Ski Mountaineering

Alice and Hurd

Oct 7-8, 2006

Reiner Stenzel

The summer climbing season in the High Sierra usually ends when the first snowstorms arrive, typically late September to early October. This is the last chance for a peak climb and a great time to admire the fall colors in the Sierra canyons. On a short notice this private Sierra trip was planned.

In the first week of October a snowstorm had covered the high country. Tioga Pass was closed. The weather forecast for the weekend was fine for dayhikes. I decided to do two easy ones: Mount Alice near Glacier Lodge (Big Pine) and Hurd Peak near South Lake (Bishop). Neither is on a "List", for many a reason not to climb them, for some to try something new. Mt Alice also looks skiable and deserved an exploration.

The usual Fri pm exodus from LA was rewarded by a full moon rise over the Mojave Desert. In Owens Valley the Sierrra Crest turned white from moonlight on snow. On Saturday it was a short hike along the South Fork trail (Big Pine Creek ) and then a cross-country ascent of Mt Alice's east face. The XC hike starts in desert brush (8,400'), follows a dry streambed, steepens and runs into decomposed granite slopes which give way to a gentle sandy summit plateau. The summit block at 11,630' is an easy cl3 scramble. During the two-hour climb dark clouds had moved in and now covered all the high peaks.

Occasionally a glimpse of the Palisade Range poked through the clouds which were rapidly sinking down. A cold wind was blowing and much of the summit area was covered with fresh snow. Not a place to linger around for too long. I signed the summit register, dating back to 1991 and only 1/3 filled. The last visitor was several months earlier there. But the peak does get climbed and skied.

After taking some pictures I descended the same way and was back at the car for a late lunch. As regards skiing this mountain, the upper plateau is very easy terrain, the east slope seems a black diamond terrain but some chutes could be avalanche prone. Depending on the snow year and snow conditions, Mt Alice may make a fine ski mountaineering trip in spring.

In the afternoon I drove up to South Lake where the Fall colors were in full swing. Stayed at the Seven Pine Campground since most others were already closed. At sunset time the clouds lit up red, then a full moon rose. Equally pretty was the early morning when the remnant clouds over the Sierra Crest were lit by a setting moon and a rising sun. Hurd Peak (12,237') is the prominent peak seen from the trailhead across South Lake. Class 3 routes go from the east (Long Lake) or west (Treasure Lakes) while the south ridge traverse is class 4. I hiked up the Bishop Pass trail, traversed to the west side of Long Lake and ascended the obvious chute up to the summit. There were patches of snow on the rocks which required some attention. By 11:30am I found the summit register in a glass jar. The last visitors, friends from the SPS/CMC, were here two months earlier. The summit views from Hurd Peak were excellent. The low clouds from the day before had broken up and one could now see many peaks from the distant White Mtns to the nearby Palisade Range. A thin layer of fresh snow had fallen during the night and dusted the High Sierra.

The descent was straightforward and the hike out enjoyable. The view over Long Lake and Chocolate Peak towards the rugged Inconsolable Range was very pretty. Rose petals floated at the shores of Long Lake. In the Bishop Creek Canyon the Fall colors were in full swing. Too bad one had to drive 5 hours on the highway instead of spending them in the mountains.

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