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May 3, 2010
As I sit here turning my notes to type, it is certain that you need some background information. It was a low snow year in Montana this year and the skiing has not been great. In early April, I got the idea to try to ski the John Muir Trail (218.5 mile trail in the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains, CA), where there should be plenty of snow. On such a whim, I could not find anyone else to join me, so I went solo. My cell phone was my only possible contact with the outside world and was of little use most of the time. I was out for a little over two weeks and brought about 16 days worth of food. Below is a day by day account of my EPIC ski tour. Following, is a detailed GEAR LIST of every item I brought.
Day 1 (evening): Tuesday April 13.
Started walking at 7400 ft on the road. Got a ride final mile. Walked 1 ½ hour further and bivied at 9200 ft.
Day 2. Wednesday April 14.
Got started at 6:30 a.m. Put on skis for good at 10,200. Nice conditions. Easy skinning. Camped beneath Trail Crest and Mount Muir . 16 degrees in the morning. Windy and Cold. Spindrift covered the tent.
Day 3. Thursday April 15.
Started at 9:30. Took forever to top out on Trail Crest (13,650 ft). There was a foot of fresh snow but was able to skin all the way up. Wild cornices on trail. Left pack and skis where I intersected JMT. Proceeded to Mount Whitney with challenging cornices that required kicking steps and using my Ramer Claws on the trail. Made the summit (14,495 ft) and returned to my pack. Good cell service on one of the windows where the trail reaches the crest. Gnarly ski down from Trailcrest. It was very hard snow with big rocks at the bottom. I side slipped the whole thing. Fabulous ski once it flattened out. I skied the creek bed below Timberline Lake. It was a great Luge run with windows of open water to make it interesting. Made great time to upper Crabtree Meadow where I camped.
Day 4. Friday April 16.
12 degrees in the morning. No wind. Great morning. Hot day. Nice touring around Tawny Point. Got two miles below Forester Pass above the lowest lake. On top of the world!
Day 5. Saturday April 17.
16 degrees in the morning. On a closer look at Forester Pass (13,180 ft), the Pass to the east looked better. Fortunately, it was. It was an easy skin, then some firm step kicking the last 500 ft. I got 2 bars on the cell phone but not enough to have service. The first 1,000 feet of the descent were a wind buff powder. Soon I encountered the crust layer and was rocketing down on firm corn. I had a fantastic ski down to 10,000 ft. After that, it was too soft. At 12,000 ft., I intersected bear or wolverine tracks. They came either out of a cave or over a ridge below Junction Peak. I cautiously followed them all the way down to 9500 feet with good cover. I climbed the slope up to the saddle above Charlotte Lake. Camped there at 3:00 because the snow was soft and I would get early morning sun.
Day 6 Sunday April 18.
Got an early start and climbed the slopes above Charlotte Lake. They were steep and icy. Got into the basin with the lakes and it got better. Kicked steps up the final slopes of Glen Pass (11,978 ft). Could have used crampons but didnt have them. Another great powder descent off the pass. Dropped to Rae Lakes and had a really nice tour through huge avalanche paths down to Woods Creek at 8,400 ft. where I camped with a bear box and bridge for the morning.
Day 7 Monday April 19.
Skied and walked up Woods Creek, with the southern exposure, the trail was showing quite a bit. Above 9,400 ft it was solid snow again. Had great conditions up to Pinchot Pass ( 12,130 ft). The snow was soft but O.K. I skinned to the top and had another fantastic ski down to 10,000 ft and the south fork of the Kings River. Proceeded up to 10,500 ft and made a camp beneath Cardinal Mountain with nice views. It clouded up that afternoon and a fog came in that evening.
Day 8 Tuesday April 20.
It hadnt snowed and was still foggy. I decided to continue towards Mather Pass (12,100 ft). About 700 feet below the Pass it hit with a vengeance. I decided to dig a snow cave at 11 a.m. In about an hour and a half, I had a deluxe cave and bedded down with the MP3 player. About 4:00 p.m. the storm seemed to be breaking. I skied up to the crest on the saddle between Split Mountain and Mount Prater to make a phone call. Only 1 Bar on the cell phone even with a view of Big Pine. The skiing back was tricky with ice spots and fresh windblown snow. Freezing cold. Mather Pass looked sketchy
Day 9 Wednesday April 21.
Awoke to still light snow and thought I would check out Mathers conditions. I did some ski cutting on the lower slopes and thought it might be OK. I returned to the cave and packed up. Visibility was O.K. I zig-zagged up Mather Pass on skis to where it started to get sketchy. I took off skis and kicked steps the rest of the way. By this time it was a total white out. I skied down Mather Pass very slowly. I would kick snowballs down and watch them to see how steep the slope was. I eventually made it to the White Bark forest above the upper Palisade Lake. I set the tent up to wait it out at 12:00pm. It is 3:30 now. It looks like I will be here for the night. Much warmer at 10,600 than 11,400!
