Ski Mountaineering

Rock Creek Yurt Trip

March 6-8, 2010

Tom Marsh

One of the best keep secrets in the Sierra's is the Rock Creek Yurt. Unlike Pear Lake or Ostrander ski hut that requires entry into a lottery with the hope of maybe getting a mid week spot, the Rock Creek Yurt is readily attainable by calling the folks at Rock Creek Lodge in the Fall. The inspiration for this trip dates back some 14 years, when Reiner and I lead a trip into the Yurt in 1996.

The weather was forecasted to be snow showers when we all drove up on Friday night to the trailhead. On Saturday morning there was gathering clouds as Reiner Stenzel, Sung Byun, Mike Rector, Jim Garvey, May Adachi, Ken Deemer, Kat Seiple and I started out with heavy packs filled with goodies for the weekend. The road to the hut was nicely groomed with a light dusking of snow. The showers were off and mostly on as we trudged up the hill to the yurt. We passed a large group of West LA WTC snow campers snowshoeing up the road to their prearranged turn around spot. Seemed that many of these folks had not camped before, let alone snow camped. It would have been smug to talk about the comforts of the Yurt, so conversation was left to the great outdoors.

Reiner had started the fire in the stove and a pot of hot water was boiling for some afternoon tea by the time most of us arrived at the yurt. It was a great respite to the snowy cold weather outside. After a long relaxing time in the yurt, we decided that an afternoon tour into the basin was in order. It snowed enough to cover up most of the previous laid track into Little Lakes Valley, so we broke trail to just before Long Lake. The views were shrouded with the snow clouds, so most of our view was confined to the inner valley and lakes. Still very beautiful. Sensing the need to get back before dark, we turned around about 5pm and got back to the hut with the last rays of ambient light. Most of us were tired from the long day and after a nice dinner and the start of Reiner's Alligator pastry, we retired early for the evening.

As we awoke on Sunday, the weather changed from stars visible in the early morning night sky to clouds and snow again by breakfast time. Not wanting to waste the day, we all got out for our tour by 9am. Since we had some accumulation during the night, some trail breaking was required on the old track to get into Little Lakes Valley. The sun started to peak out and get warm as we crossed over Long Lake to the pass just before Treasure Lakes. Thinking the weather was finally going to clear, many of us took off layers of clothes. The basin really open up with excellent views of Morgan, Dade and Abbott. After a short climb to the lip of the Treasure Lakes, we found a shelter spot for lunch in the shade of some trees as the snow kept falling. Oddly enough, the sun was occasionally breaking through for some warmth. A couple of us even managed to nap in the afternoon sun.

Given the visibility at the time, Reiner and I decided on a less ambitious tour than the Dade Col for example. We decided on a route that Mike Rector and I did several years ago while doing a spring base camp at Treasure Lakes. We climbed to the top of the ridge just east of the Treasure Lakes that leads to a gully near Morgan pass. After reviewing our options we dropped into the gully just west of Morgan pass. It was not without some trepidation, as the light was very flat and the slope of the terrain was hard to determine. It was some of the finest powder skiing as we dropped into the steep part of the gully. After turning the corner into the main basin, we found the most joyful intermediate slope for making many turns in the fresh powder. After that, we had to work a bit to get to the confluence of Chicken Wing Lake as we parallel to the south of our entry route. The sun finally made a full appearance as we basked in the warmth at the edge of Chicken Wing Lake. It was one gully after another in some excellent powder as we worked our way back to our previous laid tracks from the morning. It was great gliding on our tracks back to the hut (except for May and Sung, who had not waxed skis in a while).

We got back to the hut around 5pm and immediately opened three liters of Big Foot ale to celebrate a fine day of skiing and Jim, Reiner and my birthdays. The partying really started when both May and Kat brought birthday cakes and Mike, Ken and Jim passed around various bottles and flasks of liquor. It was total debotchery when after that, Kat brought out party glasses, poppers, "Nancy" cream and little umbrellas for some rancorous laughter and pictures (some that will never be released to the public).

Ironically, even with all that, we still managed to go to bed early (9pm). The next day, Monday, the sun finally came out for our trip back to the cars. The road was perfect with a light layer of powder to grease the coast back to the cars. We all got back to our cars early for the long drive home.

Thanks to Reiner for leading the trip with me again. Also, thanks to Kat and May for making the birthday celebrations so special.

P.S. Thanks for all the pictures which are combined in a show below. R.S.

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