. On the first and second, I followed some grassy ledges on the left side, zig-zagging back and up to gain elevation from time to time. The third felt like the crux to me, with some exposed climbing on golden rock to the right. The route-finding was tricky in places, and I did a bit of backtracking before finding something that felt comfortable.

The route description mentioned a rappel off the fourth tower, but that was clearly a mistake, since descending its uphill side was trivial. The other towers were a bit trickier to downclimb, either staying right on the crest, or traversing sometimes-slabby terrain to the right. I would say the third tower was the crux for me, but the difficulty is very dependent upon route-finding choices.

Summit cornices

The ridge above the towers is no harder than class 4, but remains fun and narrow. The angle of the rock layers rewards staying on or just left of the crest, with inspiring views of Ypsilon’s southeast bowl, with the “Y” couloir and (at least right now) massive cornices overhanging the summit ridge. I had to cross snow in a few places, but the south edge of the ridge crest had mostly melted out, making for almost summer-like conditions despite the lingering snow everywhere else.

Snow flurries over summit plateau

I topped out in a mild flurry of corn snow, looked at the rain- and snow-storms to the east and south, and took off south across the tundra toward Chiquita and Chapin at a purposeful walk. The route description recommended descending the bowl between Ypsilon and Chiquita, but that looked unappealing, and would dump me back in the hellish snow near Ypsilon Lake. Instead, I continued to Chiquita, briefly contemplated descending its broad east ridge, then decided to continue to Chapin and take the hopefully-clear Falls Creek Road back to my car.

This plan mostly worked well. The traverse to Chapin was snow-free, and I also managed to avoid snow most of the way back to Chapin Pass and the road. Unfortunately my luck ran out perhaps a half-mile from the road, and I had some awful encounters with thigh-deep slush, sometimes with flowing water beneath it. I wrung my socks and shoes out once after a particularly nasty bog encounter, then again after stumbling out onto the plowed and mostly dry road. From there, it was a long but not unpleasant hike jog back down to the pavement, then an uneventful road-walk to the car.

Teton miscellany and summer plans

The Ranch welcomes guests


As I have every year since 2011, I have spent the first part of June at the American Alpine Club’s Grand Teton Climbers’ Ranch. After a week of staining cabins (and myself), fixing bikes, and other miscellaneous repair work, I normally stick around for a week or so to socialize and play in the mountains. I have done more of the former than the latter this year, partly due to inclement weather, and partly because of the rest of my summer schedule.

For the first time in nine years coming to the Ranch, I woke two days in a row to an inch or so of fresh snow in the valley. While it melted quickly below 9000 feet, the new snow stayed around awhile in the mountains. This has meant snowy rock routes, postholing in the high valleys, wet avalanches on south- and east-facing slopes, and powder on north-facing ones. Though this has not prevented me from regaining some of my winter-blighted fitness, it has thwarted some of the more ambitious goals I had for my brief Teton climbing season.

What about the rest of the summer? After a successful and rewarding summer in the Alps last year, I was looking to put together another extended dirtbag international trip. I am running out of new ranges to explore in car-accessible western North America, so I must travel farther afield to see completely new terrain. This summer, that terrain will be the Cordillera of Peru, where I will spend about 8 weeks climbing and trekking. The mountains are higher, wilder, and less suited to my abilities than the Alps, and the logistics will be more primitive and trying, but it should be an interesting experience nonetheless. Stay tuned — the adventure starts in about a week!


PS — As usual, I am making this trip with no corporate or institutional sponsorship. What support I have comes from friends: Ted, who is the master of frequent flyer points (and owns a house near an airport where I can stash my car); and Scott, who wears roughly my size and has generously donated boots, skis, and other miscellaneous gear. I have not and will not run ads, post affiliate links, publish “sponsored content,” or ask for donations on this site. If you support what I do and enjoy reading about it, please consider buying my new book.

Introducing “40 Classic Scrambles of North America”


After a decade of scrambling, and several years kicking spreadsheets and drafts around my hard drive, I am pleased to announce the publication of Forty Classic Scrambles of North America. Inspired by Roper and Steck’s Fifty Classic Climbs, but aimed at scramblers like myself, it presents forty excellent moderate routes from across western North America, from the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona to the northern Canadian Rockies. The guide is intended for people familiar with their “home” mountains who want to explore similar terrain farther afield. Routes range in difficult from class 3 to 5.7, and in length from half-day jaunts to fifty-mile epics.

