Sierra Mountain Center

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Archive for the ‘Backcountry Skiing’ Category

Skiing Canada’s Wapta traverse

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Over the years John Miller has done a bunch of trans Sierra ski trips with SMC. Given this year’s low snow fall in California it was just as well that we decided to head north to Canada to do a hut to hut ski across the Wapta Traverse out of Lake Louise in Alberta.

Along on the trip were John’s sons Cooper and Rob, Marc Shea and SMC guides SP Parker and Andrew Soleman. We met in Calgary and headed out to Canmore the first day.  SP and Andrew had arrived the prior day to get everything organized and food shopped for.

Day two was a little delayed due to a pair of boots being left behind in the hotel but the rewards were a half day skiing at Lake Louise resort and a night of luxury at the Chateau Lake Louise.

We finally headed out up the Bow Valley to the luxurious Bow hut. The hut here will sleep up to 30 people and has a couple of wood stoves to keep things nice and toasty inside. Skiing behind the hut was wonderful dry Canada powder.

On Day 3 we headed out across the icefields, a vast expanse of flat ice and snow blending into the clouds. The crossing of Saint Nicholas Col was uneventful and we travelled on to Scott Duncan hut. The weather closed in some and battered the hut. The next day things seemed to be clearing some so we headed out to cross the Balfor High Col. This is the high point of the trip and involves negotiating crevasses and a small icefall. We got into this when the weather fully closed down and reduced our visibility to next to nothing. Not wanting to wanted around crevasses with no visibility we beat a retreat back to the hut – and scotch.

The next day was the clearest of the trip weather wise and and under a cold clear sky we headed back to Bow Hut with 12 inches of new powder. Once again the hut hill gave us the best snow so we dropped packs and did a couple of laps before heading back out to the vehicles and the earthy delights of Canmore. Especially the Grizzly Paw brew pub with it “Rutting Elk Red”

All in all it was a great trip, with great friends, great snow and the delight of being able to ski with a light pack from comfy hut to hut surrounded by incredible scenery.


Written by SP Parker

April 12, 2012 at 3:00 am

Posted in Backcountry Skiing

A Guides Day Off; Skiing Mt Ritter

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At this point in life one would think that I would take days off at a beach somewhere with drinks in tall glasses and little umbrellas in them. But no, have to go skiing.
Friend Jen Giraud and I had talked for years about skiing Mt Ritter the prominent peak visible from Mammoth. A fantastic peak with the history of John Muir’s first ascent and a ski from the very top.
So we took snowmobiles ( have learned a few things) to Agnew Meadows, camped there and climbed and skied the next day. About 6000 vertical and about 17 miles.
Snow was pretty good, but up high still wet winter powder and down lower corn mixed with mush.
But a perfect day with not a breath of wind on top and a warm day.
So much snow back there it is hard to believe that it will ever melt.
A long, but a great day and highly recommended to anyone who wants a classic ski in a wilderness setting. If this was in Europe there would be dozens a day. But no, this is the USA and too much work.

Written by SP Parker

May 6, 2011 at 2:58 am

Skiing with Julbo and Glen Plake

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If you have been around skiing for a while you have seen photos of Glen Plake. The guy with the multicolored mohawk and who skis on 210cm skis with no sidecut – and looks better on them than the rest of us put together.
SMC worked with Julbo (the sunglasses people) to put on a three day program with the Julbo contest winner judy Wu and folks from a bunch of media outlets – skiing, Powder, Backcountry, etc. The idea was to have Glen show people his home turf in his indomitable style and sleep out under the stars for the full backcountry experience.
We went in and camped up high on Peaklet, below Mt Humphreys. Weather was not spring like with cold temps, new snow and howling winds.
But was it ever pretty with huge Sierra wave cloud arching across the sky at nights.
Skiing was not bad either.

For video go here.

Written by SP Parker

May 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Posted in Backcountry Skiing

Skiing the Sierra High Route, 9-15 May

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One of the most classic multi-day ski tours in the country is the Sierra High Route.  Stretching across one of the widest points of the range, the tour consistently stays above 10,000 feet and travels through some of the most impressive alpine terrain anywhere.  Jeff, Michael, and SMC’s new intern Aaron joined me for a trip that seemed daunting at first, but became absolutely sublime by the finish.

