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T.R. Ski Tour from South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Mon Apr 22, 2019 11:23 pm
by Harlen
I've long been wanting to ski in and out of Evolution Valley, which I had heard was really lovely in winter. My first choice was to try the Echo Col-- Piute Pass route, but because of my tree-loving Vermont friend, I decided we'd ski in over Bishop Pass, and down, down into the deep forest of LeConte Canyon on the way. We left on Saturday April 13th, and made it from Parcher's Camp to upper Bishop Lakes- a gain of 2,000 feet. Our plan was to cross passes in the early mornings to get out in front of wet snow avie risk. We had climbing skins, crampons, 1 axe and 1 Whippet, and 100' of 7mm rope and gear enough to hopefully handle any sketchy bits. Thanks to Paul, I now had a model of his set-up- 180cm Atomic Rainier hybrid touring skis, with lightweight 3-pin touring bindings. Drew used 169cm Fischer touring skis, with a built in climbing skin clamp deal in front. Very light, but the Fischer skins have a lesser grip than the Black Diamond "kicker-skins," and Drew's climbing suffered a bit for it. My "Paul set-up" has custom cut, edge to edge full-skins. We were up and over Bishop Pass early, and the ski down through Dusy Basin has to be one of the best descents in the range! We enjoyed the first two-mile easy downhill run, and then pulled up, and booted our way down two sets of steep bits, for fear of falling and to better wend our careful way through wet-snow avie country. Deep, soft snow in the bottom of Leconte (which was just 8,800' where we hit it) made for rough travel, and we only made Big Pete Meadow the second day.

The slog up to Muir Pass from there is a climb of 2,755', and due to a very late start- enjoying a rare fire-camp, it took all day. That third day the weather turned from perfect to cloudy, then cloudy and windy, and by the time we reached the climb up to Helen Lake we were being blasted by wind-driven snow. Visibility was off and on, we set a compass bearing now and again in case of white-out, but never really needed it. Being exposed like that made us pause to think, and we decided that if it got much worse, we would simply dig out a 3 x 7 foot grave site- no, "sleeping trench," over which we would tie down our skis, and then partially bury the tarp over the trench for cover. This would be a challenge in that level of wind, when packs and skis needed to be anchored. Anyhow, none of this drama proved necessary, though my friend thought we should do it, I knew that Muir Hut had to be really close.

We found the Muir Hut in a great snow hole. It was cold and empty, but it got us out of the wind- it was a palace to us! This little storm stayed awhile, and then the weather turned perfect for our final couple of days. The trip was 6 days and 5 nights, and this is a sketch of our route: South Lake to Bishop Pass; LeConte Canyon to Muir Pass; Evo. Valley to Darwin Bench; over Alpine Col, down to Piute Pass, and on down past North Lake to the town of Aspendell. It was just over 40 miles, and the change from Echo Col to Bishop Pass added just 5 or 6 miles and 1000.' A Bishop friend helped us with the car shuttle, dropping us at Parcher's Camp a mile below South Lake to start out. The rest is better told with the photos.

South Fork Bishop Creek. We were alone up here for the first 5 days, seeing only 1 coyote and 1 marmot. On the last day we ran into 2 people and 1 coyote.

Bishop Pass is the low point on the skyline.

The best route for us was to reach the pass from the left- Northeast.

Easy skiing from the top of Bishop Pass, with the Black Divide in the distance.

The Palisades from the west: Agassiz- Winchell- Thunderbolt- and North Palisade, with Isosceles Peak at the far right.

Above is a touring paradise, but here you need some more skill- we were soon booting down.

Avie risk increased on the lower slopes. We were careful to avoid open, convex slopes like the one seen beyond the trees here, and especially slopes with snow perched on slabs. We noted quite a few recent D1 and D2 avalanches.

Here's one such, generated on the low angle, but slabby rock formation above.

We avoided most of this risk by moving down through the trees.

I was stunned by the mountain walls that hang over Leconte Canyon-- Breathtaking!!

We did find some nice forest, with juniper, hemlock, red fir, and a few of these western white pine. We also heard a lot of grouse booming in the canyon.

Below is a view south down LeConte Canyon in fine weather.

Re: T.R. Ski Tour from South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 12:07 am
by Harlen
Note the difference a night makes. This is the same view south down Leconte Canyon as in the last picture above.


Nearing Muir Pass,

At the pass finally.

Muir Hut.

We were pretty frozen here, and I assumed I would be coated with snow and ice, but it doesn't really show. The cold, hard stuff was bouncing off us.

Next morning, not far to the south of the hut are these couloirs for the daring- the "limpingcrabs" among us!

Just northeast of Muir Pass are these easy ski slopes.

We loved the Muir Hut.

It snowed lightly, but blew up to 60 knots through the night, so we had a very white world to ski down through.

The view back south, with Black Giant in the middle left.