Interested? Check out the sample chapter.

Like it? It should begin shipping in 1-2 weeks, and costs $35 + $5 shipping and handling.





(Don’t use PayPal? I also take personal checks. Email me for details.)

Trapezoid

Fine turns


I had one final break between May snowstorms (!) to do some Sierra skiing, so I was thinking of going big and doing something crazy. However, I ran into Dan, and he convinced me to head back up to South Lake and explore another drainage, the Treasure Lakes valley between Mounts Johnson and Goode. I slept in comfortable temperatures near the Buttermilks, then drove up to frigid South Lake early in the morning. I took longer than I should have to prepare myself for the cold, finally starting skinning around 7:15.

Skinning across South Lake

Someone getting an earlier start had bravely skinned across the lake and not fallen in, so I followed his tracks through about 6″ of fresh and surprisingly light powder. The track on the other side of the lake was less than ideal, bobbing and weaving around cliffs in the woods instead of following one of the inlet streams, but it eventually led into the open area above the lake. I left the beaten path where it seemed to head toward Thompson, arduously breaking trail up toward Treasure Lakes. The well-worn track from two days earlier had been completely obliterated by the fresh snow.

Unnamed peak near Treasure Lakes

The terrain was mostly uphill, but there were enough flat sections that I knew the return would be slow. I saw potential lines facing all directions, but thanks to my late start, I dismissed the east-facing ones, which had already been baking for hours on a calm, sunny day. I eventually chose a northwest-facing slope on “Trapezoid Peak,” a minor summit on the ridge between Johnson and Goode that I had not yet climbed. Based on the map on my phone, it looked like I would get about 1300 vertical feet of skiing out of the line — not huge, but not bad either.

Slog, slog, slog

The slope started out fairly gentle, steepening to about 45 degrees toward the top. There was 8-12″ of fresh snow on the slope, already starting to become heavy from the sun and warming temperatures. The fresh snow had not bonded to an underlying hard layer in some places, and while it didn’t slide, it did make skinning a bit annoying. I switchbacked up the lower half, booted for a bit, then skinned the rest when the angle eased and the postholing got worse.

Goode and Palisades

I eventually reached a saddle about 80′ below the summit, from which I could look down to where the Bishop Pass trail passes near Saddlerock Lake. The final climb to the summit looked painful, but I was so close… I put my skis on my pack, and booted thrashed, and dug my way toward the summit, kicking through to the old snow, and digging for rocks to get an occasional solid stance. I booted to within about 30 feet of the summit, then was forced to put my skis back on to avoid thigh-deep postholing.

Le Conte Canyon

The summit rocks had been scoured dry, so I took off my skis, found a good seat, and ate a late lunch while admiring views of the Palisades, the Black Divide, and more distant peaks including Goddard and Humphreys. The wind eventually picked up intermittently, chilling me and coating me with spindrift. I waited for a break, then quickly transitioned to downhill mode.

I had noticed a narrow chute leading to the summit on the way up, and found its entrance after a bit of searching. A few careful turns later, I was on the main slope I had ascended, making fun, swooping turns toward the uppermost Treasure Lake. I got in a few more turns lower down, but there was a lot of poling and shuffling to get through the flat sections in increasingly-sticky snow. I was regularly whacking my skis with my pole to keep the bases clean, and on one whack, the bottom part of my pole flew off to one side of the ski track. I thought for a moment that the bottom section had come out, but quickly realized that the pole had broken. Ugh. I picked up the piece, then cautiously one-poled my way back down to the lake, and around through the South Lake Glacier to the parking lot, where I deposited the pole pieces in the dumpster. Perhaps it was a sign that ski season is over for me for the time being…

14er guide update

Palisades 5/19/19


Thanks in part to interest from a couple of Eastern Sierra bookstores, and to that expressed by some correspondents, I will be printing more copies of my California 14er guidebook. I will try to contact people who expressed interst in a print copy, but I will probably miss some; please email me. Anyone who wanted a print copy, but had to settle for the e-book instead, can contact me to get a print copy for the price difference, i.e. $12.95 including shipping. Books will begin shipping within two weeks, so they will arrive well before the best 14er season in a heavy snow year.

