Author’s note: The following piece was taken from two posts on The Backcountry’s Forum that I wrote back in 2006 and 2007, detailing my and Sam Skrocke’s second and third attempts of the first bivy-less ski circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe via a high route. We finally succeeded on our third attempt in a little under 61 hours. This is a lengthy read, so it is probably best to have some solid free time and grab a large tasty beverage before getting started. Enjoy!
Part 1: So Close!
Sam Skrocke and I made our second attempt to ski around Lake Tahoe, via a fairly high route, without bivying. We left 64 Acres in Tahoe City (heading south) on Wed, March 29 at 4:45AM and ended our adventure more than 72 hours later at 6:30 AM on Saturday at the top of Beaver St. in Kings Beach. We skied 110 miles with 29,878 feet of elevation gain. We skied on modern, lightweight leather, 3-pin boots and scaled, metal-edged skis. We only had to use skins about 10% of the time.
Here’s the abbreviated version of the story with approximate timeline (the memory is a little foggy). It had snowed 8-12″ of fluff the night before, ending early enough that we felt good about the snow bonding based upon extensive study of the recent snow pack. We skied from 64 Acres, past Paige Meadows, to the base of Alpine Meadows in Ward Canyon in about 2 hours. We then skinned up the ridge to Grouse Rock and past Twin Peaks in about 4 hours total time. From there, we were in stormy conditions all the way to Barker, getting slightly off track, but we quickly corrected with the compass. The traverse under the cliffy ridgeline just south of Twin Peaks is very serious avalanche terrain, and we knew this section could turn us back. We cut a line just below the cliffs and found the snow to be seemingly secure. We were able to pull our skis off and hike up over a rocky peaklet to avoid a slope we were not comfortable with testing. We arrived at Barker pass outhouse at about 8hrs.
From Barker, we skied down to Miller Lake at about 10 hours. Trail breaking was starting to get annoying at this point and the temp had been about 20 degrees and snowing, (except for the few moments the sun came out on the way to Miller, making it momentarily feel like like 70 with the glare from the snow). We then skied the flats to Middle Mt., arriving just at dark. We put the headlamps on and contoured the west side of Middle Mt, up the flats to Mosquito Pass and then down to Lake Aloha. It was about 10 degrees overnight, and we definitely had a hard time keeping warm and had numb feet for most of the night. This made it hard to even stop and rest for fear of getting too cold. We got suckered down into Lake of the Woods (which drains down to Twin Bridges and Highway 50) past Aloha in the dark and had to climb an extra 500 feet to gain the ridge off of Mt Ralston above Echo Lakes. From Echo Lakes, we skied down old Meyers grade to Meyers, arriving at 26 hours. We had breakfast in a cafe, and just to add insult to our suffering, they did not take cards and I had walk over half a mile round trip to get cash from an ATM. We’d gone just over 40 miles so far.
We left Meyers and skied up the Powerline Rd to the creek just south of Heavenly Creek, and followed this drainage into and through Heavenly Ski Resort to the Base Lodge on Kingsbury Grade (5 hrs from Meyers). There was a four mile asphalt gap in the snow here, so we caught a ride from the Heavenly bus to the pub (6PM Thursday) and had some Hot Chili and Coffee. I also picked up some Hot Chili top and bottoms at the sport shop for fear of not being able to keep warm through another night. (I knew I should have brought the extra layer!) As we were leaving the pub, a very nice couple (Jaime and sorry, forgot his name) asked what we were up to and ended up giving us a ride across the other three miles of asphalt to the top of North Upper Benjamin (Thanks!!). We followed the Snowmobile track and groomer to Spooner. This only took about four hours, so we had just covered a butt load of ground in a short time and were gaining confidence in being able to do this. We then skied the cross-country groomer up to Marlette Lake and around the west side of the Lake before crossing the Lake at the start to the Flume trail. It was snowing again and starting to get old, but we were still going strong. We made it to the top of Diamond Peak Ski resort at about 10:00AM on Friday. Sam beat me by about fifteen minutes as I was starting to have problems with rapid breathing and getting my breath back. We rested in the patrol shack for 2 hours due to my condition. Thanks so much again to the Diamond Peak Patrollers for your hospitality.