Day 10 Thursday April 22.
It cleared last night then started snowing with a vengeance again. About 10 a.m. it broke a little so I started out. I made it to the other end of the lake and realized it was a bad idea. NO visibility! I started digging a snow cave to kill time, thinking the storm might break. I had the cave nearly finished and was eating lunch when some avalanches cut loose across the lake. I could feel the wind! Not liking my location, I went back to the other end of the lake near my previous camp and found the oldest, biggest trees I could find. I set the tent up, reserved to stay for the duration. At this point I was really getting nervous because I didnt know if I was able to leave any time soon. The terrain above was avalanching, the terrain below was sure to be avalanching. About 4 p.m., I noticed a change in the barometer. It was still snowing heavily. It cleared off by 5 p.m. and was amazing. About 18 inches of snow had fallen in three days. I was tempted to start moving, but decided against it.
Day 11 Friday, April 23.
The wind blew like hell all night and morning. The snow had transformed. Clear as a bell, however. I thought I would head down and see how bad things looked for the Golden Staircase. There was too much water flowing in the creek bed to ski the creek. I stayed to the right and dropped into a gully that felt secure. The short amount of sun and wind last night had transformed the snow. I exited the gully and flew across the avalanche paths and to the safety of Dear Meadows old growth forest. The descent went better than I thought. I continued down to the N. Fork Kings River and up LeConte Canyon with good snow conditions. Camped on a knob by Petes Meadow about 3:30 p.m. Hot afternoon and a safe place to stay as wet avalanches are starting.
Day 12 Saturday April 24.
Got an early start and headed up. Wet slides the day before had been numerous. Climbed to Muir Pass (12,955 ft) for lunch. The last 500 ft. was deep trailbreaking. Deep snow on the other side too. It took forever to get to Wanda Lake. Beautiful Day! From Wanda, the snow improved giving better glide. It was starting to get warm. Wet slides had come off Darwin the day before. I got to the far end of Evolution Lake and relaxed. Had good skiing down right side of drainage. The skiing was good all the way through Evolution Valley and I set up camp in Evolution Meadows.
Day 13 Sunday April 25.
Got a late start to let the snow soften up. Had great skiing down to Piute Creek. Missed the first bridge on S. Fork of San Joaquin. Used a snow bridge instead. Found 2nd bridge! Snow got patchy after Piute Creek. Frustrating conditions. The shaded spots had snow, while anything in full sun was bare. Tried to get to Blaney hot springs but crossing river was foolish. I started out towards Seldon Pass (10,880 ft). I put on skis at about 8500 for good. Got to the Senger Creek crossing and camped about 6 p.m. Lots of snow here!
Day 14 Monday April 26.
Got an early start and made Seldon Pass by 11 a.m. The descent looked fun. I was cruising really fast and took a bad fall when I caught an edge. My nose took a hard hit and bled for a while! I was really cautious after that. Had a nice descent down Cub Creek. The snow got thin on the western exposure of Volcanic Knob. Lots of taking on and off skis. I stuck to the trail as best I could. About 9500 ft there was plenty of snow again. I went up to 9900 and contoured around for my next descent. I got to the edge and saw there was plenty of snow to the bottom. The other side was pretty bare. I started down a steep gully that was horrible. Two feet of knee wrenching wet, wet powder. I kept trying to traverse but couldnt. Half way down I hit an aspen grove and the skiing got better. Further down, I crossed a humongous bear trail. I got to the bottom and looked for the bridge across Mono Creek. It took awhile to find it. Conditions were horrible. In the shade, there was 4 feet of snow with bare ground and running water everywhere. After crossing the bridge, conditions improved. The sunny side was barer. There was no bridge over the north fork of Mono Creek. I found a sketchy rotten log-snowbridge combination that worked. I wanted to put some distance between me and the big bear, so I continued up to 8500 ft and found a good place to camp. It was a flat rock under a Ponderosa Pine. I set the tent up on the rock! And lounged until dark. Some clouds had been building all day.
Day 15 Tuesday April 27.
I slept great! Really warm! About 6 a.m., a gust of wind moved one of the rocks holding the tent. I went ahead and got moving. I made good time to Pocket Meadow. The route up Silver Pass Creek looked interesting. There was a ton of water flowing down the slabs. I started on the left side but got forced back to the right side of the creek. I found a snow bridge further up and crossed back to the left. The slope was steep so I decided to kick steps. About ½ way up, because of the warm night, the steps kept breaking through to soft snow underneath. I started spreading my weight unto my knees as well. It worked better. Further up, I switched back to skis and cruised to Silver Pass ( 10,640 ft) by 10:30 a.m. The clouds continued to build. Windy on top. I headed straight off Silver Pass instead of climbing the ridge like the trail. It was a fast, icy descent. At 9500 ft, conditions got softer but were tricky. It started snowing. Found the bridge over Fish Creek and skied up to the climb to Lake Virginia. The snow let up so I climbed up to Lake Virginia. Very windy at times. Pulled skins for the 300 ft drop to Lake Virginia. It was snowing harder now. I climbed the 300 ft so I could drop to Purple Lake. Very windy and snowing. Sweet descent to Purple Lake. About 3 p.m. set up camp. It is now 4:30 and snowing harder?
