Again with Kaiser Peak?
Yes, again with Kaiser Peak. I have this easy hill bagged with every season with the exception of winter. I given it two solo day attempts only to be turned around by excessive powder and then by excessive trail breaking. By now, this hill is just starting to piss me off. I begin plans for my 3rd attempt.
New plan this time. First I would make this a two day winter adventure. This would take the stress off keeping up a rough pace as well as get in some more winter camping time. Secondly, I would take some poor sap who would volunteer for the deep powder snow slog up 3,000' to help with breaking trail. I mention this idea to a fellow co-worker and he agreed to come along! I could not believe I found someone who wanted to partake. Unfortunately, Russ had very little experience in the winter time Sierra’s. However, he was excited and I knew he would be in great shape after doing several hiking trips very recently. I however, was far from being in any kind of shape at all. After fighting a nasty cold for most of February, I knew this trip was going to be an ass kicker for me. Just what I needed!
Day 1 - Snowshoe app. 2,000' to the meadow located at 37°16'41.63"N by 119°10'34.74"W and build base.
Day 2- Up predawn hours to a (hopefully clear skies) full moon night and make a summit attempt and get the sunrise over the Sierras on the summit.
The official NOAA forecast for Huntington Lake for day one was light snow 1” to 3” all day and clearing into the 2nd day. However the long range forecast has a second front coming across the Sierras on the 3rd day with a full blown winter storm. No worries, we’ll be out by 2nd day and are never more than 3 hours from the car. I figured the lull in between the weather was going to be our time to make the summit and out back to the car before anything could happened.
A pleasant start…
I was up at 4:15 at my place in Fresno and over to Russ’s place in Clovis by 5:00. The drive up to Huntington Lake was uneventful I was very surprised by the amount of snow at the lake. It ranged 5’ to 8’ in places at 8,000’. It was very cool to see that we were going to have an epic trip. I was pleased to see the single lane road plowed back to the “trailhead parking” as opposed to parking at the snowmobile rental place about a ½ mile back.
Starting off, great spirts!
Russ and I were a little worried about my poor Civic and if it could get out of this 8’ box canyon that had been plowed if it did indeed snow.
On the "trail" by 7:10 with pleasant temps around freezing just perfect for our strenuous uphill slog.
Russ starts strong.
The sun comes out to greet us!
For the first 800’ feet uphill or so, some poor sap had already broken trail. I would like the buy that guy a beer. He saved us a lot of energy and time slogging away in powder.
Uphill slog to College Rock (9,000')
Weather rolls in and I crap out – In that order.
All during our uphill powder slog we were aware of dark clouds rolling up from the valley below. Again, I figured this would be the 1” to 3” inches that was forecasted with clearing later this evening. We decided to continue our upward slog.
Frozen over Huntington Lake in the foreground with clouds rapidly rising up from the valley below.
At the base of College Rock (9,000') we began our traverse into the Bear Creek drainage.
Russ breaks trail at the base of College Rock.
Around this time (10:00) the weather hit us and the snow began to fall. At first it wasn't that bad and I enjoyed being out and “playing” in the hills with it. However, over time the visibility began to fall and the snow started to become heavy and worse – blow sideways.
Are you noticing a theme in any of these pictures? Yeah the weather is getting worse but more importantly – Russ is pulling away WHILE breaking trail! I’m crapping out and giving it hell just to stay in his tracks and the weather rolls in. The unfortunate truth of the matter was that I was horribly out of shape and it was showing. I knew that I had maybe a couple hours of slow energy left in me. Russ on the other hand seemed to be doing very well and enjoyed the weather as well. I was beginning to get a tad concerned with the amount of moisture (frozen) to him but he seems to be just fine with it all.
No gloves - hardcore.
The meadow and beyond
At noon we had reached our day #1 target. The Bear creek meadow at about 9,300’ was under what could only be guessed as up to 10’ feet of snow. Russ put his poles in all the way and that was just the powered. I had been to this meadow a few weeks back in January before the major winter storms came and there was at best 4’.
Same meadow just a few weeks back on a much nicer day. Apparently walking in a straight line is an issue I should work on.
The meadow as seen today. Not so great
Lots of powder!
Since it was yet early in the day and with the exception of me dragging ass we were both in good spirits. We elected to continue our climb and obtain the ridge line which eventually leads to summit. It was around this time I knew personally I did not have would it would take to summit today. My options I was beginning to ponder were to top out at the ridge and build base and crash for the day giving it a shot in the morning or straight up bail. Like I mentioned before I was worried about Russ getting cold over night and having all his clothes frozen. I began to doubt staying our overnight as it would be epic and this was much more than 1” to 3”.
Bringing up the rear.
The ridge! 1:00 pm
At last, we reach the ridgeline only to be blasted by hard cold winds. My legs are freezing since I opted for no thermal bottoms during the climb (DOH!). We both knew it, this was far enough and it was time to bail. No camping out for us because of Russ’s frozen clothes and no further because of me. Though bummed with no summit I was still happy to be there witnessing a full blown winter storm a 10,000’ with the idea of having pizza and beer tonight!
Gully leads back down to the meadow.
Russ and I try pose for this pic, but the wind and snow is just too much to keep our eyes open. Good Times!
At 1:00pm and after suiting up my down jacket, we were off down to powder slopes back through the meadow and to the car. Our trail which we had broke not more than 10 minutes ago had already been covered up with snow.
Our covered tracks!
The lower Russ and I got down the hillside towards Huntington Lake the weather began to relax on us. The winds started to die down the snow was light making for a mellow descent. I however, we STILL dragging. Hoping the downhill snowshoe “ski” would be quick and painless I was wrong. With all powder I had a hard time keeping my balance, and even though I never fell I never really got going fast. Consequently, our return trip with a break for food took us 3 hours back to the car, which was too long and tiresome for both of us.
Sierra Summit ski resort is behide the trees on the right.
Russ agains breaks trail all the way down to the car! Manys thanks.
Car fiasco and pizza & beer.
The civic in all it's glory.
Well the NOAA forecast was right. 1" to 3" at Huntington Lake! Our excitement to have our day over (9 hours and 10 minutes car to car) was short lived to find the Civic had no traction to get out of the plowed box canyon. With Russ’s help the chains came on and the Civic was out of there! Russ and I had a through debriefing on our trip and realized the weather was the determining factor in our turnaround. However, Russ needed better clothing and I needed to work out once in a while! After all was said and done we stopped off at BC’s pizza
in Clovis and chow down with a pitcher!
Overall - GREAT winter day trip in the Sierras. Kaiser Peak in the winter escapes me again for the 3rd time. More than likely I won’t give it another shot this season with too much on plate as it is but plans are in the works for next winter.
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