South Lake skiing

After getting shut down two days in a row on Red Slate Mountain, first by a mechanical failure and then by weather, I took advantage of a break between May snowstorms to sneak in a couple days’ skiing out of South Lake. The road is plowed all the way to the lake at 9500′, opening up a lot of terrain that is difficult to access during the winter and early spring, when the road is gated miles from the summer trailhead. The 6″ or so of fresh, heavy powder made for pleasant skiing on the way down, but brutal boot-packing on the way up.

It seemed like it might be cold up at the trailhead, so I slept down in the desert before the first day, where temperatures were pleasant and I had cell service. I got a reasonably early start, though a couple of other parties were ahead of me. This was fortunate, because one of the parties knew the best route from the trailhead to the base of Ski Mountaineers Peak, my goal for the day. Had I been forced to break trail and find the route myself, the trenching and inevitable route-finding errors in the cliffy terrain above the lake would have been wretched.

The first trick was to navigate the South Lake Glacier, a rim of broken ice that forms when they lower the level of the lake, causing the thick surface ice along the edge to crack as the center ice drops. I followed the boot-track through the crevasse maze, then along a stream and through some cliffs to open terrain leading toward Ski Mountaineers and Thompson. The track continued toward the latter, so I abandoned my original plan to see what the Thompson chutes might hold.

I saw a skier ahead of me checking out the western Thompson couloir, and skied a bit farther to see for myself. I didn’t like what I saw, so I returned to the eastern couloir, which is lower-angle and did not have a cornice. The other skier apparently didn’t like what she saw, either, and returned to the base of the couloirs. I switchbacked up increasingly steep snow toward my couloir, hoping I could find some solid boot-packing to reach the ridge. However, whenever I tentatively stepped off my skis, I sunk at least knee-deep. I eventually gave up on the frustrating endeavor, and made some fun turns back to the valley, intending to ski Ski Mountaineers Peak instead.

I spoke to the woman I had seen ahead of me, who told me that her partner had booted up the western couloir (with a huge cornice — yikes!). She decided to use my skin track to take a lap, while I skinned and scrambled through some rocks to reach Ski Mountaineers’ gentle east face. Looking back, I saw that her partner had dropped into the middle chute, triggered an avalanche partway down, then absolutely flew down the lower part, making huge turns where I had made cautious, small ones.

Ski Mountaineers’ east face had been baking in the sun all morning, and while the lower part was reasonably wind-packed, the top was horrible heavy powder. It felt too steep to skin, so I agonizingly booted final slope to the summit ridge, where I stashed my skis to scramble to the summit. The register, if it still exists, was buried, but I still hung out for awhile, enjoying the impressive views of the Palisades to one side, and Sabrina Basin and Darwin to the other.

The descent went well enough until I decided to stop following skin track and take a more direct line toward South Lake. I soon found myself in a maze of small cliffs, and had to side-step, shuffle, and throw my skis down a small step and downclimb at one point to get back on-route. Thanks in part to these shenanigans, I did not make it back to the lot until late afternoon. Not wanting to waste gas driving 40 miles back and forth to Bishop, I settled in to read for awhile, then prepared for a cold night.

The next morning, I stayed curled up in my sleeping bag until around 6:30, then got a lazy start after 7:00. I headed up the trail toward Bishop Pass, but found a long stretch of bare dirt, and decided instead to check out the open bowls west of Mount Gilbert. Starting out on the previous day’s skin track, I took a branch to the south, following a slightly fainter path from the day before. The chute west of Gilbert looked like a fun ski, so I eventually left the skin track to sidehill around the head of the basin.

I found a boot-pack in the chute, which gave me some hope, but things soon turned grim. I persevered despite knee-deep postholing, but after the third time I managed to stomp out a waist-high wall in front of me, I gave up on the wallow and headed down. I found good skiing in the upper and lower bowls, separated by some tricky crust in the middle, and returned to the car just after noon. This was earlier than I had planned, but probably for the best, since the wind was already picking up ahead of the next storm system. Winter is not yet done with the Sierra.

Bloody Couloir

In the summer, Bloody Mountain is a slag-heap like many of its neighbors, build mostly of loose red talus. However, the couloir dropping north from its summit is a popular spring ski descent. It was a bit steeper than the other descents I have done this winter, but not unreasonably so. While there is a road leading almost to the base of the couloir, most people will start down in the desert. A high-clearance 4WD can make it a bit farther, but will usually be stopped by snowbanks well before the end of the road. My car is more capable than a sedan, but I rolled in late and didn’t want to risk backing back down a dirt track, so I pulled into the first flat-ish pulloff to sleep.