SMC adds mileage, terrain, impressive scenery, and fewer people (we saw none this year for the whole tour) by starting in Onion Valley and crossing Kearsarge Pass.  This is a higher start – indeed, we were able to skin almost immediately upon leaving the car – and avoids the slogging up to Shepherd Pass that the traditional start normally involves.

We had blustery weather for the first few days, with light snow and high winds that buffeted us every evening in camp.  But each day it blew out in the night and left us with clear skies the next morning.  By the time we reached the half-way mark at Milestone Pass (Day 3), the weather had improved to what the Sierra Nevada is famous for:  warm and sunny during the day, clear and crisp at night.

The only disturbance we had later in the trip was a thunderstorm that caught us just a few hundred feet below Fin Pass (or Horn Col), so we hunkered down for 45 minutes before making it into camp.  The weather cleared up as we were eating dinner, and we were able to ski several laps on nearby peaks in the sunset and alpenglow.  In the morning we were able to climb up and ski off another peak on our way to Lodgepole, and we reached our planned campsite so early (12:30am!), that the team voted to continue on and reach the trailhead the same day, rather than have a morning run out.

When this trip runs above the minimum, SMC typically charters a plane to return us to Bishop and fly-over the terrain we had spent 6 or 7 days crossing.  But with only the four of us, SP drove across to pick us up and bring us back.  Dinner and beer at the Whisky Creek was a great way to finish the trip.

Thanks to Jeff and Michael for taking on the challenge – you guys were fantastic! 


A longer, 3 part trip report can be found on my personal blog, at  It includes a slideshow and maps.

More photos – including an impressive sunset on our last night on the tour – can be found at my Picasa account:

Written by Chris

May 28, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Monarch Divide Ski Tour; May 3-9 2010

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The Monarch Divide is SMC’s favorite ski tour. More difficult than the high route is takes one into little visited areas of Sequoia Kings National Park, has great down skiing and fantastic scenery. Over the last decade or so this has become our signature tour and we are the only guides to guide this trip.
John Miller has long wanted to do this trip but we were thwarted two years ago and went back out via Taboose Pass from upper Basin.
This year John recruited two co-workers,, Heather Hollister, Danielle Carlin with Serge Dubovitsky and Peter Caldwell rounding out the group. Also along as an assistant guide was Andrew Soleman.
This spring has been characterized by bad weather and strong winds. We were slated to leave on the 2nd but waited a day to avoid yet another storm. We left Glacier Lodge in Big Pine Creek in clear weather, but with strong winds. The winds increased all day and we had to dig in deep at the first night camp above Brainard Lake. It blew all night and toppled one of our snow walls, but day two dawned clear. The route goes up over Southfork Pass which is a steep little pass involving booting up and over.
Dropping off the Pass leads to two options; down to Palisade Creek and up over Mather Pass or a high line up almost over the summit of 13,000 foot Bolton Brown and down to Upper Basin. Mather Pass is always problematic for guides and no matter what one does you hit it late in the day after it has been baking in the sun and is more subject to wet avalanche danger. But then the Bolton Brown option takes more climbing to higher elevation and a short steep pitch of snow climbing. We went the Bolton Brown way. The day was getting on by the time we topped out and a long run down to Upper Basin would have been great if the snow had not frozen up.
But camp on a rocky bench was windless and perfect.
Day three goes up over Frozen Lakes Pass and then into the Lakes Basin and to Marion Lake. Once again the wind came back and the ascent was made more difficult by the added peril of being blown over.
But the skiing to Lake Marion is great with the views getting even better and better. Just before Marion Lake we encountered three other skiers from Heavenly Ski area going west to east; they had decided that they were going up the good snow and down the bad. This is the first time I have ever seen anyone else on this trip Marion Lake is one of the top ten lakes of the High Sierra. Serene and surrounded by high peaks and walls with shelter amongst lodgepole pines. Often there is bare ground here, but not this year with it’s deep and late snowpack.
Day four is up and over another pass below Marion Peak and then a couple more small crossing before camp at unnamed lakes below State Peak. We got to camp early enough to stomp in a trail up and over the steepest pass of the trip. Only a couple of hundred feet of steep climbing, but up to about 50 degrees.
Camp here is perfect with views to Arrow Peak and the South Fork of the Kings River. A great place to relax and watch the sun set.
The next morning it was easy to get up and over the pass and then down to the lakes below Dougherty Peak. Andrew set a long traverse around the basin and on up the Peak. It gets a little steep towards the top but you top right out on the summit – but the register was burred in snow and we could not sign in. The run down the other side is one of the best on the tour and was perfect corn snow for two thousand feet to lunch.
Then another pass and down to Goat Lakes and yet another pass, the third of the day over Goat Crest and camp at Glacier Lakes. Once again there was no dry ground, but camp was alongside a bubbling creek.
The second to last day is a two pass day over Granite Pass and then a small unnamed one that drops to Grouse Lake. Once again perfect snow amongst the trees as we say goodbye tot he high country and descend through firs and hemlocks in ever increasingly sticky snow to the last night at snow line at about 8000 feet. Careful navigation and use of the GPS kept us on track to pick up the Copper Creek trail.
Finally some dry dirt to sleep on and the forgotten smell of greenery and damp earth.
We were up early to hit the pavement at Roads End at 10.00 in time to meet our shuttle back to Fresno.
From here John, and Danielle flew back to the Bay area, Heather was picked up by her family and the remaining four of us flew back into Bishop in time to meet another storm and increasing winds that made landing in Bishop a little nerve testing.
All in all the trip went flawlessly. We managed to avoid the worst of the weather, had some great skiing and made an ideal strong and enthusiastic team.
I’ll do a ski tour with any of this crew again and hope to next year.

