Joined: 07 Dec 2004 Posts: 550 Location: Berkeley/Meyers/Motel Subaru
Posted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 8:50 pm Post subject: TR: Fast Times on Skiers Alta-Pear Lake Hut New photos p.2
Fast times on Skiers Alta: Pear Lake Hut 1/14-1/17
“If things don’t seem out of control, you’re not going fast enough.”--Mario Andretti
“I think she’s got at least one more trip in her,” says David. ‘She’ refers to his 80s-vintage Dodge Dynasty, complete with ski racks and a ‘Peace is Patriotic’ bumper sticker. Since David inherited it from his grandfather several years ago, the grey sedan has become an icon on California mountain highways, with Dynasty sightings from Lassen to Mineral King. Despite this storied reputation, Mark and Brian look skeptical. It’s three days past the last big storm, and there’s still chain control on two-lane 198 into Kings Canyon. Like it or not, this ground-hugging, rear-wheel-drive vehicle will be their ski car.
Six hours and a Mexican dinner later, the Dynasty is climbing twisty 198 toward Wolverton. The windows are stuck open, and while David has the heat cranked to the max up front, this doesn’t much help Brian in the back, who survives by cocooning in down bags. Orange cones, then a “Chains Required” sign. There’s maybe a quarter inch of snow and ice on the road. David considers the sign, and seeing no enforcement--just keeps going. He does not even pause at the next three checkpoints.
The Dynasty at the trailhead:
In the morning, it’s confirmed that everyone who is supposed to be there is actually there: mchin, docta_pow and Tracey , Champe and Kathy, John, Brian, David, Jocelyne. (I’m coming in a day later.) Tracey pulls out a fishing scale, and Brian wins the hotly-contested bragging rights for Heaviest Pack at 58 lbs. On with the trip! Right off the bat, comes the most dangerous, exposed part of the route: Kicking steps up the 6-foot vertical snow wall that rims the parking lot. Through steely-nerved effort and dedicated teamwork, the crew makes it over the vertiginous face and arrives the sign that marks the trailhead. Cheated death again.
Jocelyne readies her pack for the climb.
The group cruises up the Hump through piney glades still fresh with snow, the soft January sun filtering through and glinting off surface facets like diamonds. Leaving skins on, they straightline the short descent down to Heather Lake, then around, up, and out, cut a corner past Aster and take a descending traverse to the Front Yard of the hut, arriving with enough daylight for a couple tree runs before dinner.
Without doubt, the evening’s climatic point is John’s dessert extravaganza. This culinary masterpiece--a flaming mix of cream, chocolate, liqueur, and powder snow collected at 9200 ft.--subtly combines postmodernist whimsy with a back-to-nature, survivalist philosophy that blurs the line between food and performance art. Everyone agrees that it tastes much better than the boot liner flambé John had threatened to make.
Master chef John displays his culinary tour de force with sous-chefs Tracey and docta_pow:
Not many feelings compare to awaking in the coziness of a hut, miles from the nearest road, with the high Sierra at your doorstep. Especially when the high Sierra is covered with deep, untracked, snowy bliss. Up to Skiers Alta. A proposal to send down the AT’ers as probes is narrowly rejected (doesn’t AT stand for Avalanche Tester?). Pits and stability tests show the snow to be surprisingly well bonded and inspire enough confidence to drop in on a series of 30-40 degree lines off the east summit of Skiers Alta.
Beneath Little Matterhorn.
John on the Alta ridge.
When I arrive at the hut that afternoon, the crew is doing laps on the Avy Runs in the north-facing bowl behind Little Matterhorn. I drop my 40-lb pack and rush up the 1000 verts to join them. Cresting the ridge, the whole tale of their day’s work comes into view: the uptracks, the pits, the lovely sine-wave powder tracks, first this slope, then this one, then this one. mchin starts to tell me how great it’s been, but really, no explanation is needed.
Brian contemplates his next line, Skiers Alta in the background.
My legs are Jello from the ski in and it takes about 10 minutes to clear the ice and move the pivots on the HHs. Docta_pow, on AT gear, takes note of my pivot-changing tools. “A screwdriver and a chopstick? Is this the lamentable state of modern tele bindings?” Well, maybe, but a chopstick is just so soulful. Finally, I get to drop in too. It’s not Utah gold--maybe 8 or 10 percent--but it’s soft and fun and easy to ski, lapping gently around my knees like waves at a beach in my childhood. It’s over all too soon and with the sun dropping low we head back for dinner.
