Big Kid

Palisade panorama from Big Kid

“Big Kid” is the unofficial name of a 13er on the ridge between Kid Mountain and The Thumb on the south side of Big Pine Creek. It was on the Sierra Challenge back when I regularly participated, but I skipped it in favor of other peaks in the area, and others reported it to be an unpleasant pile of sand and scree. However these characteristics make it a good ski mountain when its moderate slopes are buried in snow. The easiest summer approach is via Glacier Lodge, but the peak can also be climbed from Birch Creek to the south. Since I was already parked on the McMurray Meadows Road, and since south- and east-facing snow was likely to ski better, I approached from there.

Birch, Thumb, Big Kid

It was a weekend, so a herd of Subarus had invaded my quiet campsite overnight. After waiting an hour on the summit for the snow to soften the day before, I had planned to get a late start, but the contents of said Subarus were moving early, flapping their meat and clattering their sticks, so I was awake in the dark. I killed time taking care of chores and reading, but still became impatient and started hiking before 6:00. The signed Birch Lakes trailhead road is badly runneled near the beginning, making it impassable to anything but motorcycles and quads. I hiked up the road, hopping the trench several times, and soon caught up to a group of four with their skis strapped oddly high on their packs, apparently planning to camp farther up. They followed me for awhile after I passed them, then headed toward the lakes farther south than I did. I hiked up a ridge, eventually putting on skis to skin up and into the broad gully where the summer trail is located.

Ed Lane with couloir

The gully was mostly moderate-angle, and I rarely had to switchback. It eventually ended on a shoulder of Kid Mountain, where I had some strenuous sidehill skinning to get around a bowl and into the valley east of Big Kid. A solo skier was transitioning in the middle of the slope just above the traverse, and I saw two more on the other side, apparently headed for Birch Lakes and perhaps the Thumb. I had plenty of time to study the surrounding peaks on my long, easy skin. The north couloir of Birch, a known hard line with a rappel in the middle, looked filled in but was not interesting to me, since I don’t consider dangling from a rope with skis on your feet to be “skiing.” I also eyed a couloir on the northeast side of Ed Lane Peak which, unlike the north side of Birch, looked continuous, but seemed intimidatingly steep. The day’s mellow terrain had me musing about trying something more ambitious in the area.

The Thumb

With the help of my map, I picked out the highpoint of Big Kid’s summit ridge, and skinned to the base of the broad couloir to its left before switching to crampons. The snow, with its variably-breakable crust, promised an annoying ski. I made slow but steady progress up the couloir, topping out just south of the summit. I walked awkwardly across the mix of rocks and wind-crust on the ridge, then left my skis and stuff on the highest bit of snow to tag the summit. Unsurprisingly, as it is not on any normal list, and not even officially named, Big Kid sees few ascents. I added my name to the list in a small glass jar, then sat to enjoy the spectacular view. The Thumb is a talus-pile on its normal south side, a very difficult-looking ridge from Big Kid, and probably made of bad rock, but it is a magnificent peak from this angle, and feels like it deserves more attention. Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde were impressive as always, though I noticed runnels on the former’s east face, making the difficult ski line extra treacherous.

End of ski

I eventually gave up waiting and transitioned, suffering some chattery, tiring windboard, then skittering along the lower-angle valley while dodging the sharp wind-sculpted features. The snow finally began to soften as I came out onto a southeast-facing ridge, and was just about perfect in the long, gentle gully. I made long, sweeping turns into the desert, playing with my angulation and generally having a fun, easy time. I picked a less-than-ideal path through the sagebrush, and had to take my skis off slightly higher than I could have, but there was still only minor postholing on my way to dry ground, then the familiar walk back to the car. I debated staying another day to try the line on Ed Lane, playing with the slope angle shading tool on CalTopo, but decided it looked steeper and more uncertain than I wanted to try. Perhaps I’ll come back, or some other adventurous skier will give it a try.

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