I had been leading the hike for the last two hours and when I crested this rise I jokingly shouted “oh no!” However, as I looked, I instantly regretted the joke. This was indeed a false summit, but the true summit was even further than I possibly could have guessed.
Every couple steps I stopped to check if I could see a way up, but the route still wasn’t visible and with every stop, the clouds grew denser and the visibility worsened. By the time I should have been able to see the route, visibility was less than 50 feet, so I decided to continue up the slope to my left, hoping that I wouldn’t arrive at a cornice.
There wasn’t the slightest hint of a breeze on the summit and the sun was warm, so I laid out my skins and glove liners to dry while I perused the register and had a luxurious lunch. This is what Sierra summits are all about!
After climbing one particular waterfall, the entire forest suddenly transitioned to zombie cedars and the sunlight filtered through the toothpicks providing a magical light. Rafee and I agreed that it felt as if we’d just stumbled into Rivendell!
I had second thoughts about deciding to bring my “fat, fun” skis rather than my narrower “mountaineering” skis for which I have ski crampons. With ski crampons, I would probably easily maintain my initial pace of 1,500 vertical feet per hour. Instead, it would take me two hours to climb the next 1,000 ft.
Now that we were out of the chute it was apparent that whatever few rocks we had hit on the exit were nothing compared to what was in store for us. We spent a few minutes picking our way through the rocky snowfield (or perhaps snowy rockfield?) and near the bottom I found room to link a few turns but was again punished by the rocks just before we made it to the clear.
To follow a long day of hiking with mediocre skiing, I wanted to give Zach a more standard Tahoe backcountry experience: good snow, challenging terrain, and exceptional views!
We summited unceremoniously and I regretted having told Zach that Freel had “the best view in Tahoe.” At the moment, we could hardly see a hundred feet.
I gained another 50 feet and the flapping of my hood against my helmet was deafening. I saw a rocky outcrop above me and climbed toward it to take shelter in its lee and formulate a plan. As I rounded the outcropping on the windward side, the intensifying wind pushed me against the rock and I tried to regain my footing but found that I was utterly pinned.
After thirty feet the couloir widened, but the snow covered granite wall still towered above on either side. Below me gleamed Lake Tahoe and the north end of Fallen Leaf Lake. There can’t be many ski descents in the world to equal this!