The Bloody Couloir is reasonably steep and shaded, so I planned to bring an ice axe and real crampons, which meant I had packed the big pack (Mammut Ice 45) the night before. As I lashed on my skis using the side compression straps, one of them broke at the attachment point, which does not look easy to repair. (It is worth noting that one of the ice tool holders broke in exactly the same way many years ago; hopefully they have a better design now.) I hate to get rid of a pack that has served me so well for 10 years, so I will probably keep it for awhile, but it can no longer carry skis.

Only a few minutes from the car, I noticed some motion in the distance. Stopping to check it out, I saw a massive herd of 40-50 deer slowly crossing the road. Deer are wary creatures, so I tried to get close by the best mixture of jittery high telephoto and scared deer. They definitely noticed me, but fortunately quite a few of them seemed to feel safe once they had crossed the road and climbed up the hillside a bit. The road switchbacking out of the desert was definitely slower with skis and boots on my back, but I still managed to out-walk a 4WD Sprinter inching up the jeep road. If I had a car like that, I wouldn’t abuse it like that to save a 10-minute walk, but I was surprisd at the enormous Sprinter’s off-roading abilities

The long hike up Laurel Canyon on the road to the lower prospect was almost pleasant, since I had plenty of podcasts, as well as a steady view of my intended couloir. I had scouted the spring route up to Laurel Lakes, which follows the streambed rather than traversing above it on the road, and would have taken it again if I intended to boot the couloir. However, with no crampons or axe, I needed a new plan. I remembered a trip report from someone who had gone up the summer route, a class 2 talus-hop from the col between Laurel and Bloody. Sure, I would be carrying skis and boots on my back on a long ridge of mixed scree and snow, but what other choice did I have?

Unfortunately, I first had to get back up to the road leading to Laurel Lakes. I should have retraced my steps, but that part of the road looked like it was still covered in angled, frozen snow. Instead, I had the genius idea to follow what looked on the topo like low-angled slopes, returning me to the road near the trail where I planned to leave it. My shortcut turned out to be a mix of thrashing through willows and aspens with skis and boots on my back, kicking steps in old snow with worn-out running shoes, and telling myself that I could totally self arrest with a ski pole. Why running shoes instead of ski boots? I knew that I would be dealing with mixed scree and snow higher up, and I much prefer running shoes on snow to ski boots on scree.

I eventually reached the road and, side-hilling along it for awhile, then took the trail to the col, which was already bare in many places. Always eager to take a shortcut, I decided to climb a closer spur ridge rather than following the partly-snowy trail all the way to the pass. This shortcut worked better than the last, with patches of good step-kicking snow providing a break from the underlying loose scree. Looking back while catching my breath, I saw (presumably) the Sprinter crew skinning up the big snowfield west of my ridge. They were making good time, but I had a solid lead, and only saw them occasionally in the distance for the rest of the day.

The skiers were still making steady progress when I finally reached the ridge junction. This section is discouragingly long, but doesn’t gain too much elevation, and in summer, there is a decent use trail compacting the scree. The trail I found was sometimes useful, but often became an “anti-trail,” a narrow path buried by hard, angled snow. I mostly ignored it, taking what looked like the best line on solid-ish rock and wind-beaten snow.

Reaching the summit, I was pleased to see that the register canister was completely exposed, its contents dry. There was even a nice rock seat nearby where I could peruse it while eating Grocery Outlet bargain lean salami ($4.99 for 2 lbs.), my new favorite non-carb trail food. It was warm out, but I thought it might be a good ideea to give the upper, steepest part of the couloir a bit more time to soften, so I hung out for 30 minutes or so, finally leaving around noon. At least for now, you can ski right from the summit.

The top of the couloir looked intimidatingly steep from above, with a blind rollover a short ways down, but I had been checking it out on the way up, and had chosen the safest-looking path through the rocks below this bulge. I played around with different aspects within the couloir, but no single line skied well all the time, and I nearly ate it when I hit an unexpected patch of windboard. A better skier could probably plow right through, but I did quite a bit of survival skiing: side-slip for awhile, make one or two jump-turns, then stop to plan my next moves.

