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Ski Mountaineering in the Palisades, May 2003

John Muir Wilderness, California

 

California's High Sierra.  To be there in May is quite possibly to be in the best place on the planet at the best time of year.  The weather is warm and unfickle, the snow persists, and the bugs and bears have yet to find their way to the higher elevations.  Conveniently too, the couloirs are still laden with snow, making them easier to climb, and far more enjoyable to descend.  This May, we visited the holy shrine of California steep skiing -- the Palisades Glacier.


Getting There:

As we discovered, it is a long way from Berkeley to Big Pine, but well worth it.  Sam, Dave and I left my office in Berkeley at 12:30 for the marathon push -- a frenetic drive up US 50 in Memorial Day traffic to pick up Chris at his house in Cameron Park, then we humped it over Luther and Monitor Passes to US 395, then down to Big Pine and up to Glacier Lodge.  Along the way we picked out all of the various roadside attractions along 395 -- Sonora, Sawtooth Ridge, Tioga, Bloody, Esha, Rock Creek, Scheelite, Tom, Humphreys and then finally the peaks above Big Pine.  We arrived at the trailhead just after sunset, and immediately started the parking lot gear dance by headlamp.

Our plan was for a nighttime hike up the north fork of Big Pine Creek.  Reports of prior trips informed us that this hike was blazing hot during the daytime, with precious little shade for the first several miles.  Hiking in at night is the untold secret; it was actually quite pleasant despite the 60 pounds of gear on our backs.  The valley was broad and open; the trail easy to follow.  Starting off in the desert chaparral at 7,800', we gradually made our way up past several waterfalls to an alpine setting above 10,000'.  At about 1:00am, 12 very long hours after leaving Berkeley, we dropped our sleeping bags on the cliffs above Second Lake.  Needless to say, sleep came easy.

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