We didn't get up too early today due to a toughter than expected previous day, such that Matthew and I would pay for it with another return by headlamp at the end of the day. It was 8a before we arrived at the top of Donner Pass and looked around for the Alpine Institute to mark the trailhead. Seems that sometime in the past few years that venerable institution was purchased and renamed the Sugar Bowl Academy, though what exactly is taught there wasn't clear to either of us. Less clear was why we didn't see the many No Parking restrictions that Yamagata's website had warned us of. This too had changed, and it now looked like one could park off the road anyplace between the Academy and the Judah Lodge Road.

Temperatures were again chilly this morning but would warm up significantly as the day progressed. The sun was out for most of the day, with the only clouds coming as a broken thin layer late in the afternoon. All in all, it was a fine day and the only regret was in not starting earlier.

We climbed Donner Peak to start the day, an easy climb that took little more than an hour to reach. Our planned route is a very popular ski & snowshoe tour, and there were plenty of tracks already beaten into the snow from the last week. Enroute there were great views of Donner Lake, Castle Peak, and the Summit Valley areas. From Donner we followed the ridge to Mt. Judah, then turned west and headed to Mt. Lincoln. Avoiding the Sugar Bowl ski area, we kept just outside the fenceline strung around the perimeter and guarding the summit of Mt. Lincoln on that side. We traversed the steep East Face of Lincoln (where we probably should have had crampons on but were too lazy to bother) until we landed on the SE Ridge a few hundred feet below the summit. We discussed briefly climbing Mt. Lincoln at that time or waiting for the return in the afternoon. We opted to postpone that summit, primarily so I could then traverse to Mt. Disney at the very end.

We continued in a general southeast direction following along the Sierra Crest. About two thirds of the ridge was snow covered with the remaining sections a mix of volcanic gravel or talus. We used a mix of crampons, snowshoes and just boots as we made our way along the highly scenic ridgeline up and over a handful of intermediate bumps on our way to Anderson Peak. It was 12:30p when we reached the Benson Hut, just north of Anderson. There were plenty of folks inside and one of them came out to greet us, wondering if we planned to stay the night as well. In our brief chat he told us there were nine staying the night - too many for my liking, but they certainly were a lively bunch.

After our visit we only got another 30 feet or so before we stopped again, this time to put on our crampons. We chose a route up the north side, the narrower chute on the left side that goes directly to the summit. It was quite steep, but the snow was in excellent form for the ascent, easy to kick steps with secure footing. The whole ascent took only ten minutes, but they were the best ten minutes of the day.

At the summit we took a break while we perused the summit register, the first we'd seen for the day. I asked Matthew if he was up for going on to Tinker Knob. He was mostly indifferent to it, but if I was going to do so he said he'd have to join me. We'd climbed Tinker Knob a few years earlier from Squaw Valley and I was eager to do so from the north so I could have hiked this whole section of the Sierra Crest. So off we went.

It didn't take long to get from Anderson to Tinker Knob, only about 45 minutes. We climbed it via the short NE Ridge which was mostly snow free. From the summit we could see Lake Tahoe and most of the peaks around the Tahoe area. Granite Chief, The Needle, and Lyon Peak were lined up on the next ridge south of us, with many fine peaks in the Desolation Wilderness behind it. On the descent I chose to go down the loose, but not technically challenging north side for no other reason than to do something different. I met back up shortly with Matthew who had gone down the ascent route, and we headed back north along the crest. Halfway back to Anderson we ran into two guys from the ski hut who were jogging their way over to Tinker Knob. They were making it look like a Sunday morning run to the corner to get a newspaper and coffee.

Upon returning to Anderson, we collect the snowshoes and poles we had left there, then descended down the same snow gully we'd come up earlier. Going down first, I stopped halfway and moved to the side so I could get some pictures of Matthew descending the gully. As we both finished up the gully, the two from Tinker Knob came down by way of the wider gully to the west, passing us. There were others outside the hut as we passed by, some chopping wood, others digging snow caves for practice. Too much time inside had driven them outside for some exercise and fresh air.

Another hour and a half had us to the summit of Mt. Lincoln at 4:30p. As we were ascending from the south, we had seen the last of the ski patrol departing for their final sweep of the ski resort at the end of the day. Consequently we had the summit and to the top of the Lincoln Chairlift to ourselves. The true summit was graciously left unmolested by summit structures a short distance from the chairlift, where we wandered over for a summit photo. With about an hour left of daylight, I was eager to make the traverse northwest to Mt. Disney, though Matthew wasn't keen on the idea. Any mountain named for cartoon characters didn't rate very high in his view. Though the summit of Mt. Disney was nothing to get excited about, the traverse off Lincoln looked challenging. Matthew decided to head back more directly while I took off on the traverse.

I found a bit more than I had bargained for, but able to negotiate my way without serious mishap. With loose, steep rock and softened snow it was certainly the most challenging section of the entire day. I had to put on the crampons several times in transitioning from rock to snow and back again more than once. At one point I took an unplanned slide down a snow slope I was attempting to traverse. I immediately tried to arrest my fall with my axe, but found it only partially effective. It slowed, but didn't stop my slide of about 20 feet that eventually landed me in the wet gravel at the end of the snowbank. I felt a bit sheepish. In other spots free of snow I found the ground incredibly saturated and loose like quicksand. In one place where I slipped and caught myself with my hand, the ground around where my hand had impacted immediately turned to liquid and began running down in a small stream of mud. It was very odd, as though the ground was super-saturated and made an instant phase change with the small shock. Once I was down to the saddle between the two summits I had gotten past all the difficult spots, and the rest of the climb up to Mt. Disney was straightforward and mostly on snow.

I reached Disney just as the last rays of the sun were fading for the day. From the summit I headed north off the ridge, descending to the ski lodge in a fairly direct manner. Though there were others about outside, no one hassled me for being out there on the mountain after closing. I walked back out to the Judah parking lot where Matthew was to meet me if he got back to the car first. He was no where about. So I got out my headlamp and started out along the road, hoping he'd be coming around the corner at any minute. It was almost 7p by the time I got back to the car where I found Matthew had just arrived a few minutes earlier. Rather than taking a direct route down one of the ski slopes and then out the road from the parking lot, he had skirted the ski area as we had on the way in and it had taken much longer. We were both disappointed with that decision in the end. But it had been a very enjoyable day, not nearly so cold and late as the day before. With some cold Mike's to re-energize us we were soon driving back to Reno for dinner and a hot shower...


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