The middle part was easier, but unpleasant, with lots of wet slide debris (i.e. ice-and-snow-balls) of varied hardness. I moved a bit faster on this, but little I did was elegant. It looked like most of the debris fell from the couloir’s sides, and while I was sometimes accompanied by a few friendly snowballs, I never set off a slide. Once through the debris, I finally reached more predictable snow, and was able to make a few good turns.

Unfortunately there does not seem to be a way to glide past the lakes, especially in warm, grabby afternoon snow, so there was shuffling, double-poling, cursing, and a short carry through a bare section. I skied down to the creek junction where I had set out on my first “shortcut” in the morning, then decided that I would rather posthole to the road than ski through the maze of aspens and pines near the creek. Looking back from somewhere on the road, I could just make out the other party and their tracks as they negotiated the couloir.

Tom (SE chute)

Mount Tom is huge, with chutes and canyons descending from its long summit ridge in all directions. I had already been up Elderberry Canyon, probably the most popular ski line on Tom, and partway up the East Chute (“Dingleberry Canyon”). This time I came up the steeper Southeast Chute and face, a line leading directly to the summit from the desert nearly 7000 feet below. Unfortunately conditions were poor, with blasting wind and sometimes dubious snow. This led to indecision, and ultimately forced me to turn around near 12,800′, still 600′ shy of the summit.

I got another early start from slightly higher on the Buttermilk road, this time remembering my poles. I followed the road until the sagebrush was snowy enough to be skiable, then took off straight for the mouth of the Horton Lakes drainage. I eventually rejoined the road, and followed it to the Sonny Boy Mine cabin. From there, an undulating bench continues around to the mouth of the southeast chute, which is guarded by an old lateral moraine. Earlier in the season, it would be better to approach across the desert and into the lower end of the moraine, but it would now require too much bushwhacking.

I carefully booted down the moraine and a short distance up the chute, then put my skis back on to skin up the messy old avalanche snow. As the chute turned north and opened up around 9500′, the wind picked up from the north.

Basin Mountain (E bowl)

Basin from car


Sitting at the eastern edge of the range, Basin Mountain and Mount Tom are the two most striking peaks seen from Bishop. Mount Tom has several long ski lines, of which I have done a couple, and I planned to do another, the southeast couloir. However, that line shares a trailhead with Basin’s well-known and much more striking east bowl. Partly because it was tempting and closer, and partly because I hiked over a mile from the car before realizing I had forgotten my poles, I scrapped my plans and headed for Basin.

Skinning toward Basin

I skinned up the road for awhile, then left it to continue through the sagebrush toward an orange thing near a large boulder that turned out to be someone’s tent. Despite its being sunny and pleasant, I saw no one outside the tent or skinning up the slope above. The previous day’s snow up high may have fallen as rain below, because the snow still had a slick, rock-hard crust. I carefully skinned up for a bit, wishing I had ski crampons, booted until I began postholing, then cautiously and strenuously followed the old skin track for awhile.

Upper basin from shoulder

I eventually reached a shoulder between the lower slopes and the basin that gives the peak its name. Some previous skiers had skied a shorter line north of the shoulder, but the snow still needed time to soften, and I was here for the basin, so I side-slipped over to the south, then continued along the now-fainter track. The previous morning had been snowy, and the afternoon violently windy, so there was a mixture of powder and wind-board in the sheltered northeast-facing bowl.

Upper basin with skier for scale

The enormous scale of the terrain hides the fact that the upper bowl is 2000 feet high, so it seemed to take forever to cross the lower flat section and climb the headwall. I managed to skin partway up, but had to return to booting as the slope got steeper and more wind-packed. The bowl tops out at the base of a rock wall below the summit, so rather than follow it, I decided to explore a southeast-facing branch to see if I could reach the summit.

Those are mine!

The snow abruptly turned nasty, with various soft stuff over an old rock-hard crust. I booted and wallowed up a ways, but after backsliding a couple of times, decided that continuing might be not just frustrating but unwise. I stomped out a platform, switched to downhill mode, and had a snack, then did a trial ski cut to see what would happen. Not too surprisingly, I managed to set off a small slide, though it wasn’t very deep. I found some more solid snow on the south-facing part of the chute, and carefully made my way down to the main basin.

