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TR and Winter Alta Conditions

Discussion about winter adventure sports in the Sierra Nevada mountains including but not limited to; winter backpacking and camping, mountaineering, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc.
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TR and Winter Alta Conditions

Postby MichaelRPetrick » Tue Jan 05, 2016 1:38 pm

I'm making plans to attempt a snowshoe trip up Winter Alta this year, and am looking for trip beta / route recommendations from anyone that has useful information to share:

The group: 4 very fit hikers/scramblers. We're all moderately experienced snowshoers, and are comfortable doing 20-30 mile dayhikes in the summer and 15-20 mile/day backpacking trips. We all also have some amount of winter mountaineering experience, my hiking partners on Shasta (Red Cliffs/Heart Lake route) and myself on Mt. Washington (O'Dell's Gully) in NH. We're all extremely safety conscious and 3/4 of us have attended Avy classes.

We've been to Pear Lake in the winter before, so I know what the trail does and does not look like in snow. My questions are about the last 1.5 miles to the peak:

It appears that there are two possible routes from Pear Lake to traverse to the East side of the ridge descending from Winter Alta:

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The above picture is from Leor Pantilat, h/t to him. The corresponding Strava info is here: http://www.strava.com/activities/38207520 Given that he chose the lower route on return, I assume it is probably preferable to the gully that climbs directly from Pear Lake?

My other question is the rightward traverse after traversing leftward underneath the cliff bands, on the way to the final ridge towards Winter Alta.

Pantilat's route appeared to avoid the ridge entirely until the summit, but the waypoints I found here access the ridge directly at the low saddle east of winter Alta: http://explorepangea.com/Activity/BackcountrySkiing/WinterAlta.html

Would this be likely to develop a cornice at the top or anything else sketchy? This is the part of the route that gives me the most cause for concern.

Any and all thoughts appreciated.

Regards,

Michael
Last edited by MichaelRPetrick on Wed Feb 03, 2016 11:37 am, edited 4 times in total.



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Re: Winter Alta

Postby limpingcrab » Tue Jan 05, 2016 4:22 pm

I like the lower route more. Usually has better snow and really isn't much less direct even though it may look that way in the pictures.

The upper section near the ridge isn't as steep as it looks and I've never seen it develop much of a cornice on the north side. The line in the picture is just about spot on, head up to the saddle and then walk the ridge from there.

Be sure to stop by the ski hut and talk to Patrick. He and his intern are extremely helpful and knowledgeable!
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Re: Winter Alta

Postby MichaelRPetrick » Wed Jan 06, 2016 3:00 pm

We will definitely be sure to stop by the hut and talk to Patrick. I think we met him last year, but he was hoofing it up the trail with a new signpost strapped to his back.

I have a general question about slope/avalanche issues on the route. (General question, given that specific conditions are always prone to change.)

I'm familiar with the alternative route to Pear Lake that's advised when there's avalanche danger. Given the strong El Nino this year, I assume we'll be taking that route. How likely are we to find the bit above Pear Lake not to our liking and have to turn around? It'd be a real shame to get that far only to hightail it back. I might opt for Mt. Silliman instead, if I knew Alta conditions were dicey in advance. Are the SEKI folks able/willing to give this kind of information over the phone a day in advance or so? I'm hoping Patrick relays information down to the folks at Lodgepole?

Thanks limpingcrap!
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Re: Winter Alta

Postby limpingcrab » Wed Jan 06, 2016 6:38 pm

Hmmmmm... I'd be surprised if you could reach anyone by phone who would be able (or willing) to say anything about avalanche danger in the park. Your best bet might be to call Wuksachi Lodge but even then it's a slim chance.

It would have to be really high danger for that area to be at risk since it's pretty low angle and snow settles so quickly around here. The route to Silliman is steeper so it wouldn't be much of alternative if Winter Alta was sketchy

A cool route I've though about doing in winter would be to go up the Hump, then go southeast to the main ridge that leads to Alta and follow it to a little sub-peak before the technical part. You would probably stop where the ridge between Heather and Emerald Lakes connects. Not a big peak or anything but a cool outing with great views and not much avy danger!
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Re: Winter Alta

Postby Shawn » Wed Jan 06, 2016 9:03 pm

You might try rousting someone out of the woodwork over at the Pear Lake Ski Hut FB page:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/50075608179/.

It seems unusually quiet this season, but perhaps you could catch someone who had just exited prior to your start.
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Re: Winter Alta

Postby MichaelRPetrick » Wed Jan 06, 2016 9:59 pm

The route to Silliman is steeper so it wouldn't be much of alternative if Winter Alta was sketchy


That was the conclusion I came to after looking up some Silliman winter trip reports. Bob Burd mentions an avalanche chute that appears to go every 5/10 years, and it certainly is a lot steeper. Wasn't sure how wind loading might affect it given that the Silliman Lake Bowl faces West while the aspect on Winter Alta is North-facing.

It seems unusually quiet this season, but perhaps you could catch someone who had just exited prior to your start.


I'll do just that.

Thanks all.
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Re: TR and Winter Alta Conditions

Postby MichaelRPetrick » Wed Feb 03, 2016 11:42 am

Figured I'd upload some pictures and a brief TR from the weekend. Thanks to those that offered route advice.

We found fine conditions on the Hump trail, as the skies cleared completely, lighting up nearly a foot of fresh powder coating the trees. Unfortunately, this made for a rather cold night, with the thermometer in one of our tent vestibules dropping to 5. The frigid conditions were easily 10 degrees below the forecast low of 17, and that's before windchill! Consequently, we didn't get moving from our camp below Pear Lake until 8:30. On the way up, the Central Valley was completely clear, and the Coastal Range stood out crisply on the horizon.

The heavy recent snows were causing folks to take the longer route around to the far east portion of the sub-summit of Winter Alta, instead of gaining the summit ridge more directly at the notch seen in Leor Pantilat's pictures above. That, and our late start meant we ended up turning around at 11:00 ~500 feet short of the summit of Winter Alta - just high enough to get a good look at the upper Tablelands and the Brewer massif off in the distance. Despite falling short of the peak, it was a phenomenal weekend.

Hope you all can make it up to the high country while the snow is fresh and the skies are blue.

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Re: TR and Winter Alta Conditions

Postby cslaght » Wed Feb 03, 2016 11:53 am

Incredible pics, looks like an excellent trip indeed. I was in the area to Moose over the summer and the perspective is familiar but dramatically different. The view back to the Watchtower, where it looks so insignificant compared from other views (Lodgepole being the obvious) is always a favorite view of mine. Really gauges how high you climb to the top of that area.
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