For more photos go to Serge’s photo site

Written by SP Parker

May 23, 2010 at 3:21 am

Posted in Backcountry Skiing

Evolution Valley Ski; May 3-9 2009

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Seems as if it has been one of those years for ski trips; make plans, change them, have people drop out, more come in, adapt and then have the weather change it all.

So it was with this trip. Started out as a Monarch ski, but as numbers dropped the logistics and expenses of flying back increased. There are getting to be fewer and fewer charter companies around these days. So the trip morphed into a loop from Paiute to Echo Col with Dennis Sargent and Craig Sherman. Craig has done lots of trips over the years – decades actually- and at 65 is a great example of what we can all do if we keep in shape and with a good attitude.

We started off in light snow on May 3. The winds were strong and so we camped below Loch Leven in the trees for shelter. The next day it was till blowing hard so we left gear and headed back to Bishop for a shower, fresh food and a beer. Up early on the 5th we headed in under better skies, picked up the gear and headed over Paiute Pass to camp at Goethe Lake. From here we climbed over Alpine Col and descended to lovely Darwin Bench and camp on the dirt and in the trees at the mouth of Evolution Valley. There is still a lot of snow back there! From here in the Owens Valley it all appears dry, but to the west of the crest it still looks like winter. Snow was variable and even in a “low” snow year we skied everything we wanted. The lakes in Evolution Valley were still hard frozen and easy travel. We headed to Muir Pass, checked out the hut briefly – it is a cool hut but an icebox and mouse infested. We spent the night camped above Helen Lake and then climbed Black Giant the next day. The slopes were steep and icy so we elected to ski the lower two thirds and hiked to the summit. This was Dennis’ first big Sierra peak and it is  great one. The view is fantastic from near Whitney to the Clark Range above Yosemite. We spent a while here enjoying the Sierra before having a great ski back to camp. We picked it up and climbed up ever softening slopes to camp on the west side of Echo Col. We wanted to cross it early the next morning when it was firmer with less avalanche issues.

We did so, but the east side was still soft and we were glad to get off the slope. The descent down the Sabrina drainage went well – until about 10,500 feet when the snow started to run out for skiing , but was still too much for easy hiking. We picked up the trail but still had a flog through soft snow and plunging into holes.

Eventually we hit the dry trail and it was easy back to dinner and refreshments at Whiskey Creek. A great trip and a beautiful place to be.

Written by SP Parker

May 18, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Backcountry Skiing

Sigg H20 bottles at the SMC store!!

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Check out the new bottles!  Click on the photo for a link to the SMC Store.

Check out the new bottles! Click on the photo for a link to the SMC Store.

Written by Chris

May 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm

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