The Mendel-Darwin Wall, but already the weather was turning to snow and cloud again.

Re: T.R. Ski Tour from South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 1:04 am
by Harlen


And then nice again! This is Mt Fiske and Huxley of Evolution Valley.


"The Hermit" at dawn from our Fourth camp.



Of course the damn boot soles failed, but I was able to drill through the rubber sole on each side, using a Swiss army knife awl tool. Cords through those holes went through another I'd cut in the small leather flap at the boot top. The black duct tape is to strengthen it. It held the rest of the trip.

Skiing up into Darwin Bench. Fiske, (*or is that Mt Warlow?) Huxley and Goddard in the distance.


Darwin Bench. The lower lakes are 11,600, and the upper Lake is 11,920, with the path to it seen here in the upper middle, right of center. It's a stark and beautiful place, and fascinating for Drew, who lives deep in Vermont's deciduous woodland.

We toured around the 2 big lakes in Darwin Bench.

This would be our 5th and last camp, so we decided to dig out a giant snow cave for the last night. It took us more than 2 hours of hard labor, but turned out very nice. No photos because we made a pre-dawn start.

Re: T.R. Ski Tour from South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 2:00 am
by Harlen

Our final day of the trip would begin with the climb up the steep south side of Alpine Col. My map calls it just 480' from the highest lake, but it seemed like more. It is quite steep, and as you ascend you are perched on your points above rocks that protrude from the snowfield. We packed our skis the whole way, and trusted the old ice-axe and crampons. I used the Whippet tool, shortened to 80cm- and I should have detached the basket in order to better use it for self-belay. We had no trouble at all, but we were placing our steps very carefully. The north side was less steep, and very stable at that early hour.

We were able to ski all the way down from Piute Pass to well below North Lake, along the road till I saw an opportunity to make a speedy short-cut by glissading (butt-sliding) down a steep snow slope that put us near our car in upper Aspendell.

Alpine Col from the south east. The lower angled approach is from right to left.


On top of Alpine Col looking north-west.


The Goethe Glacier to the west.

Looking back up the north west side of Alpine Col.

Skiing on frozen Goethe Lake, Alpine Col above.

Mt. Humphreys

Drew, relieved to be on the final pass, but we both really enjoyed the trip.

Re: T.R. Ski Tour from South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 10:39 am
by Silky Smooth
Congrats on a great trip and on 3 pin no less!!! Really loved your shots, thanks for posting

Any post trip takeaways, anything you'd do different guys?

Re: T.R. Ski Tour from South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 10:41 am
by gary c.
Absolutely beautiful pictures!! I wish that I were willing and able to put up with the conditions to do a trip like that, Thanks for sharing with us.

Re: T.R. Ski Tour from South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 12:44 pm
by Harlen
Silky Smooth asks:
Any post trip takeaways, anything you'd do different guys?
You don't know what a loaded question that is Silky! I can begin with the petty stupidities, move on to gear issues, and end with lifestyle choices.

Petty stupidity # 1. No chapstick! Result: much suffering still; the sun will burn holes in your lips. Fix: Take 5 lip-blocks/chapsticks/whatevers and hide them all over your backpack.

#2. Lost half our white gas! Found the top to my MSR fuel container slightly loose. Result: packed out some dinners. Fix: Tighten the hell out of your white gas container top. Question: Why did it leak so?

#3. Too many Clifbars, which became rock hard. Fix: More Tigersmilk bars (*increasingly hard to find).

(I will try to leave out the ongoing free-heel vs AT gear question)

#1. I will take kicker skins instead of tip to tail full skins for almost all future trips. Full skins are heavy- especially in the wet spring snow.
#2. Screw together all boot soles! This was the 4th time boot soles have pulled away.
#3. Keep wet leather boots well wrapped up and up against the z-bag. Had 1 morning with solid boots which were a pain till they thawed out.

LIFESTYLE Get stronger- TRAIN!! I had planned like a 20 year old, and performed like the out of shape, nearly 60 year old I am. I had wonderful plans to reach Muir Hut in 2 days, and spend the next 2 free days touring and climbing around Ionian Basin... and did none of it! We chose easy days instead, and didn't suffer, but we couldn't pull off any day tours/climbs. Makes me sad :crybaby:

Re: T.R. Ski Tour from South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 1:17 pm
by Flamingo
What an amazing tour!? Thanks @Harlen for sharing these stories and photos. Very inspirational.

Re: T.R. Ski Tour from South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 5:18 pm
by Silky Smooth
Thanks Harlen for your feedback, I appreciate it, yes I know how loaded it was :))

I've been tweeking my touring set up all season and wanted to pick our brain; I have heard that about the kicker skins a few times now, great for spring skiing

ohhh the little things....the fuel cap thing has happened to me as well in the winter

thanks again, what's next??

Re: T.R. Ski Tour from South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 9:09 pm
Thanks for sharing such an amazing trip! Really something...