What difference is there from one high lake to another? The stones on the shore are mostly the same. The water is always hydrogen and oxygen. Sure, one thousand-foot pile of rocks might not look exactly like another thousand-foot pile of rocks, but what new lessons do rock piles have to teach me, anyway? What novelty do the mountains really offer?
A light snow covered most of the hills and much of the desert floor around us. The White Mountains reflected clear in the waters of Mono Lake. It took us most of a day to drive down to here from the bay area, but in a setting as serene as the High Sierra in winter, who would rush?
At breakfast, the weather service called for a one-percent chance of snow. Why would they consider that a chance at all? Why not just round to zero? We laughed about it as we wolfed down toast and eggs. After months of drought and no indication from long-term weather forecasts, there was no way it would snow today. We finished our breakfast, got into the car, and drove out to the trailhead. We had in mind to climb Mount Tallac, one of the more prominent and recognizable peaks of the Tahoe area and Desolation Wilderness.
We’ve had three years of drought in California, and the snowpack is at record lows for late January, but Lance, George, and I were determined to have some mountain fun anyway. We packed our car, filled our mugs with coffee, and headed for the hills. The day’s agenda was fluid, but we had in mind to climb Round Top and the taller of The Sisters depending on snow conditions.
Today was my last day of skiing for the week, and it would be a big one. I scouted out the Round Valley area conditions two days prior, and I wanted to link up the summits of Castle Peak and Basin before I left. I left the Boreal Ski Resort lot at 8:30, my feet a little more sore and blistered than the last time. The trail was well cut, now, and so I cruised up way faster than the last time. It took me a tad over an hour to get to Castle Pass, and from there I proceeded straight up Castle Peak.
Donner Peak was today’s goal, and Mount Judah would be a bonus. Most of the route being directly adjacent to Sugar Bowl, it wasn’t exactly wilderness, and I probably shouldn’t have expected any sort of alone time. I got to the Donner Ski Ranch parking lot around 8:30, crossed the Donner Pass Road, then hopped onto the snow so as to avoid the walk up the road to the Sugar Bowl Academy.
My skis had seen snow, but this was their first day out in the backcountry. It had snowed the day before, so I figured I’d take it easy. I’d originally planned to summit Castle Peak, but I decided to stay under treeline just to play it safe. It turned out to be an adventure anyway, and I definitely tracked some great powder.
Snowshoeing is easy to learn, and it opens the winter wilderness to hikers willing to do a little extra work. I thought it would be a great way for Jinelle and me to spend a day in the snow. We drove into the Boreal Ridge parking lot around nine-thirty, and it was freezing cold. The goal for the day was to hike along the Castle Pass trail and see what sort of views we could find. Jinelle had never been beyond the ski resort boundaries in the winter, and snowshoeing seemed like the best way to experience that. I figured today wouldn’t involve anything too strenuous, but I knew she’d have a good time. Continue reading