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Starting out at 7a, I spent more than an hour plying the trail up Thomas Creek before encountering the first sections of snow. At first these were patchy and mostly on the north-facing slopes where the trail climbs high to get around some private inholdings. Another hour and a half later found me making the arduous switchbacks up out of the creek canyon. Though south-facing, the trail eventually became more uniformly covered in snow as I climbed above the 8,700-foot level. On went the snowshoes. At the end of the switchbacks I was only able to follow the trail for a short distance before losing it completely. The new snow had amounted to 4-7" and it had definitely not melted off. I found some flagging tape where I thought I might regain the trail, but it amounted to nothing. In trying to gain the main north-south ridge, I started up a subsidiary ridge, moving to the south side which I thought might be easier. I found a loose talus slope with 3" of snow that made for some slow going and did a number on the metal teeth of the snowshoes. Almost two hour after putting them on I had traveled barely more than an additional mile to reach Pt. 9,896ft. The snow had been unexpectedly tough, sinking in with every step, heavy and unconsolidated. I had thought it might take me three hours to reach the summit, but now it was more than 4hrs and I was still a mile away. I briefly considered giving up and heading back down. Visible now to the south, Snowflower Mtn looked far away with several intermediate bumps to add to the difficulties. Using a trick that often gets me remotivated, I decided to at least head down to the first saddle, knowing that the closer I got to my goal the greater the chance that I would not turn around.
It worked. Once I got going again, I kept up a steady pace going up and over the first bump, around the second, and then up the final stretch to the summit ridge of Snowflower. It took another 45min to complete the traverse, getting to the highpoint shortly before noon, almost 5hrs all told. It had been many months since I had taken 5hrs to reach the first summit of the day. Though it had been breezy much of the morning, it was almost calm at the summit and I found it very pleasant. I found no register, but then I only made a cursory effort of clearing snow from around the summit rocks to find one. I pulled out a box of Maui Caramacs (Chocolate, caramel and macadamia nuts) that my wife had handed me the day before. She had gotten them from one of the visiting teams from Hawaii while reffing at the volleyball tournament this past weekend. Later she would ask me what happened to them and feign offence that I hadn't saved any for her. I told her they had saved my life in the mountains and she should be grateful. She said she'd rather have the Caramacs.
The clouds that had hovered around Mt. Rose all day had cleared long enough to give me a nice view of the Carson Range highpoint several more miles to the south. The day before I had thought it might be reasonable to traverse between Snowflower and Mt. Rose, but that seemed laughable now. I turned my attention east to a lesser summit called Alpine Walk Peak, little more than a bump in the middle of Snowflower's East Ridge. From my vantage point, much of the route looked brushy, but it would prove to be no big deal. The initial decent was down snow-covered slopes, rather easy on the snowshoes now that gravity was working to my advantage. As the snow relented I had to pay more attention to the route in order to avoid the brush, mostly skirting the edge between the snowy, forested north slopes and the brushy ridgeline and south slopes. It was 1:30p by the time I had covered the 1.5mi to Alpine Walk. The summit was rocky and modestly brushy, but without a tree nearby it offered nice views in all directions.
I had considered dropping off the SE ridge into Whites Canyon to pick up the trail I would find there, but the route looked brushier still and I was not really wanting to extend the outing any more than necessary. Instead I chose to descend to the north off Alpine Walk, a route which proved far easier than I had imagined. The upper 2/3 of the north-facing slope was consolidated snow that made for quick descending without need of the snowshoes. Below that the steepness continued and though some modest brush was encountered, it was not much of a hindrance, with the result that it took only 40min to return to the Thomas Creek Trail. Another hour went by before I saw the first of two parties, the only ones I encountered all day. The first was a younger, fit-looking couple with smallish backpacks, snowshoes strapped to the outside. They were heading up to camp in the snow, an activity I would not envy them for. The second was a lone female, age uncertain, who I spied off-trail crossing the creek on a log with her small dog in tow, not far from the trailhead. It was nearly 3:30p by the time I returned to the van, making for a 8.5hr outing - it felt more like a day on the Sierra Challenge for all that.
I had planned to spend another day in the area, but found myself less than properly motivated. My boots were soaked from the outing to Snowflower and my feet suffered some as a result. I decided to head home instead, knowing I would be back again in two weeks for yet more volleyball and hiking. Seems I'll have no shortage of reasons to be in Reno over the next few years...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Snowflower Mountain - Alpine Walk Peak - Steamboat Hills HP
This page last updated: Mon May 19 10:12:34 2014
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