After talking a big game all season, Rafee finally found himself a ski touring setup and was looking to break in his new equipment.
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!
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!
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!
Eventually the rock became loose enough that we could plunge step, but this also meant that it was loose enough to pick up momentum. I was fortunate to happen to look back up the slope just as the rock was starting to slide on its own and shouted to Rafee to take cover. We managed to jump to the side as several soccer ball sized rocks came hurtling past.
Along the shore where we stood, the trail happened to be littered with great skipping rocks (a rarity in the Sierra!) and Rafee and I spent a couple minutes lobbing rocks out onto the ice and reveling in the alien sounds produced.
Although I didn't recognize many peaks in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness, I spied The Three Chimneys and Granite Dome in Emigrant Wilderness as well as now familiar Tower Peak, far south in Yosemite. I also spied a distant peak between Sonora and Stanislaus Peaks and was amazed to later identify it as Mt Lyell, 60 miles distant on the far side of Yosemite!
The hike lead us through quite a spectacular variety of terrain, including granite of all shapes, sizes and angles, and meadows, both lush and dry.
We arrived at the crux of the climb where I had read that the standard route ran up the gut of this gully and was called "The Staircase." I could indeed see the large 3-5 foot ledges and agreed that this was probably the easiest way up, normally. At that moment, however, the steps were buried in 3 to 12 inches of snow.