Success at last! This fifth annual attempt at Ski Mountaineer's Peak-seventh if you count the bad snow years when we didn't even drive to the roadhead-succeeded in placing 5 SMSers on the summit. A register had been placed on top in August 1991, but none of the signers knew this was Ski Mountaineers Peak. An entry on one scrap said "Climbed by mistake, but the view is great."
Five of us met about a mile below Parcher's Camp Saturday at about 8:00 AM. A single lane was marginally plowed to Parcher's camp, probably by fishermen, but there was no space to park so we shuttled packs up and parked down below. As we set out along the shore of South Lake a strong wind was blowing with a forecast of a possible weather system on Sunday. At the south end of the lake we climbed the drainage that comes down from Treasure Lakes and camped in some trees near the Treasure Lakes outlet stream at about 10,500'. The weather was mostly sunny, but a cool wind kept us on the chilly side while we pitched camp and ate lunch.
For the first time since my initial lead of this trip in 1986, the 11,200' ridge on the route to Ski Mountaineer's Peak had good snow cover, so at 1 PM we set off to see the route to the peak. The east side of this ridge is moderately broken as you work through a few trees and then opens up into wonderful open ski slopes. The snow was softening in spite of the wind, so we proceeded to the crest of the ridge with great anticipation. Unfortunately the terrain looked better than it skied. The snow was almost crusty on top, but very mushy like mashed potatoes undeneath. We tried the open slope a second time at a different location, but conditions weren't encouraging for Ski Mountaineer's Peak on Sunday.
Saturday night the wind continued, but Sunday morning it was 32 deg at 7 AM with wind gusts that weren't too bad. After a leisurely breakfast, we set out towards Ski Mountaineer's Peak at 9 AM not knowing whether or not we expected to go for the summit. Once we reached the 1l,200' crest of the ridge there was no holding back, however. There were some high cirrus clouds with strong gusts every few minutes, but in between it was quite pleasant.
The route off the ridge drops a little as you enter the drainage coming from Thompson Ridge and then ascends over easy, open benches all the way to the 13,323' summit of Ski Mountaineer's Peak. The snow surface was crusty all the way, except for a shade-protected north slope that still had wind-blown powder. We left our skis at about 13,000' where the snow crust became thinner and more treacherous. From there we hiked to the top, occasionally encountering snow that was firm enough to require step kicking. By noon we were enjoying great views from the summit. The close profile of Darwin just to the west was especially impressive.
Easy plunge steps brought us quickly back to our skis and a crusty snow surface that tended to catch an edge whenever you shifted your weight. On the way back to camp we were led by Nancy Gordon, who was testing her shoulder before setting out the following Tuesday on a 6-day trip in over Lamarck Col to ski Mt Goddard and out over Echo Col. Next came Assistant Leader, Paul Harris, who was warming up for a week trip up Taboose Pass, across the Monarch Divide to Bubbs Creek, and back over Kearsarge Pass. Third was Ken Deemer, who was training for a weekend blitz of Popo in Mexico. Pat and I, who weren't training for anything, brought up the rear. Apparently the Mammoth Marathon the previous weekend, and 50 miles of skinny ski skating the weekend before that hadn't done a thing for our snow-snake telemarks.
The thrill of success helped us navigate soft heavy snow as we ,donned our packs and headed back towards South Lake. Ski Mountaineer's Peak is a memorable trip that is highly recommended. It's probably been about 10 years since any SMSer has reached the top of our namesake peak. Don't let another 10 years go by before you try it!
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