I had seen someone following my track below, and met him again as he put his skis on his pack to boot up the final half of the upper basin. I stopped to chat for a minute, then did some thuggish skiing on variable snow back to the saddle. Below the saddle, the east-facing crust had softened nicely, and I managed to hit 30 MPH making super-G turns on the lower slope — not particularly fast, but still fun, and not bad for the conditions. I dodged sagebrush on the flats until I found the road, then coasted back to within 10 feet of my car around 12:30. There were another half-dozen vehicles parked by then, and I passed a few skiers, but only me and that one other guy seem to have made it up high.

Buck Mountain (SE chute)

Skinning toward Buck


It’s spring in the Sierra, and some of the big east-side ski lines are coming into prime condition. Of the roughly 10,000 feet of elevation between the Owens Valley and the highest peaks, 5000 feet or more is skiable in many places, often with minimal desert hiking carrying skis. With clear skies and a higher sun, the snow refreezes overnight, and softens up enough on south- and east-facing slopes to be pleasantly skiable by noon or 1:00 PM.

Buck Mountain, and its neighbor Alice, are unattractive sand-piles east of the much more dramatic Palisades. I had climbed both for the Sierra Challenge, and not particularly enjoyed doing so. Both mountains are much improved by snow, however, with Buck’s southeast face and gully offering just over 4000 feet of moderate skiing. With the Glacier Lodge road currently closed about 1.5 miles short of the summer trailhead, there is a bit of an approach, but nothing obscene, and it was still mostly snow-covered from the small parking area.

Skinning toward Clyde

Dan and Kim had camped at the trailhead, so they probably got more sleep than I did, waking in the dark to drive down from north of Bishop. After the usually gear wrangling, we were skinning up the road on a chilly morning a bit before 7:00. This was my first time using Dan’s old boots and backup skis. The boots in particular are much lighter than my current gear, and while this made skinning easier, I was curious how they would perform going downhill.

Lower gully

We eventually reached the summer trailhead, and had to remove our skis for one short stretch of south-facing trail passing the cabins. Beyond, we followed an old skin track up across the bridge, then into the open South Fork of Big Pine Creek. High clouds and a breeze kept temperatures cool, and we were concerned as we skinned west that the snow would not soften enough to be fun.

Climbing toward lower gully

Just past the summer stream crossing, where the trail begins to climb the headwall toward Willow Lake, we finally saw the start of our route. After waiting awhile for it to warm up, and almost giving up, the clouds looked like they might be blowing over, and we fortunately decided to go ahead. The snow was still solid on the way up, and as the slope steepened, Dan and Kim put on their ski crampons. Not having such esoteric gear, I carefully skinned as best I could, then put my skis on my pack to boot up a couple of the steeper sections.

Sill and North Palisade from Buck

Above the initial chute, we found a good skin-track switchbacking up the open slope, which made it possible for me to carefully skin up to the shoulder, then around to the final south-facing slope. While Kim waited for Dan, I continued up the track toward the summit ridge. I stashed my skis in a sheltered spot, then followed a boot-track to the true summit, where I found the register in good shape and completely exposed. It was unfortunately too new to include the Sierra Challenge, but I saw some familiar names, and it was warm and calm enough to hang out on the summit, have a snack, and admire the Palisades in all their snow-bound glory.

Palisade Crest

By the time I returned to my skis and figured out how to switch Dan’s boots to downhill mode, Kim and Dan had reached my sheltered spot. It was getting late — around 1:00 PM — so rather than continuing to the summit for a clear view of North Palisade, they briefly looked over into the North Fork, then prepared to descend. I was worried about some plastic poking me in Dan’s boots, but as is often the case with ski boots, once you start going downhill, either they sort themselves out or you stop noticing the pain.

Yours Truly stylin’ it (Dan’s photo)

After a couple turns of hard crust, the snow became pleasant on the upper face, and I descended in swooping GS turns. The snow below the shoulder was similarly pleasant, except for a shaded part of the lower gully that had already refrozen, and I got up some serious speed on the final runout into the South Fork. I wish I knew my top speed, but unfortunately I was not recording the ski.

Rather than following the summer trail, we stayed on the south side of the creek, following some ski tracks that eventually deposited us among the surprisingly large cluster of cabins. I debated putting skins back on for the slightly-downhill road back to the car, but eventually decided not to: the skins had left nasty glue on the bases on the way up, and it was downhill… So, much strenuous skating and double-poling later, I finally returned to the car, and was home again by late afternoon.