Kathy seems satisfied with the day’s work. (photo by Champe)
Docta and John survey tomorrow’s terrain:
That night, we’re joined by a trio out to collect water quality samples from the Marble Fork of the Kaweah. After being fed cheese fondue, mushroom risotto and nutella crepes, one of them shares the location of his favorite powder stash, on a ridge between Heather and Aster Lakes. “Soccer Field” seems like a strange name for a ski line, but we decide to reserve some time on our last day to check it out. The rest of the evening takes on an apocalyptic bent as the trio tells us about Central Valley smog and the steady disappearance of Sierra amphibians…
Skins for dinner, anyone? (photo by Champe)
I think they’re full! Docta, David, and mchin sack out:
Of course, the most wonderful thing about Pear Lake Hut is not the wood pellet stove nor the gas oven nor even the solar-powered lighting. The most wonderful thing about Pear Lake Hut is the Clivus Multrum. In fact, so wonderful is this luxurious convenience that one of the water samplers, who had been afflicted with gastrointestinal immobility for a fortnight, finds the inspiration to--errrr, let it all out, so to speak. Post-epiphany, she sings the Clivus’ praises high and low and spares us no details.
Next morning, a plan to head to Alta proper is revised when we find that the west-facing bowl above Pear Lake is breakable in some parts and icy in others, so we end up taking up a rather creative, meandering route back to--surprise!--Skiers Alta. More pits, more freshies. Climb, ski, climb, ski, repeat.
Preparing to change the HH pivots:
Brian and the docta:
Jocelyne and Tracey:
As the sun begins to glow orange I opt for one more vespers run. Alpenglow on the crust above Pear Lake shines iridescent pink and blue like an oyster shell. I’m halfway up when the hut door swings open. “Hey Lucy! James is joining you!” I turn around to see the docta climbing--no, make that running up the hill. He catches up to me. “Boy, this tele gear is so easy to climb in!” I gasp when I realize he’s wearing mchin’s tele boots and skis. Yes, under the docta’s crusty, cynical AT exterior hides a soulful telemark heart. I wonder whether the exchange of foot microbes that’s undoubtedly going on will help James’ inner freeheeler. It’s dusk by the time we descend, but there’s still enough light to reveal that the docta forgets to drop the knee for the first pitch. He makes up for it on the second pitch, linking his virginal backcountry tele turns with aplomb. Maybe he’ll share his experience here.
Vespers at the watchtower:
Smoked-salmon fusilli for dinner and a visit from Fresno Dan and Lone Pine Dave, who are camped nearby. They regale us with tales of winter nights on the Whitney summit, ice axe impalements, and trans-Sierras gone bad. We send them off with warm brownies for their moonlit ski back to camp.
Our last morning, we pack up and head out in search of the fabled Soccer Field. The crew says goodbye to the hut (L-R: Kathy, Champe, Jocelyne, Tracey, mchin, Lucy, Brian, John, docta):
At the bottom of the run, the promised goods don’t look so auspicious but in any case it feels liberating to dump the full packs and climb with just minimal essentials. We fly uphill with our sudden lightness. The pitch soon rolls over to reveal an expansive slope, 20-30 degrees and about 1000 verts. It does look like a soccer field, one that’s covered in powder and tilted on end. Part of the field holds a small grove of gnarled trees that are bejeweled with rime and refract the sun. Up on top, a fierce discussion of the pecking order of various European nationalities culminates in Jocelyne (la francaise) telling docta (le canadien) that he’s heard too much Prairie Home Companion. This low blow is soon forgotten amidst the whoops and hollers of happy powder skiers.
Back on the skin track, the full packs are as heavy as we remembered. The powder on the Hump has become wet heavy slop, but we don’t mind. I trip on a root and the fall leaves me woozy, making the twisty, skier-packed luge-run part of the trail more interesting than usual. At the parking lot, celebratory hugs and beers, then down to Visalia in search of caffeine to fuel the long drive home.
Thanks everyone for an awesome trip!
(Photos by mchin unless otherwise noted.)
Last edited by Lucy on Wed Jan 26, 2005 5:07 pm; edited 2 times in total
Joined: 06 Dec 2004 Posts: 1027 Location: Paradise 94920
Posted: Wed Jan 26, 2005 12:45 am Post subject:
great report lucy, top notch as always.
but what i'm really wondering is what your secret is for getting that many people into the hut? i've been shut out two years in a row on the lottery? what is your secret? feel free to PM me so the world doesn't find out
oh yeah, and also tell me your secret for getting good snow every time you go!!!
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