Ski Mountaineering

Pear Lake Hut

Feb. 18-21, 1994

Reiner Stenzel

The weather forecast predicted a major winter storm for this weekend and we had only four places in the hut. Thus, an initial group of 14 applicants dwindled to five at the trailhead: Nancy Gordon, Steve Hessen, Elena Hinds, Rob Rizzardi, and myself.

On Friday we picked up our permits at the Lodgepole Visitors Center, waited until the roads were plowed, and looked for one participant with car trouble. Finally, by noon we were skiing out of Wolverton on the Pear Lake trail. The sky was dark, it was snowing, and the leader had to act confidently. After following snowshoe tracks for the first two miles through the forest we had to start breaking our own trails at the steep open hillside leading up to Heather Gap. Uphill through a foot of fresh snow with full packs is "character building". We were pleasantly surprised when a group of Randonee skiers came down from the Hump.

Their tracks were a blessing. At 3:30pm we reached the Hump. Beyond Heather Lake the pace got slower and the daylight fainter. Although we had tents for safety, the thought of a warm hut kept us going. Three stronger skiers went ahead trail-breaking on the lower avalanche safe route between Aster Lake and the Hut. Continuous snowfall during the day had covered previous ski tracks and it became quite a challenge to find the Hut after darkness in heavy snowfall. After arriving at 6:30pm, I went back to assist the trailing group and by 7:30pm we were all safely in the hut. Nobody else was there. Soon the wood stove was running and hot drinks and dinner revived us. Outside it was snowing heavily. This adventurous day was my birthday which we celebrated with a good wine and fondue dinner.

Saturday morning the first storm had moved out and the sky was clear. It was a winter wonderland around us. We abandoned our planned trip to the Tableland since nobody had the energy for breaking miles of trail. Instead we skied the local slopes near the hut. It was wonderful powder skiing on untouched deep snow. The only tracks we found were from a white snow hare which I once saw from close up. In the afternoon, low stratus clouds moved in from the West signaling the arrival of the second storm.

Another group of skiers arrived who were locals from the Fresno area and had heard about cancellations of the otherwise booked out hut. Some camped outside which became a genuine winter experience since the colder second storm dumped about two more feet of snow between Saturday and Sunday.

On Sunday morning it was a white out with occasionally heavy snowfall. Stories of the Donner Party were told. By midday I got restless and decided to test the local slopes. Trail-breaking uphill through 2-3 feet of powder clarifies the meaning of "earn your turns". But those turns were very special: skies below the surface, dry powder parting above the knees, and the steeper the slope the better the feeling. Falling was soft, but getting up a real struggle. Powder skiing was at its best and easily rivaled that in the Selkirks. The enthusiasm caught on and by afternoon we all ventured toward "Skiers Alta", the summit north of Alta Peak. Due to returning clouds we abandoned the peak but had a wonderful run down over virgin powder slopes glittering with surface hoar. It was a superb day after a big storm.

On Monday morning, with bright sunshine and a gorgeous view from the Tablelands to the valley, we had to ski out. Again, it was trail-breaking time and careful route frnding because all the slopes were heavily loaded with unsettled snow. Beyond the Hump it was virtually impossible to get up with a heavy pack from a deep hole in the powder. Exhausted, but happy, we arrived at Wolverton where we had to shovel out the cars from 3 feet of snow. The Sequoia forest looked beautiful after a heavy winter storm. This long weekend was a great adventure with a fine group of people.

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