To follow a long day of hiking and mediocre skiing, I wanted to give Zach a more standard Tahoe backcountry experience: good snow, challenging terrain, and exceptional views! I also have to admit that I had a selfish desire to ski here so that Zach could get a photograph of me skiing above Emerald Bay — one of the classic Lake Tahoe shots! So we headed to ski the northern of Maggies Peak’s which rises 2,000 ft above Emerald Bay.
We got a bit of a late start, owing both to our weariness and the rude arrival of daylight savings, but managed to hit the trail shortly after 11 AM. I didn’t have any information on the standard ski approach and assumed that it wouldn’t be too tricky, but the terrain turned out to be much more complex than I’d remembered. Some splitboarders who parked next to us sounded familiar with the area and after a brief discussion, Zach and I felt we had enough information to head up the mountain.
We didn’t find a trail, so I started breaking one up the most obvious route, which quickly became steep and dotted with cliffs. I had to be very strategic about placing kick turns so that they would be safe. Making the climb more difficult was the fact that the 4-6 inches of new snow sat on top of a very firm supportable crust which was difficult to get a grip on.
The slope eased up fairly quickly and we soon bumped into the group of splitboarders who had taken a slightly different route, partly resorting to bootpacking up the steep slope. We hiked with them for a while before bumping into a group of three and a dog (Charlie) who had already gotten a lap in and reported that the snow was great — they were heading up for another.
Zach and I took the lead, picking up an established track and following it along a southern traverse. Just as I began to doubt that the track was taking us in a useful direction, it veered sharply uphill. Downhill, however, was a prominent rocky spire, capped with snow and I hiked out to it. I had intended to go to the top of it, but the path to the furthest point was only a foot wide, and seemed like it might not be supported by any rock below. I was also skeptical of my ability to make a kick turn on such a precarious precipice, with the threat of a thirty foot fall, so I stopped several feet short of the high point.
After snapping some photos, Zach and I returned to the skin track, once again at the end of the train. Now that we were on a well established track Zach appeared to be feeling more confident. After talking photography for a while I was fairly out of breath and encouraged Zach to go on ahead and meet me at the top. We passed the splitboarders again, and caught up with a fourth party shortly before gaining the summit.
From Maggies North Peak we had a great view of Desolation Wilderness and South Lake Tahoe, but passing snow squalls obscured much of the lake, including Freel Peak which I had been eager to point out to Zach.
The group of four (as well as Charlie’s group, I later found out) had skied Maggies South Peak before heading over to the twin summit, and their tracks were visible on its north face.
I was fairly surprised to find such a large group of people on the summit all at once — by my count, 12 people and Charlie.
Zach and I transitioned and had a bite to eat before beginning the descent. The snow was incredible and the slope steep and beautifully featured. There were lots of cliffs and gullies and couloirs to play around in, but Zach and I opted to keep things mostly simple.
Zach was very patient in setting up for a photograph in some technical terrain and I’m very excited to see what photos come from our adventures over the weekend!
The ski down was fantastic and we occasionally stopped to play around with our cameras and to marvel at the view.
As we neared the bottom, the snow became crusty and sun-affected and I suggested to Zach that this would be the place to turn around if we wanted to ski again. Although we both would have liked to, Zach had a long drive ahead of him so we skied the rest of the way down to the car and headed home.
- Moderate clouds, passing snow showers, no new snow
- 12+ inches soft snow above 7,000 ft
- 4-6 inches new snow atop supportable crust below 7,000 ft
- Small wet loose slides at lowest elevations on steep aspects
Elevation Gain: 1,900 ft
Total time: 02:58:28