Ski Mountaineering

SMS Pear Lake Trip
Feb 23-26, 2001

Randy Lamm

This was the third year in a row for good snow on the north facing slopes of Skiers Alta. There were six of us on this trip: John Anderson, Jan St. Amand, Angel Ocana, Bahram Manahedgi, Mark Goebel assisting, and I as the provisional lead.

Although this was a stormy weekend, the weather cooperated just when we needed it to. After an icy drive up to Lodgepole to get the key and a very cold Thursday nite (later found out it had gotten down to 6 degrees F.), everyone met up at 7:30 am for an early departure at the Wolverton trail head (Elev 7,240', UTM 11 S 0344953E, 4051336N ­ for GPS users.) I was a little apprehensive because it had snowed about 6 inches of lite powder the nite before, and I was not looking forward to breaking trail. Nevertheless, the lite pow turned out to not be a big problem, and with 200 HP Bahram, and uphill Ocana taking over it turned out to not be any problem at all!.

After only about an hour or less we found the Panther Gap Junction (Elev 8040' UTM Coord 11 S 0347115E, 4050883N) and started up towards Heather Gap, another 2 hrs or so, we topped out at Heather Gap (Elevation 9,460', UTM Coord 11 S 34348666E, 4051859N). After a brief lunch ­ snack we skied with skins on downhill thru the dry powder to Heather Lake at 9,260'. Next we crossed Heather Lake, and climbed a short hill overlooking Aster Lake ­ except we could not see it due to the snowy conditions. In order to avoid the avalanch risk on the slopes separating Emerald and Pear lake we made a low detour into the drainage leading up to the Pear Lake Hut.

At around 2:30 we arrived at the hut to find it empty and cold (Elev 9,200', UTM 11 S 350266E, 4052270N). After everyone's securing their favorite bunk, we set upon getting the pellet-fueled heating stove going ­ we got it going, but could not get the heat in the hut above 50F !

The current Pear Lake stove is tricky, it was not until the end of the trip when Jeff the caretaker arrived that we learned how to do it. ­ The trick is to put the primer fuel and a can of pellets on the burning wood chips and let it go for a real long time ­ like 20 or 30 minutes, with the flue open a little. Make sure all the ashes are cleaned out. Those pellets go for a long time, after about 30 minutes turn the motorized dispenser dial to the 3 oclock position and close the flue. Jeff got the temp up to about 60 ­ a record! FYI- I think the Ostrander hut has a better stove!

Our next task was to trap the marmot living in the privy. After several close calls we trapped him in a garbage bag which we used to take him to the top of Skiers Alta for a one way trip to Mineral King, so that he could have change of diet ­ brake lines, radiator hoses and anti-freeze!

After each SMS'r claimed his or her bunk, we suited up to venture out into the storm to ski Jeff's run. This entailed a climb up towards Pear Lake and up to the ridge separating Pear and Emerald Lakes. This was the driest powder of the trip ­ like talcum powder ­ so slippery you had to hold your skis while putting them on -- frictionless runs down the slope above the hut's front door. I was totally nockerred after the hike in and that run, but Angel, seeking to get his money's worth, hiked up again for another couple of runs.

Snug in the Hut, Bahram prepared the first of a series of delicious meals. Tonight' menu was spagettii. Aside from the awesome snow, Bahram's cooking was a major highlight of the trip ­ his food rivals the Selkirk Culinary Experience ­ Reudi, you need a new chef?)

After dinner another storm moved in ­ this time more like a Sierra Dumper. The next morning -- Sat, we awoke to a couple of feet of new snow, not the lite dry stuff from Friday, but not totally sierra cement either.

Due to the storminess we continued to ski the slopes around the hut. Richard Geist, along with a friend, was there on a private trip. Richard found some nice knee deep stashes for us on the gullys going back down to the path between Emerald Lake and the Pear Lake creek drainage. We had to balance our need for gravity wells, with our fear of avalanches. The snow was more viscous ­ instead of 5 wt. Wasatch grade, we were skiing 40 wt. Sierra (however still better than the dreaded 90 wt. Sierra Cement Gear Oil variety). We traded off between making a few runs, going into the hut to eat and warm up and going back out. It snowed all day and got very deep. We were worried that it had snowed too much and that instead of making the ascent to Skiers Alta, we would instead be building an addition to Hut's guest room ­ the Igloo below the hut.

We had a turn for the better as the next day ­ Sunday -dawned clear, or at least not snowing. While Richard and friend headed back to Wolverton for the drive home, the rest of us built a skin track up towards the Matterhorn-looking peak above Pear Lake. After making the ridge below Matterhorn, we made our way to the shelf which separates the bowls coming directly off of Skiers Alta and the lower headwall which descends to the Kaweah River Canyon running up to the tablelands.

After some discussion about route finding, Mark suggested that instead of taking the usual ramp up to Skiers Alta, we traverse around the corner to the east which is above Moose Lake and gain the peak just to the east of 11,328' (Skier's Alta.)  This alternate was to avoid the ominous looking cornices overhanging the ramp to Skier's Alta. Since there had been some wind there were areas of slight crust. Still the skiing was pretty good and Angel found us a good steep slope to lay some 8's down above the small spring at just southeast of the Matterhorn at 10,200' (Bowl Run on Map). We made several runs down that slope. As it was starting to get warm we started to make our way back to the hut. As we were traversing the slope towards the Matterhorn, we eyed the inviting steep slope down towards the table lands canyon (actually I believe the Kaweah River drainage). It looked inviting ­ a long vertical drop, but was it safe? A few test turns felt good and no crust. We S'd down to the bottom -- for me the best run of the weekend -­ thru consistent fairly easy shin to knee deep powder with full weighting and unweighting for an uninterrupted 800' of vertical drop. Then an easy traverse and skiing down the slopes on the west side of the Matterhorn down to the hut.

When we got back to the hut, Jeff was there with a friend. Jeff and friend decided to go have a ski, and Angel, wanting his money's worth, joined in. They climbed back up to the Matterhorn ridge and beyond skiing the slope we had just skied. On the way back they skied a steeper longer slope off the Matterhorn Ridge, dubbed ­ "Angel's Flight," where Angel molested the powder on the tight contour lines off the end of the Matterhorn ridge.

That nite we dined on Bahram's Kabob dinner. Monday morning we packed up and found Jeff's trail from the previous day to make it an easy out for us. From Heather Gap down we had decent powder transitioning into heavy stuff. Eventually we joined the toboggan track and made it back to the cars in good time. We found our cars with 3' of snow on them and dug out. All in all good pow, good food, and a good trip with good friends. Looking forward to doing it again next year!

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