Sierra High Route, Part 1.

Jeff and Michael joined me to ski one of the most classic big-ski tours on the West Coast:  The Sierra High Route.  To maximize the actual skiing and minimize what would be a painful climb to Shepherd Pass (the traditional start), we start a little further north at Kearsarge Pass, giving this tour an incredible alpine feeling.

Connie dropped us off at the trailhead in Onion Valley on 9 May, and we got to put the skis on almost immediately, and skinned all the way up to Kearsarge Pass.  The pass was melted out on the west side, though, so we got to have a short hike to the snowfields on the otherside before we could traverse down to Bullfrog Lake.  We got to be pleasantly surprised a second time when we were able to ski all the way down to Bubs Creek (this south-facing slope is usually melted out).  We got camp set up just as the snow started falling.  The 20% chance of 1-2 inches turned into 100% chance of 2+ inches, making me wonder about the next day.

I shouldn't have worried.  Day 2 (10 May), started out bluebird.  In fact, every morning was clear on the tour, and we faced the worst weather in the first half of the tour.  A quick crossing of Bubs Creek led us to one of the biggest climbs on the trip:  3100+ feet to get up and over Deerhorn Saddle.  Still, we got to skin up Verdette Creek, between the East and West Verdette Peaks, across some incredible alpine scenery.  Our ability to enjoy that scenery was dampened, markedly, by the increasing winds.  Howls of frustration - ours - was drowned out by powerful howls of wind that knocked us about, really making the crossing a survival moment.  The short descent to the Ericson Lakes was a comparitive relief, despite the continued wind and storm.

We woke up in the morning half-buried by snow drift and clear, clear weather.  We could finally enjoy the alpine bowl that we were nested in, surrounded by rocky summits of Deerhorn, Stanford, and Ericson.  Today's task (Day 3, 11 May) was to climb up and over Ericson Col, then ski and traverse over to Milestone Creek.  The north slope of Ericson Col was icy pretty low down, causing us to start booting with 800 feet to climb.  The final 100 feet, of course, is the sting.  We carried a rope on this tour just for this moment, to give us a brief belay and security as we left the snow and scrambled up steep rock to the Col proper.  We topped out at 12:30pm under clear skies and light winds, and voted to get part of the ski done before grabbing lunch.  More skiing across the glacial horst (heights) and graben (ditches) led to Milestone Creek, which we climbed a little before making camp.  It snowed briefly right at dinner time before clearing up for the night.  Tomorrow's objective was the half-way mark:  Milestone Mountain and Pass.

Statistics:  The Sierra High Route, Part 1.  Crossing Kearsarge Pass, Deerhorn Saddle, and Ericson Col.  Three days and nights, 9-11 May.

More photos, with captions and credits, are on my Picasa account at http://picasaweb.google.com/mtnfreak/20100509SkiSMCSierraHighRoute#.  Or press play on the slide show below!