Sat, Apr 2, 2011
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I started from the ski area parking lot at 9a, hiking east to the end of the pavement, then up the wooded rideline that climbs steadily to the top of the ski area in a few miles, gaining around 1,600ft. Two of the main chairs from the two distinct areas of the ski area join here, chairs 7 & 8. The ski patrol hut is located between the two and there was a contingent of the red-jacketed folks setting up for a training exercise when I arrived around 10:30a. I spoke briefly to a few of them before continuing on. They were quite congenial, and unlike some encounters in years' past, they had no issue with me being inside the ski area boundary and regarded it as a regular and encouraged activity. As I was soon to find, Dodge Ridge has a number of cross-country ski routes emanating from its borders, so this is more or less expected. There is a the standard warning sign at the boundary expounding on the backcountry dangers and the lack of rescue personnel patrolling the areas beyond the resort.
My goal was to reach Burst Rock (the only named summit for miles around the ski area), about 3.5 miles further east along the long ridgeline that ascends to over 9,000ft. The bonus goal was a mile further in the unnamed Peak 9,280ft, the highest point in the area with a prominence exceeding 500ft. Though I initially started following the wrong ridge, the fact that the South Ridge soon began to lose elevation gave away that I was heading in a wayward direction. Visibility did not exceed about 1000ft and it was quickly apparent that navigation might not be as simple as I had expected. I got out my compass to verify I was off-course, and soon had myself corrected and heading in the right direction.
The snow was unusually soft - nighttime temperatures did not get below freezing even at 8,000ft - which meant that I would spend much of the day plowing through thick, cement-like snow, sinking anywhere from several inches to nearly a foot with each step. It was slow going, but at least my goal was not so many miles as to make it an impossible reach. At regular intervals I would come across small blue diamonds tacked to the trees to mark the cross-country route. Though the way seemed obvious, it was easy to see that deteriorating visibility could make these markers a welcomed sight. Periodically there were trail signs as well, but these seemed old and for the most part difficult to read.
It took about two hours to reach Burst Rock. The summit itself is rather flat and uninteresting, but the East Face features a large rocky cliff, no doubt for which the name was given. I had only fleeting moments of visibility beyond the quarter to half mile distance that was usual for most of the day. Sometimes I was successful at snapping a picture before the clouds rolled in again, but for the most part these moments did not last more than a few seconds. Near the summit I was surprised to find two cross-country skiers whose tracks I had been following for the last hour. I had thought the tracks were a day or two old, but evidently not. They were outfitted with backpacks and planning 4-5 nights in the Emigrant Wilderness which lay just east of Burst Rock. I envied their opportunity to get back into the Wilderness area for an extended time, but not so much the sleeping in the snow this would entail.
I had set a turnaround time of 12:30p to allow me to get back for the 3p meeting time with the others, but as there was higher ground still along the ridge, I continued another ten minutes beyond that to the local highpoint of Peak 9,219ft. It was here that I first glimpsed the stretch goal of Peak 9,280ft further to the southeast. The distance between them was about a mile, but involved a drop exceeding 300ft between them. I estimated it would take me another hour and a half to reach it and return to where I stood. I had to give up the thought of doing so today.
The return went a good deal quicker than I had expected thanks to the tracks I had laid down that made for less effort on the way back. It was just after 2p when I landed within the ski area, and by 2:15p I was back atop where chairs 7 & 8 meet. I ran into a one of the adults from our group and found that the afternoon meeting time had been moved back to 4p. That useful information allowed me to stop worrying about getting back on time as it looked like I might be close on the original 3p time. With the extra time I sat at the bench in front of the Ski Patrol hut and ate the lunch I had packed with me. Afterwards it took only about 30 minutes to descend the edge of one of the ski runs back to the maintenance area and then on to the parking lot.
The next day dawned sunny and cloudless, a fine day. I had to take some of the boys home early so I had less than three hours once we got to the ski area Sunday morning. I had originally planned to sit and read in the cafeteria, but the sunny conditions were too much of a siren calling to me. I made a short loop, first climbing the west end of the ski area to Dodge Ridge, then over the back side across a small canyon and up to a second ridge that conveniently meets up at the top of Chairs 7 & 8 where the subsidiary ridge joins Dodge Ridge (the same ridge I had started down erroneously the day before). Trees on this secondary ridge were similarly marked with blue diamonds to indicate a backcountry ski route. Shortly before I reached Dodge Ridge again I ran into a pair of ski patrolers who were on a GPSr surveying mission to mark the cross-country routes. They were as surprised to see me as I was to see them. They made their official purpose seem a noble cause, but it appeared more an excuse to get out on a backcountry jaunt and away from the ski area.
The finest view of the day by far was of Mokelumne Peak about 25 miles to the north, standing well above the surrounding terrain.
Overall it had been a much better weekend for snowshoeing than skiing or snowboarding, in my opinion, as it hadn't snowed in the week. Though the area is somewhat bereft of notable summits, it has some opportunities nonetheless for winter visits.
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