Ski Mountaineering

Pear Lake Ski Trip
Feb 17-19, 2017

Tom Marsh

When the five of us (Jerome, Bill, Bruce, Sung and I) saw the weather forecast for the weekend, we were excited. The chance of new snow conjured up images of endless laps on the front and back lawn in powder skiing. Maybe even a ski to the top of Skier's Alta. Winter storm warnings were hoisted for Friday, February 17th. I would soon find out later from our hut-keep, Patrick, that warning is more than a "watch" or "advisory". We saw the forecast for heavy snow and high winds as possibly making things difficult, but hey, we've done this before. Right? Besides, we have spots in the hut and the prospect of powder skiing.

It started snowing early in the morning on Friday, but the snow intensified as we left the Wolverton parking area at around 9:30am. At first the snow was wet, but as we ascended toward "the Hump" the snow got lighter and no longer got you wet. No visible tracks were found, so we followed the tree markers and used GPS waypoints to find our way. The viability was good in the trees before the Hump. Luckily, we met up with a snow shoe group that had left the hut early that morning. They provided a really nice broken trail to a little past Heather Lake.

On a couple of occasions, we stopped to take a break to drink and eat, but found it most uncomfortably cold being wet from the inside and out. So we pushed through with very little rest. The moving was good following the snow shoe track until we got to the top of the ridge between Heather and Emerald lakes. The driving winds and snow had covered up any trace of the snow shoe tracks. In addition, the snow on the other side was much less consolidated and deep. Just descending down to the drainage was work. Skis tips would dive to the depths of the snow pack requiring digging to get out. Visibility was near zero at that point requiring the use of a GPS to know what direction to follow. The going got a lot harder as we started climbing again towards the hut. The snow was so deep that it was impossible to keep the ski from being buried to the level before the storm. It was painfully slow even with all five of us taking turns breaking. It took about one and a half hours to go the final mile.

Luckily, we made it to the hut by 4pm after seven hours of near continuous trekking. Patrick and Lauren had a fire going and hot water upon arrival. The storm would rage on through the night on Friday depositing around 30 inches of new snow from Friday morning to Saturday morning.

The next day we awoke to partly cloudy skies and a whole lot of snow. Some of us got to helping Patrick and Lauren shoveling off the steps into the hut and the path to the back window used for water transport. The creek had 20 feet snow walls. Lauren would have to build a snow bridge to get to the water. After much prepping the path to the water, we got a group together to shuttle the water back and forth to the hut. After our morning chores, some of us set out to break a path from the hut. At first tracks were laid to the top of the front lawn and then eventually up to Pear Lake and the top of the crest (west of hut). It was a wonderfully scenic day fluctuating between sun, clouds, fog and snow showers. All in all, it was a much more pleasant day than day before. Some of us waited until after the sunset and skied down with headlamps. That evening we enjoyed the comfort of the hut and got an update on the weather forecast. Another winter storm warning was raised from Sunday night through Tuesday morning. About the time we had planned to leave the hut.

Most of us did not want a repeat of Friday, so we all decided that leaving Sunday under fair conditions was preferable to traveling on another storm day. The pack was already deep and another predicted 10-20 inches would have made it near impossible to leave on Monday.

We all packed up and got on our way Sunday morning around 11am. Patrick and Lauren provided a really nice track around to the other basin the day before. At about the point their track ran out, we ran into a man on snow shoes. He had been forced to bivy the night before near the hump probably because of the snow depth and viability (fog). Not a pleasant experience since he had planned to arrive at the Hut on Saturday. Following the snow shoe track was most welcome. After getting to Heather Lake, we noticed many snow camping sites and a solid track to the top of the Hump.

The decent from the Hump was very fast. We made it back to the cars by 3pm or 4 hours from leaving the hut. It was pandemonium at the parking lot with many cars and snow players. We had to dig out our vehicles from about 18 inches of heavy dense snow. It was great to see all that snow at the hut. Even though the skiing was mostly limited to ski tracks, it was a great to experience nature under these unique situations. Special thanks to Patrick and Lauren for providing this gem of a shelter under difficult conditions. It would not be possible get into the hut, have access to water, electric lights and windows to look out of without their efforts.

The nice pictures below were provided by Sung Byun.

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