We left Diamond Peak at about 12:30 in warm conditions, knowing a storm was on the way and hoping we could beat it. We skied to Mt Rose highway, cutting across just below Incline Lake, and side-hilled into the third creek drainage and up the normal route towards Rose Knob. We cut across the top of the second creek, disappearing into the pea soup conditions just before the ridge at about 6:00 PM. Within a few minutes, it started snowing at the rate of about two inches an hour and blowing like mad. Half an hour after that, it was dark and things started getting interesting. We started getting turned the wrong direction every way we tried to go, getting suckered out onto mini-ridges along the ridge between Rifle and Baldy Peaks. By 10:00 PM, with snow accumulating to potentially dangerous levels, still having route finding problems, and also dealing with the fact that my right ski would not stay on my boot because half of my sole had ripped off, we decided it was time to pull the plug and follow the compass due south to the Lake.
By this time I was cursing the world at the top of my lungs because my ski would not stay on, and the blinding light of the snow in our headlamps meant we could only see trees once we were close enough to them that we were hitting them. My gloves were frozen blocks (trying desperately not to let my hands become the same) and my inner layers were soaked from repeated crashing and drowning in powder. At approx 11:00 PM to midnight, with skis on my back and post-holing out with a dying headlamp, I started having serious breathing problems again and could apparently go no further for the moment. Sam also could wait for me no longer. He had backtracked and waited so much while I was dealing with my ski that he was starting to get too cold and fatigued. I kind of unconsciously stayed in place for the next 5-6 hours, walking in small circles, falling asleep on my feet, and falling over into the snow to pick myself up and do it again and again and again. I started off with dry socks on my hands to keep them warm and eventually shoved them down my pants after the socks became soaked.
At 5:00AM, as I was passing the time hacking up some lung boogers, in a state of delirium, just wondering when the hell this would be over and why I was so close but couldn’t find my hot shower, I final received some salvation. First I heard the voices, then I heard my name, then I saw Ken and Maria, then I almost instantly snapped back from my delusional state. They fed me three cups of chai tea, gave me two extra layers and dry gloves, and took off down the mountain at 5:30 AM (first daylight). With the aid of light, I was able to kind of keep my ski on, still eating shit(powder) many times though. Half way down this last five miles, we met Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue and I gladly took a ride out with our friend, Dave.
Ken and Maria had been waiting all night on the top of Brockway to ski the final leg with us. Sam had been in cell phone contact with them throughout the night as they tried to help us find our way based upon terrain descriptions we gave them and looking at a map. Sam got to the top of Beaver St in Kings Beach at about 2:30 AM, and Ken and Maria came and met him there. Meanwhile, Sam made a few phone calls to friends to try to get a snowmobile. As he was waiting to get a call back from our friend, he also called search and rescue to inquire about borrowing a snowmobile, which then, naturally, triggered a full blown rescue with Sheriffs and ambulance.
For the record, I want to say that I am very appreciative and thankful to the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue, Placer County Sheriffs, and the North Tahoe Fire District for their efforts in making sure we came out safe. I definitely plan to participate in their wonderful program in the future. Our preference would have been to not have enacted the rescue as it was our fiends, Ken and Maria(thank you so much again) and Tom and Dave(with the snowmobile) that brought me out. Nonetheless, Thanks to all you who helped in keeping us safe. I know Dave also plans to use his snowmobile in the future to help out with Search and Rescue through this experience.
We are still Recovering!
Almost Got ‘er Done,
Part 2: Victory!
Once again, third time’s the charm! Sam and I completed our quest to ski all the way around Lake Tahoe via a high route, without a bivy. We departed, heading south, from 64 Acres in Tahoe City at 4:20AM on Monday, March 11 and arrived back to the car in just under 61 hours on Wednesday, March 14 at 5:00PM.