Day 16 Wednesday April 28.
Picked up about 6 inches overnight. Patches of blue sky at times. I decide to continue. Contoured around the knob towards Duck Lake. Intermittent white outs. Dropped too low once and ended up on super steep slopes. Had to put on skins and climb back to 10,400 ft. Made it to Duck Lake outlet. Continued contouring, staying at 10,300 ft. It is now snowing harder and visibility has dropped. At one point I happened to look over and see a PCT marker on a tree. I continued traversing using the altimeter. I dropped down again too early and had to climb back up 300 ft. I followed the ridge out and dropped to a meadow. At this time it was snowing really hard. I decided to camp and figure out exactly where I was in the morning.
Day 17 Thursday April 29.
Hard to believe it is almost May. Wicked cold this morning. There is over a foot of snow outside but it is clearing. I wait for the sun before moving. I depart at 9:30 and it is still in the low twenties. I figure out exactly where I am and follow Deer Creek down to the other side creek that I follow upstream to a meadow and drop down to the Red Cones. There is over ten feet of snow in the meadows! I follow old Blue Diamonds up to Mammoth Pass where I finally have cell service. It is a nice descent to Horseshoe Lake. Above Horseshoe Lake I see what looks like a forest service bathroom. It is posted with danger signs. I see several more of these structures and find out later that they are Carbon Dioxide vents and that they are dangerous. How ironic would it be to survive everything else and get the chop from a Carbon Dioxide vent!? I cut the road switchback and have a final sweet descent to Twin Lakes and find the plowed road. I walk a 100 yards and catch a ride to highway 395. Thanks, Gabe! After 15 minutes of hitchhiking on 395 I catch another ride all the way back to my car in Bishop. Thanks, Andrew!
In the end, turned out to be about 165 mile trip. I was running out of time, food, fuel and good weather so stopped at Mammoth rather than going all the way to Yosemite.
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JMT April 2010
Maps 4 at a scale of 1:63,350
Compass: Silva Starter
Altimeter: Highgear Altitech 2
Karhu XCD Guide Skis
Garmont Excursion Telemark Boots
Ramer Claw poles
Rottefella Super Cable Bindings
Black Diamond Transfer 3 Shovel
Black Diamond Ascension Clip Fix Skins
Pack: Deuter Air Contact Lite 65+10
Tent: Big Sky Industries 3P convertible (outer tent only with two poles)
Thermarest Prolite 3 full length mattress
Sleeping Bag: Rab Quantum 400 15 degree down bag with waterproof shell
Smartwool NTS Lightweight bottoms
Patagonia R1 Pants
Rab Latok Alpine Pants
Sherpa Gear Baans Tech ¼ ZipTop
Patagonia R1 pullover
Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover
Rab Super Dru Jacket
3 pair Smartwool socks
1 pair Smartwool liner socks
Outdoor Designs Down Booties
Outdoor Designs Hat
Yates Gear Hat
Rab Phantom Grip glove
MSR XGK Stove with repair kit, windscreen and small cup
32 oz fuel bottle
22 oz fuel bottle
1.5 Liter steel pot
Nalgene 32oz Lexan water bottle with dyneema strap (for filling using ski pole)
2 Nylon food bags
8 cups of oats
8 cups of Granola
17 java juice
3 StarBucks instant coffees
2 small bags of powdered milk
28 cliff bars
14 Stinger Honey bars
14 Cliff Shot Rocks
7 Cliff Elctrolite Drink Mix
8 Planters Mixed Nut Packages
14 Stinger Organic Energy Chews
15 double serve Freeze Dried Entrees
3 Single serve Freeze Dried Entrees
Bag of raisins
Bag of dried cherries
12 oz peanut butter
2 loaves of California Sourdough bread
Small tube toothpaste
Paper with maps printed on back
24 Ibuprofen Tablets
Ski Glide Wax
Sunglasses 2 pair one light, one dark for above treeline
G 3 Ski strap
Black Diamond Headlamp
Bear cord/ clothesline
Spare cable for ski bindings
Wrench for bindings
Mont Bell Toilet Paper
Swiss Army Knife
Duct Tape (taped to ski poles)
Roll of medical tape
Power Curve Solar Charger: Provided power for 3 electronic items above
Packing 20lbs of Food in Silvertip Shop before departure.
Above: Mt. Muir, Owen's Valley from Trail Crest.
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