Fri, Feb 13, 2004
Despite our delay in Grass Valley, we managed to reach Boreal and the Pacific Crest TH for a 10a start. I was disappointed to find the parking on the north side of I80 is no longer available, and the Snow Park area more inconveniently located on the south side back behind the Boreal Motel. It would have been shorter to the TH if we just parked in the Boreal Ski Area lot, but for some reason I had it in my head that we needed to take advantage of our Snow Park season pass. Duh. I felt silly walking the half mile of pavement around and under I80 to reach the TH. Not much of a wilderness adventure there. As we were to find, none of our three days were much in the way of wilderness solitude. Much of the Sierra north of Lake Tahoe is a snowmobilers paradise, and it is hard to really escape them anywhere.
Our snowshoes were packed on our backs as we hiked the first mile or so in on a well-packed trail in our boots. We noted the snowmobile trail forking to the left near the start, ourselves continuing northwest on the skiers track. A fork shortly thereafter showed a ski trail forking left which I vaguely recalled was the route heading up to Castle Pass. We intended to follow the route arcing up from the pass as it was the only one we were sure of. Matthew was in the lead and forked right out towards the meadow on an equally well-established trail. This one however soon began to fork in many directions and we would take whatever looked to be the most used. Mostly this was an alternate trail system used by those out cross-country returning from many directions. We stopped to shed some clothing as we warmed up, taking in the view of Castle Peak's south-facing aspect ahead of us. As our trail petered out more and more I was becoming convinced it didn't really lead to the pass, but somewhere further north. That was fine with me, as I hoped we might get close enough to discover an alternative route up on the South Face. When we began postholing more than four to six inches we decided it was time for the snowshoes. We were soon following a single skier's track and I brought up to Matthew the idea of climbing the large chute up the middle of the South Face. "What chute?" was his response. We had actually gone past the most direct approach to it, and from our skewed vantage to the left it wasn't so apparent. Matthew hadn't been scouting the face as I had been. So I pointed out the V-shaped groove marking the chute and said it looked like we could make it up that way. Matthew offered no objection and quickly assented. I love that about Matthew.
As we climbed up above treeline, the snow became firmer, both wind-packed and "baked" in the sun during the previous week. The slope also became steeper as we approached the small rock tower guarding the entrance to the chute. Though spiked on the bottom, our snowshoes are a poor substitute for crampons. Fortunately the snow was not too firm, and with some vigorous kicking of steps as we went, we were able to make it to the tower. The wind had carved out the snow at the base creating a nice pocket in which we could catch our breath and remove our snowshoes. Looking up, we could see that a combination of wind and sun had kept the chute mostly free of snow and ice. How convenient. The climbing was class 2 at the bottom, higher up the snow had taken hold of the chute leaving only small rock patches on the steeper terrain. We hopped from patch to patch, then came upon some solid class 3 scrambling that was quite fun (with crampons we could have avoided the class 3 and followed the snow in the main part of the chute). After we'd climbed several hundred feet, the chute opened up into a broader upper section that we hadn't suspected - another several hundred feet of climbing. Because the slope had eased, there was far less danger of slipping on the snow in our boots. Still, we used the rocks where we could for increased security and made our way up to the crest.
We found ourselves at the base of the middle tower. Having been up before, I knew the east tower to be the highpoint (or at least where the register is located), so off we went in that direction skirting the towers on the south side. As we approached the east tower Matthew spotted another climber atop the middle tower. "Ha!" I thought, "Wrong tower!" We hiked around to the east side of the east tower, to the base of the 30-foot class 3 route, the easiest way to the top. I commented to Matthew that it looked easier than last time, but it wasn't because I was any better climber - last time the route was coated with wind-blown rime ice that made it a dicier proposition, even if mostly mental. Today it was bone dry. I climbed up first, still wearing my full-sized down mittens - the holds are that good. It was noon when we landed on the summit, a solid two hours - not bad for a winter climb.
