Ski Mountaineering

Mt Bago - Kearsarge Lakes

March 22-24,1997

Leaders: Reiner Stenzel, Ken Deemer

Our first scheduled Sierra trip this season turned out to be great fun. We were 7 skiers, Ken Deemer, R.J. Secor, David Kaye, Don Ralphs, Mike Rector, and myself. On Sat 7:30am we met at Gray's Mdw Cpgd, organized our gear and drove up the Onion Valley road past a road block at Seven Pines. Unfortunately, just after the Sardine Canyon turnoff, at about 7,300', an avalanche left an impassible 6' snowbank on the the otherwise clear road. Wearing comfortable tennis shoes and ski gear on the back we walked up the winding road to the parking lot (9,200'), arriving at 10 am. Now the ski trip really started. We ascended to Little Pothole and made our lunch break above Gilbert Lake. It was warm and sunny. We stayed on the South facing corn snow slopes and passed Flower, Heart and Pothole Lake arriving at Kearsarge Pass (11,810') at 3 pm. The view to the West was superb: A vast white mountain range, a true Sierra Nevada. After a few steps down the upper rocky trail we hit snow again and enjoyed a nearly 1,000' ski run down to the Kearsarge Lakes (10,900'). At 4 pm we set up basecamp. The Chouinard Pyramid took a bit longer to set up than the pitching tents. Dinner was prepared at a community kitchen. In the evening clouds rolled in from the West and there was an ominous red sunset and ring around the full moon.

On Sun we skied out by 8:45 am. R.J. signed out to climb University Peak and six skiers headed for Mt. Bago (11,870') SW of Charlotte Lake. It was a quick ski run down to and across frozen Bullfrog Lake (10,600'). There we skinned up to ascend Mt. Bago along its Northern slope and ridge. Clouds billowed by 10 am and it was not obvious whether they or we would reach the summit first.

The upper ridge to the Northern peak involved some tricky sidestepping/climbing. We stayed at a respectful distance from the large cornices along the ridge. By 11 am we summitted, ate lunch, and then the first graupel shower came down. After a careful retreat on sastrugi snow we were ready to drop down into the east facing Bago Bowl. It is a large version of our Baldy bowl and it was filled with the best spring snow the Sierra has to offer. Last summer when I hiked the John Muir trail it was my dream to ski it and now, 6 months later, it came true. But the weather rapidly deteriorated. Clouds were sinking, thunder could be heard in the East, and it snowed steadily. By 3 pm we were back at the basecamp, weather proofed our tents and had an early dinner in the snow. There was no sign of R.J. which raised our concern by the time it got dark. Contingency plans were made, flashlights and whistles activated, and a quick search started. Luckily, a tired skier was discovered in the darkness. His comment to climbing University Peak in a snowstorm: "It was hell!" Later that night we enjoyed to watch the lunar eclipse through openings in the clouds.

Monday morning was clear and cold. We packed and skied by 9 am reaching Kearsarge Pass at 10 am. After a last view of the Great Western Divide we started our descent to the East. The corn snow was so inviting that we telemarked nearly down into Pothole Lake. Then we carved turns in the fine bowl north of Heart Lake. One corn snow slope followed another one, until we were at the parking lot around 11:30 am. After some bushwhacking over avalanche debris we continued skiing for another mile along the creek. Finally, the fun came to an end with an hour walk down the road. Everyone left safely at 2 pm, tired but satisfied with a fine ski mountaineering adventure. Special thanks to Ken for offering lead assistance in the last moment.

Reiner Stenzel

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