Unfortunately, we had some technical difficulty with the GPS and were not able to record our trip stats. However, last year we skied 110 miles with 29,878 feet of elevation gain ending at Mt Baldy above Kings Beach. So we figure that puts the whole trip at 125-130 miles with 30,000+ feet of elevation gain. This year we skied on 3-pin scaled skis again, but upgraded from a leather boot to the plastic Garmont Excursion after last year’s disaster with the leather boot’s sole ripping apart. We both naturally ended with very chafed feet, but only one small blister each. There was no four month recovery from 3rd degree friction burn (blister down to the bone) on both my pinky toes to deal with this year.
We skied almost the exact same route as last year, so I am only going to write details about time and the few route changes we made. We made it to Miller Lake in about 8 hours. Instead of traversing the west side of Ellis Peak, we skinned to the summit and skied pure downhill to Miller Lake, not catching the snowmobile track until just before the lake. Lunch and boot/feet/sock drying took place at Miller Lake. We arrived at Mosquito Pass above Lake Aloha at about 16 hours and made it to Myers in 21 hours. We walked the asphalt through Myers to Apache Rd. and took a short break inside the Myers Post Office. We passed out for about 15 minutes and managed to dry our feet again. We then walked up Apache to the top of the neighborhood and put the skis back on. We had to boot it up Cold Creek to Heavenly because there was no snow there, as we expected. We actually had fewer issues with lack of snow than we thought we would, though we certainly had issues with it. We made tele turns amongst the herds of gapers into Stagecoach Lodge at about 11:30 AM (31 hours). We had some hot food and a beer before the security guy gave us a ride out to Kingsbury Rd. He was going to take us the next 2 miles of uphill asphalt to the return of the snow, but a fire truck and ambulance were on their way to Heavenly and he had to get back to work. So we were just starting to walk the dreaded 2 miles of asphalt and hoping to hitch a ride, when Gary Bell of Sierra Ski and Cycle came driving the other way and stuck his head out the window, asking if we needed a ride to the top. Hell yeah!!
We made it to Spooner at just over 36 hours and to the north end of Marlette Lake at dusk (39 ½ hours). Then came the lack of snow issues and getting just a little off track, pushed towards Carson. (I’m still not exactly sure where we went, as it all gets a little confusing at this point.) It took us 6 thrashing hours to get to the Diamond Peak Ski Patrol hut, arriving at 2:00 AM. We slept for about 1 ½ hours and thoroughly dried our feet, socks and boot liners. We gratefully partook of their water, hot cocoa and Gatorade. We departed the patrol hut at 5:30 AM, feeling a little rested, and made it to Rose Highway at 7:30 AM (51 hours). We skied around the North side of Incline Peak and Rose Knob this year instead of the south side. We made it to Brockway at 12:30 PM (56 hours).
So we were at Brockway, just a short, easy section of groomer, right? Wrong! This was when we were mentally done, and the hallucinating started to set in. I was seeing houses on the trail through this part and falling asleep and re-awakening, all while still skiing. So I popped 3 caffeine pills and half an hour later was doing much better. I had also popped 2 caffeine pills at the north end of Marlette and 2 when leaving Diamond Peak. Both Sam and I were not sure that we were going to make that final stretch and were too tired to even be excited when we finished. As is always the case in Tahoe, we ran into a familiar smiling face, this time it was Jess Repp, at the very end of the snow, one of the very few people we had interacted with in the 2 ½ days. We were just glad it was over and that the Bridgetender was just around the corner with a 22 oz. beer, Swiss burger, fries and salad with bleu cheese waiting.
That was kinda’ fun and certainly an epic adventure and test of endurance, suffering and navigation. However, both Sam and I can say with certainty, that we will never put our feet in ski boots for even close to that long of a day again.
Got er’ Done!!!!!