We dug out the register from a snow-filled crack and found ourselves making the first entry since October. We had no illusion that we were doing something rare - I think most people just don't dig out the register when they climb it during winter. In fact there had been foot prints in the snow leading to the base of the route not more than two or three days old. As if to prove the point, we weren't on top five minutes before another climber came up to join us - the guy who had been on the middle tower. We assured him he had finally reached the true summit and handed the register to him. He had come up from Castle Pass on skis, ditching them atop the west tower, and climbing the successive towers until he reached the right one. We snapped a few pictures of the views (W - SE - S - SW), but with the heavily overcast skies they were generally lacking in color and definition. We noted the two fixed bolts at the summit, evidently used to descent the southwest face of the summit. Looking down, the route was steep but short - maybe 20 feet, and looked to have decent holds. I decided I hadn't had enough rock climbing yet and went down that way. It was grand fun - nearly vertical, but good holds - what I would rate class 4. I quickly moved away from the base and positioned myself to get pictures of Matthew coming down the same way. It looks far more impressive in pictures than in reality - just the way I like it.
We went back around the south side of the middle tower and I paused here to climb it as well. It was another fun class 3 rock scramble, maybe 25 feet. The other climber was still atop the east tower and it gave me a good opportunity to get a few pictures with him for perspective. The route we took down looked even more impressive from this vantage point. I climbed back down to rejoin Matthew who waited below, then we headed to the easy west tower and our exit off Castle Peak. Our next stop was Basin Peak about a mile and half to the northwest. The ridgeline connecting it to Castle Peak looked easy enough and sufficiently wind-blown to make us debate bothering with the snowshoes. While we debated the issue (the toughest part was the intial moderately steep descent off the west tower), the lone climber returned to retrieve his skis and started down. We followed, leaving our snowshoes on our packs.
100 feet off the summit we came across a pack of young guys with snowboards strapped to their backs making their way up. About eight in all, they had come up for some nice backcountry boarding on the west side of Castle Peak. We continued northwest along the ridge, the wind now blowing with considerable force, far greater than it had been on the summit. Matthew used his poles for balance, but I just sort of teetered along, enjoying the challenge of doing the drunken walk across the frozen talus. We were careful not to move too far to the right where we knew enormous cornices had developed on the leeward side of the ridge. Despite the 30-40mph winds, we made it over to Basin Peak in but 30 minutes - it really is an easy walk even in nasty weather. Again we found the winds calmer at the summit than lower on the ridge which was quite nice - I would have a chance to warm up. We looked north towards Mt. Lola, our goal for the following day, but weren't quite sure which it was (we found our "best guess" was indeed Lola the next day). To the southeast was Castle Peak, it's three prominent towers easily discernable. A register is purported to be in a coffee can somewhere on the Basin Peak summit, but the rounded top was fully covered in snow and guessing where to dig it out would take either supernatural skill or incredible luck. We didn't bother. We snapped photos of each other, then got ready to head off again. Looking down the south side of the peak, it looked to make a nice descent route down to Round Valley. Down we went. We leapt down in plunge steps, glissaded where it was steep enough, and quickly found ourselves 800ft lower and in need of our crampons again as the snow was less consolidated below treeline.
We hoofed our way down to and across Round Valley, wondering where the Sierra Club's Peter Grubb hut was located. As I was speculating this to Matthew, we suddenly spied it overlooking the meadow (Round Meadow would have been more appropriate than Round Valley) on the southwest side. We ambled over to it to check it out. Several friendly dogs came rambling up to greet us, then went tearing around elsewhere when we turned out to be not so interesting. A couple of skiers were outside as we approached, but went inside before we got there. The snow was up to the second floor and we found ourselves looking in the back window of the upper floor, eight to ten sleeping arrangements lined up, filling the space. It looked popular and crowded. We didn't go inside, but walked around to the front where we could see someone had done a fine job of digging out the front door, making a snow staircase 7 feet up to the open ground. We gave the dogs another pat when they came around again, then we left.
We hiked up to Castle Pass and then headed south to the summit of Andesite Peak, an easy third peak for the day. A small wooden sign adorned the obvious summit cairn, and after a few more photos we headed back. Down through the trees we made our way through some thick virgin snow before reaching the well-packed trail below. Off came the snowshoes, and we hoofed it back to our car by 4p. A very nice six hour outing, climbing everything we'd set out for (ok, it wasn't all that ambitious really). We headed down to Truckee where we found no room at the Holiday Express, and not expecting to find a room elsewhere in town nor wanting to waste time finding that out, we just drove down to Reno. There we found a Motel 6 for $48 which made us quite cozy and happy. We would have been even happier if we could have gotten it for two nights, but they were booked for Saturday and Sunday night on this holiday weekend. That's what we get for not planning in advance. Dinner in town, a little gambling, and we were in bed around 9p, rather exhausted from our many hours driving and hiking.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Castle Peak - Basin Peak - Andesite Peak
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:02 2007
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