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I have been very busy with work and inactive on the List lately.  See;
http://list.uvm.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0407a&L=skivt-l&D=1&O=A&P=826
However, I managed to put together a 3 day weekend trip to Tioga Pass and
Yosemite National Park in between weeks of business in LA.

The internet is a great thing.  Through it I have conversed with, met, and
skied with skiers from all over the country over the past 5 or 6 years.
One of them is Mitch, who is the founder and major domo of
telemarktips.com.  I met and skied with Mitch at the NATO Telemark
Festival at Mad River Glen, VT in 2002.  Mitch and his fellow west coast
skiers are always talking about Saddlebag Lake Resort in Tioga Pass.  It's
primarily a trout fisherman's spot, however they run a water taxi service
that will take you across the lake for a nominal fee, and the other side
offers easy proximity to some great skiing. Lot's more detail here;
http://www.telemarktips.com/Saddlebag.html
The Saddlebag access road is about a mile before the top of Tioga Pass at
the east end of Yosemite.  The resort opens at or slightly sooner than
when the Tioga Pass road is cleared of snow in the spring, this year about
the third week in May.  Skiing continues into Aug. although you must go
higher and snow conditions may deteriorate as the season goes on.

The only problem with this trip was that I couldn't find a partner and
therefore had to be more conservative.  The original goal had been the
Dana Couloir, on Mt. Dana, one of north america's most classic backcountry
ski descents.  However after looking at maps, considering how far from
help I would be while alone, and the near 13,000 ft. altitude a day or 2
after leaving sea level, I decided to leave Dana for the future and ski
from Saddlebag Lake instead.  Home base for the trip was Lee Vining, CA,
330 miles and ~ 5 hrs. drive from LA.  I headed up on a Thurs. night after
finishing business and slept at 6800 feet.  In the morning I started
drinking water like crazy, to deal with the altitude, and headed up CA Hwy
120 toward Tioga Pass.  This drive is not for the faint hearted, but if
you like BIG mountains and mountain roads it is a must-do sometime in your
life.

Saddlebag Lake is at about 10,500 ft.  I bought my round trip taxi ride
and assured the concerned proprietors that I have done much backcountry
skiing and would be conservative.  Telling them that I'd skied with Mitch
helped establish credentials and allay their fears.  Here we go;
http://www.biglines.com/photos_large.php?picid=25960
I expected altitude problems but not biting insect problems.  They were
unbelievable.  At one point I slapped at my arms and noticed that the blue
sleeves of my shirt looked black.  They had landed there by the thousands
and were biting right through the shirt.  Only the windbreaker that I
hastily took out of the backpack prevented turning back and a ruined
outing.  These were tough bugs.  They followed me for perhaps 1000
vertical feet above the small lakes above Saddlebag.  Here is a view from
that point.
http://www.biglines.com/photos_large.php?picid=25961
The snow had softened nicely in the sun with a firm base below, perfect
but for the suncups which are evident in this picture;
http://www.biglines.com/photos_large.php?picid=25962
Two other guys were there just above me that day and I used their kicked
in steps to ascend to the top of a saddle a few hundred feet below the
summit of 12,600 ft. Mt. Conness.  I felt great throughout the climb and
did not notice any altitude effects.  Here's a look at the top.
http://www.biglines.com/photos_large.php?picid=25959
It was just a bit steep at the very top but most of the descent was a
delightful cruise on low angled spring snow.  That is, it would have been
if not for the rapidly darkening sky and distant thunder that came up
quite suddenly just as I reached the top.  I did enjoy the descent but I
did it without delay.  The 2 young guys stayed up there and did several
laps even while the storm passed by.  Back at the taxi pick up point it
was cold, breezy and rainy, after a bright sunny 75 degree morning.  My
planned pickup and return time was 3:15 and it was 1:15.  There were too
many drowned and shivering fishermen to take back in one load so those of
us with later times had to wait.  When the taxi returned a few minutes
later there was enough room for us all.  Some hail fell on the tarp of the
ferry, while the worst of the storm passed off to the side.  Perhaps I
could have stayed and gotten in another run but lightning on mountain
heights scares me.  The pattern of early afternoon thuderstorms was to
continue.  The one run was a great one, and at the end of June.

On Sat. I decided on a drive into Yosemite to the Tuolumne Meadows area
and some mellow hiking.  I got a map and directions from a ranger for a
4-5 mile loop hike that would include the top of Lembert Dome, a miniature
and less perfectly shaped version of the famous Half Dome.  The lower
forested part of the trail was steep and my legs were feeling the previous
days effort.  Soon the trail reached the smooth rock of the upper part of
the dome.  It seemed huge and the views were spectacular.  Some hikers
coming down advised that the best route to the top was to spiral up,
looping about 300 degrees around a circle keeping to the flattest possible
ascent.  Trying to go straight up (or down) could get you into trouble on
smooth rock too steep to hold.  This didn't worry me much although I took
the advice.  I laid on my back at the top on sun warmed rock and watched
the clouds go by for a while, then started eating lunch and heard a
thunderclap.  Sure enough, the sky behind me was darkening rapidly.  The
rest of lunch could wait.  Concerned but not panicked (yet) I started down
and got disoriented in trying to retrace my route.  Spurred by the
approaching thunder I went down too far to soon.  Lembert, like Half Dome
is a sheer face on one side and like a giant bowling ball on the other
side.  I wanted to reach the tree line where I'd be relatively safer in an
electrical storm, but it gets progressively steeper as you descend.  Just
when I feared that the rubber soles of my shoes would no longer hold I
reached the tree line and started to traverse across to where the hiking
trail went down.  I had gone perhaps 200 yards when it cliffed out in
front of me.  Now the storm was much closer and there was no way down.
I'd have to climb back up onto the bare rock and try to find the correct
route.  If the rock got wet it would get slippery and even a mild route
might be impassible.  I began to panic.  The rock was steeper here than
where I had first reached the treeline.  I tried to climb it and couldn't;
vibram soles will only hold to a certain steepness and after that you need
climbing shoes.  I retraced a little bit and still could not find a
shallow enough route.  The thunder came closer.  I found a long vertical
crack that went straight up as far as could be seen on the convex rock.  I
took a chance and started climbing the crack, jamming my shoes into it for
a firm grip.  Now it was a race between my aerobic capacity and the
approaching speed of the storm.  Fortunately the crack continued all the
way up to where the angle turned mellow again and I could again walk on
the bare rock.  If the rains had come while I was climbing the crack it
would have turned into a raging torrent.  I let out a giant sigh of
relief, traversed across, found the trailhead and descended safely.  This
storm, like the one of the previous day, missed a direct hit at the last
minute.  Here's a look back at Lembert Dome in storm clouds.
http://www.biglines.com/photos_large.php?picid=25963

The third day of the weekend was a true mellow day as I stayed in the
meadows, hiked along the Tuolumne River, and watched trout rise from the
undercut banks and sip insects off the surface.  On the way back to LA I
stopped at Mammoth Mountaineering and got new lightweight aluminum
crampons and ice axe to replace my old heavy ones.  I spotted a guidebook
called "Tuolumne Ultra Classics" and bought it on impulse.  It has
descriptions of routes on Mt. Conness, Lembert Dome, and Mt. Dana.

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