I was planning on climbing the Donner Norwand with some friends but questionable ice conditions meant everyone else decided to pull out. By the morning of the proposed climb, 3 people had pulled out so it was Craig and myself looking at the peak on Saturday morning. We had stopped in at the ASI Lodge and talked to Bela Vadasz who was getting ready to teach a backcountry ski class. He had climbed the Norwand 3 days prior, however, there had been some recent snow which now covered the route. Looking at the peak, I had to admit it didn't look very impressive so I didn't mind that Craig was more interested in a day of x-country skiing. The fact that he didn't have snowshoes with him also factored into the equation as snowshoes would have been mandatory to make this trip reasonably enjoyable. Although I had brought up my downhill skis as a backup, since I had not summitted this peak before nor any peak since the beginning of the year, the peakbagger in me took over and I headed up the peak by myself.
I took my 3 tools (2 ice tools & 1 mountaineering axe), helmet, and wore my snowshoes right out of the turn out. I skirted the left side of Snowshed Wall before climbing up and over the snowshed and traversing up the base of the NW Ridge. In short time I found some small smears of ice. I selected a 15 foot WI2 smear that looked the most promising and switched to my climbing gear (crampons, tools, and helmet). Near the top of the ice, I ran into rock on the left so moved to the right to stay on the ice before climbing on to a 30-50 degree snowfield which I traversed up to a tree. There was about two feet of powder on top of the hard pack now which meant I was clearing all that snow with my axes since I wasn't about to trust my tools or crampons on that much unconsolidated snow. I also switched from 2 tools to 1 tool and 1 mountaineering axe for greater snow clearing reach. At this time a snowboarder came up under me and informed me he was traversing below (I guess he either wanted to avoid my snow or tell me not to fall?). He headed up farther to my left as I made my way up to a small tree. As I neared the tree only the bottom 10cm of my 70cm mountaineering axe held any snow that felt even remotely solid which meant some delicate balancing on my part. I thought I had passed the hardest part, but the 20-30 feet of 60+ degree snow climbing to get on to the main ridge proved to be the most difficult.
As I made my way up, I was still in the shade and there was windblown snow everwhere. Then I encountered a chest high rock under the snow which I couldn't climb over (snow on top of the rock meant my picks couldn't even hold body weight). I ended up kicking steps sideways into the snow beside the rock hoping the entire thing wouldn't give way (90 degrees against the rock?). When I got over it, I was still clearing about 2 feet of powder which got interesting when it was basically over my head, the snow would come crashing down on my helmet and face each time - yes, my face was pretty cold! I kept wondering if I would set off an avalanche above me which would not be good as there were two dropoffs below me where I could be buried ;-) I finally made it on top of the little ridge before putting on my snowshoes, removing my helmet, and cruising up to the summit. I got to see 7 backcountry snowboarders and 1 skier that day. I went the north side of the summit block instead of the south which meant taking off my snowshoes for some interesting class 3 instead of the usual class 1. I saw 3 people on the summit as I was making some class 3 moves over a 30 foot deep OW fissure (don't want to drop anything down there ;-), however, they had started their descent by the time I made the top so I had it to myself. I treated myself to some summit photos, a Subway sandwich, and some Mountain Dew before signing the summit register and heading down. The register container was rusty, dented, and generally in a sorry way. There were numerous notepads inside but the pages were all wet so I wasn't too keen on signing it but since I had battled my way up I took the time to do so. Easy snowshoeing down the NW Ridge to the small saddle was followed by more fun snowshoeing down the north side non-extreme ski route (easy black diamond) back to my car.
The snow conditions were incredibly good for a ski/snowboard descent and since I had my skis with me and I was SO tempted to head back up Sunday and ski the upper West Slope and cross over to the lower North side but reluctantly I headed home as I had other obligations for the weekend. One obligation was learning how to use my GPS which I took to Mission Peak the following day. I did some off-trail hiking there for the first time to check out the waypoint finding feature which was fun. Donner Peak is definately begging for ski descent....