Ski Mountaineering

Ski Mountaineers Peak
Apr 6-7, 2002

Reiner Stenzel

The Ski Mountaineers Peak on the Thompson Ridge used to be a favorite goal for our section. The trip has been led many times, especially by Gerry Holleman, but nine years have passed since it was summitted last. Since I like to improvise trips I decided to do it with friends as a private trip. After contacting eight SMS members one joined, Susan Livingston. We started Saturday at 7 am from Parchers Camp (road closure), hiked 1 mi to South Lake and since the ice was partially open we decided to take the high trail toward Bishop Pass with turnoff to Treasure Lakes. Except for a few dry spots it was all skiable terrain. The XC route traverses north of Hurd Pk, drops steeply into the drainage from the Treasure Lks and, after an 800' climb, leads to an 11,500' plateau 1 mi north of Mt Gilbert. By 2 pm we had found a nice campsite and set up our two Bibler tents next to flat, dry rocks. The views over endless peaks with snow slopes were great. We spotted three skiers in the distance. Clouds moved in spoiling the afternoon ski fun with breakable crust. Then it got worse: The sky darkened and it started to snow, ruining our happy hour. During a break we cooked dinner and wondered about next day's ski plans. But these were only April showers and next morning the sky was clear again. During the night the waterbottle froze inside the tent.

On Sunday we started at 7 am (6 before daylight savings time). We skinned up the east slopes of SM Pk. Ski crampons were very helpful on switchbacking up the slopes. Gradually the sun did its job of softening the snow. By 10 am we reached the 13,323 ft summit which involved a short rock scramble. There was a small plastic box with a peak register which we signed as the second party this year.

The SMS had two entries in 1992 and '93. The view was outstanding. To the southeast was the Palisades Range, to the west the Evolution peaks. Just east and near us was Powell and Thompson which we skied two years ago. Earlier we discussed the idea of traversing 0.4 mi along the ridge to Mt Thompson, but a cl 3 scramble in summer becomes a cl 4 adventure with snow and we wisely did not attempt it. By 11 am the snow had ripened and it was time to ski down. The upper slopes just below the summit are a bit challenging but most of the east face is a very pleasant 30 deg slope. With spring snow it was telemarkers heaven. But at 12-13,000' elevation even downhill skiing is an effort. In no time we were back at basecamp. By noon everything was packed and now we had to turn with that counterweight on the back. April snow can be as finicky as the weather: Where the sun did not hit the slopes straight on there was breakable crust with all its consequences. Then there were hidden Sierra crevasses: Patches of rotten snow which collapse under the weight of a skier. After sinking in to the waist it is not easy to get out with a full pack. A fun stream crossing was also included. Our short-cut down to South Lke turned out to be as much of a workout as the longer route back up to the trail. But eventually we were on safe terrain, i.e., on lake ice which collapsed on the shores of South Lke as it got drained during winter.

We reached the cars before 3 pm, got a temperature shock in 80 deg Owens Valley and were home in foggy LA by dinner time. Conclusion: The Ski Mountaineers Peak makes a great ski trip, almost a "must" for SMS members since named after our section.

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