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Backcountry ski and snowboard gear, camping

May 2004

So I lay in my bag and let the morning light overtake me.  Once the decision was made to finally rise, I quickly commenced the daily calorie loading.  I had an ambitious day ahead of me -- over Piute Pass, up to Alpine Col, then an attempted summit tag of Mt. Goethe, the highpoint of the Glacier Divide -- all on minimal sleep and with sea level lungs.  Yet on this fine morning I felt full of life; no worries or stress could drag me down as I hiked the remaining few hundred feet to the snowline.  As I clicked into my bindings, the first rays of sunlight kissed off the high peaks of the Keyhole Plateau.

Skiing up and over Piute Pass was a breeze.  This is probably the easiest roadless crossing of the High Sierra crest.  At the pass, the views into the vast expanse of Humphreys Basin are stupendous.  The basin's namesake, Mt. Humphreys, dominates the view to the northeast.  To my left, the Glacier Divide stretched westward for miles -- a formidable barrier to those seeking to enter Kings Canyon National Park.  This, of course, was my destination.

Goethe cirque is the most impressive section of the Glacier Divide.  Towering walls of granite plunge from airy heights onto the glacier below, split only by narrow tendrils of snow.  I briefly considered climbing one of these snowy couloirs to the summit of Mt. Goethe, but wisely decided against it when I saw the monster cornice that guarded the exit to the summit plateau.  I skied into the cirque and skimmed high above the endless of fields of talus that lay mercifully buried in the snowpack below my skis.  The climb to Alpine Col was icy and steep, yet I quickly found myself at this natural weakness in the crest, staring slackjawed southward over the Darwin Bench and down into the Evolution Basin.

As I stood transfixed by the panorama laid out before me, the irony of the Evolution label was all at once obvious to me; a region so beautiful that it could only have been sculpted by divine hands was named for a group of scientists whose principal work refuted the doctrine of creationism. 


The crest of the Glacier Divide leading southwest from Alpine Col is not terribly difficult, but the mixed snow and rock made travel slow and tedious.  I lumbered upwards to my intended goal of Mt. Goethe, but the altitude and weather began to conspire against me.  My sea level lungs required frequent rest stops.  The snow began to fall.  I reached the first peaklet above Alpine Col and found I was only about halfway to the summit.  Another dogleg ridge lay before me, and my confidence in making the summit took a hard blow.  With snowfall and wind speed increasing, I decided to retreat back to the col and move down to lower and warmer climes. 

I skied down the south side of the col making survival turns through deep mank and connecting snowpatches as best I could.  One portage across rocks, a few more turns and I was down to the teardrop shaped lake nestled in this beautiful cirque beneath the Keyhole.  I skied across and down the stairstep chain of lakes to where I found running water on the slabs and made camp.  As it turned out, the clouds mostly blew out and the skies were relatively clear.  I could've easily made the summit.  Then again, had I continued on it probably would've stormed on me.  Goethe will be there another day, and now I know I will bring my skis to the summit to ski the immense SE face looming above me.

Camp had glorious views over the Evolution Basin and the aptly named Hermit.  I settled into my tent and quickly dozed off with a marvelous day of ski touring behind me.


Note:  clicking on any photograph will present a full screen version.

Unnamed Peak on Keyhole Plateau

Skiing past Piute Lake

Mt. Humphreys above Piute Pass

Mt. Muriel above Piute Pass

Resting near Goethe Lake

Mt. Goethe and chutes o'plenty

Skiing into the Goethe Cirque

Alpine Col from the North

In the company of Darwin and Mendel at Alpine Col

Glorious Humphreys Basin from Alpine Col

Mt. Darwin and Mt. Mendel from Alpine Col

Mt. Goethe's NE Ridge from Alpine Col

Staring down into the Goethe Cirque

Highpoint near Goethe summit with snow flurries

Staring down the East Goethe Couloir

Bear Creek Spire and neighboring peaks

Looking back at Alpine Col (left) from the South

Lake 11,910' and the Keyhole Plateau


Y-chute on Peak 12,722'

Camp on Darwin Bench

Chilling out with the Hermit



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