Friday, July 23, 2010

Midwinter in May

OK, my backlog is pretty substantial now. I'm taking advantage of a rainy morning in my current home base (cough, French Alps, cough) to start the process of chipping away at it.

Ethel and I made a trip up to Echo Lakes and Desolation Wilderness the week before Memorial Day, and we were greeted with a scene reminiscent of February or March. Desolation always holds its snow longer than most other spots around Tahoe, and it had snowed about 6" two or three days prior. We were hoping to ski across Lower Echo to Casa Hancock, but the blanket of fresh snow concealed the rapidly melting lake underneath. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, we huffed our gear along the trail, none too excited about carrying cross-country skis (Ethel) or a splitboard (me).

Upon reaching Casa Hancock, we saw next door what could only be described as a scene from a Roman bathhouse that also encourages liberal use of amphetamines. Six or eight guys, in various states of undress, wasted, jumping into the slushy lake, and making quite the commotion about it all. Sensing no end to their revelry, we continued around the corner and pitched camp somewhere overlooking Upper Echo and Ralston Peak.

View from camp; Ralston Peak

Fading light

Fun with waterproof garments and macro lenses

Ethel works the Steri-Pen; pretty cool piece of kit

We didn't really have a set plan for where we'd be going, and we were prepared to cover lots of ground or not much at all. The next day, instead of pushing for a big mission, we stayed closer and made our way up towards Ralston. The splitboard covered the ground better than Ethel's cross-country skis, so she hung on a big bump between Tamarack Lake and Ralston Lake while I headed up the ridgeline for a few turns. The north-facing area near the summit was rife with natural avalanche activity, so, mildly valuing my life, I stayed a little bit lower on the ridge where the exposure was eastern and safer.

The view into Aloha and across to Pyramid from the Ralston ridge was re-donk-ulous, but I rookied it and didn't bring a camera with me. Or maybe I just don't feel like sharing...

Clicking my board together, I dropped off the ridge for some gleeful turns in wholly virgin snow. The snow was thick and sun-affected, which made for slower going than I would have preferred, but beggars can't be choosers.


I rode right down to Ralston Lake, pulled the board back into skis, and headed back to Ethel's little outpost in the sun.

Skinning out of Ralston Lake

Like any proud peacock would, I took the opportunity to shoot a few photos of my tracks, the only marks on the otherwise pristine snowscape.

The trip back to our campsite was all downhill and easy going. Ethel had gotten a lot better with the cross-country skis and was covering ground swiftly. We had broken our camp that morning, planning on staying in front of Casa Hancock whether or not the Bathhouse was still in full effect. Fortunately, they were gone, and the neighborhood was returned to its usual quiet. We pitched our tent, cooked our dinner, and relaxed in front of the firepit before the wind picked up. It blew hard all through the night and into the next morning, making the inevitability of having to leave a little bit easier.

The warm temperatures were taking a rapid toll on the lake's snowpack, with an obvious and drastic difference from only 36 hours prior. Some of that was no doubt thanks to the layer of fresh snow compacting and becoming one with the layers underneath, but the snowpack as a whole was departing at about 4-6" per day.

Having only about a mile and a half to hoof it along the sopping wet trail, we knocked it out and made a quick return to the blistering heat of Reno, where the memory of such midwinter conditions was already a distant one for everyone else.

Lower Echo, melting fast

Past Detritus