A Bit O’ Backcountry Skiing

It was our first time in a while ski touring with sleds, but they seemed to behave themselves.
It was our first time in a while ski touring with sleds, but they behaved themselves.

We have found some time to get out and about on skis, in-between job searches (me) and schoolwork (Mike). Recently, we did overnight ski tours in Lassen Volcanic National Park and the Yosemite area; and a day of turns near Lake Tahoe.

We enjoyed temperatures ranging from the 20s to the 50s, and clear, starry nights. Lassen Volcanic is known for having some of the darkest night skies in the U.S., and it didn’t disappoint: we got amazing views of the Milky Way, stars we had almost forgotten existed amid the bright lights of the Biggest Little City.

Although snow conditions aren’t nearly as grim this year as they were in 2012, we could really use quite a bit more snow — at least to refresh what’s there. But one makes do — after all, you don’t ski on the snow you wish you had …

Closeup of climbing skins.
Closeup of climbing skins.

We’ve been asked, “What kind of skiing is this? Is it downhill skiing?” Well … sort of. It’s a combination of shuffling along on skis, usually uphill, and gliding downhill when possible. We don’t use wax to prevent slipping downhill; instead, we use climbing skins, which have a short-nap, carpeted surface with a sticky backing. Clips on either end keep them fully attached to the ski. They were once made from real sealskin.

Skins are like 4WD for skis — with them, one can ascend straight up slopes that would take much more time and energy to ascend any other way. When it’s time to remove them, a quick r-r-r-rip! gets them off the skis. You fold ’em up, put ’em in your pack, and away you go!

lassen volcanic national park: Bumpass Hell Loop

Believe it or not, this was a more secure way to cross a stream than using icy bridges!
Believe it or not, this was a more secure way to cross a stream than using icy bridges! (Note discarded sled buried in creek mud.)
Coffee break and creek crossing.
Coffee break and creek crossing.
Room for two at the cozy Hilleberg Hotel!
Room for two at the cozy Hilleberg Hotel!
Sunny snack break with mighty Lassen Peak in the background.
Sunny snack break with mighty Lassen Peak in the background.
Bumpass Hell: Stem vents and mud pots (and a nice boardwalk) viewed from the shoulder of Bumpass Peak.
Bumpass Hell: Stem vents and mud pots (and a nice boardwalk) viewed from the shoulder of Bumpass Peak.
Cruising back down the closed park road in warm afternoon sun.
Cruising back down the closed park road in warm afternoon sun.

Hoover Wilderness:  twin lakes to upper cattle creek

The steep climb up out of Twin Lakes via Horse Creek finally begins to level off.
The steep climb up out of Twin Lakes via Horse Creek finally begins to level off.
Upper Cattle Creek where we ended up camping.
Upper Cattle Creek where we ended up camping.
A sledless day tour up out of Cattle Creek. Yesterday's tracks (and our aborted bootpack) visible across the canyon.
A sledless day tour up out of Cattle Creek. Yesterday’s tracks (and our aborted bootpack) visible across the canyon.
Approaching the divide between Cattle and Horse Creeks. Eastern end of Sawtooth Ridge and Matterhorn Peak, which we climbed last summer, visible in the background.
Approaching the divide between Cattle and Horse Creeks. Eastern end of Sawtooth Ridge and Matterhorn Peak, which we climbed last summer, visible in the background.

Tahoe National Forest: Waterhouse Peak

Potato soup and coffee break at the top of Waterhouse Peak, looking south toward more northern Sierra peaks.
Potato soup and coffee break at the top of Waterhouse Peak, looking south toward more northern Sierra peaks.
We had great snow conditions: about a foot of powder over a fairly firm crust. Pretty good for two people learning the parallel turn!
We had great snow conditions: about a foot of powder over a fairly firm crust. Pretty good for two people learning the parallel turn!
First day on the new alpine-touring setup — Mike's getting the hang of it.
First day on the new alpine-touring setup — Mike’s getting the hang of it.
Waterhouse's north-facing aspect, moderate slopes and huge trees make for great skiing. This area was never logged back in the mining days; most of the forest around Lake Tahoe do not look like this!
Waterhouse’s north-facing aspect, moderate slopes and huge trees make for great skiing. This area was never logged back in the mining days; most of the forests around Lake Tahoe do not look like this!

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