Departure from Smoggy SoCal
Captain Beefheart and I planned to drive up to Huntington Lake, 65 miles Northeast of Fresno to make some spring turns in the Western Sierra, where I have never been to before. The plan was to leave on the 1st before 11am, and try to get up to the area before sundown to set up a camp before nightfall. The plan was also to try to go as dirtbag as possible, and spend as little money as possible.
Captain arrived at my place around 1045am, and we packed up my little Hyundai, aka the party monster, and we hit the road. Got up on 1 tank all the way to just outside of Fresno. We filled up and started up the scenic 168. The rolling foothills of the Western Sierra were very cool and beautiful, as we slowly gained elevation and gawked out of the dirty windows of the party monster.
We stopped in the town of Prather, and went into a market to get some food and booze for our car camp tonight. The market had a sign that boasted "Famous Mountain Fried Chicken". When we went in and talked to the girl behind the deli counter, she explained the secret recipe: it is fried chicken, cooked in the mountains! We had a good laugh with her. She asked if we were going into the backcountry, and then recommended we bought some cold chicken for half off, and just munched on that for the next 2 days. So we got dialed in for food for 2 days for two guys for under 5 bucks. The beer was more expensive, but not much. 12 pack of PBR- $6.45, plus we brought a bottle of Labbot and Graham's Woodford Reserve, my personal fav.
Armed heavily, we were ready to get up to the mountains and set up camp as the shadows grew longer in the afternoon.
Arriving in Huntington Lake
After scoping out a couple of sketchy locations and random campsites, it was 545pm and we needed to find a place to camp before sunset. We got to the ski area, Sierra Summit and decided to just check it out rate wise. The ski area was a ghost town and the Inn was closed Mon-Wed. So we followed HWY 168 to the very end of the road out of the small village of Huntington Lake. The road was only plowed to the end of town, so we stopped and looked around.
We discovered that 100 yards away there was a snowed over campsite with bear boxes, fire rings and picnic benches. We found our spot!
It didn't take long to set up our no trace camp. We buried the beer in a snowbank, gnarled on some cold chicken and toasting the brown liquor. It was so quiet, and not a breath of wind, so we decided to not set up a tent, and bivy under the stars.
After a couple of beers and whiskey gulps, we riddled eachother with stupid drunken trivia and enjoyed the complete solitude under a starry night. The hum of snowmobiles and snowcats across the Lake were faint from the ski area. Best open bivy ever!
First Tracks and More
Our heads were not too foggy in the morning, as we awoke to more perfect weather. We fired up the JetBoil and had some breakfast and warm drinks. By 830am we cleaned up camp and were changed ready to hit the slopes. The Captain was really stoked to fire up his new snowboard and I was ready to get on edge in the Western Sierra.
Once again, the ski area was deserted. There were less than a dozen cars in the parking lot. After discovering the mountain was not open until 9am, we decided to go into the Inn that was closed on us the night before and get a idea on prices. There was a chance of snow later that evening, so we wanted to know our options for later on in the day.
After talking to the friendly people inside and telling them our tale, they thought we got lucky with such great conditions to bivy, and offered us a discounted room for the evening, which we gladly accepted to the tune of $25 bucks each! Very cool people in the Inn.
At the crack of 9am we hooked up our lift tickets and were on the chairs. No one was out there. We later learned that there were 38 tickets sold that day, and most of that was employees. Everywhere we went we had untouched corduroy. We explored most of the West side of the mountain in the morning, and saw the same 2 other people every other chair lift. Our plan to go from West to East to find the best conditions worked like a charm, and around 1030am, we were treated to perfect spring conditions almost everywhere we went on the mountain.
I never have gotten my skis waxed before, and since things were going so great and I had not spent that much money, I splurged and got the sticks waxed. WOW what a difference! I was flying the next run and almost ate shit because I was hawlin' ass! After two runs, I found the groove and it was great.
Now that conditions were stellar, we took it up a notch. We hit the upper mountain and the bowl area to find awesome snow and turns. We had some comedy when we hit the upper chairlift, which was a old school chair. The liftie at the top was this funny dude we talked to a couple of times that had a Mohawk. One time on our way up we loaded poorly and my skis popped off due to our stupidity. The lift attendant at the bottom yelled up that he would send them up. So as we approached the unload ramp at the top, we yelled and pointed at my ski boots saying we had some issues. So this riddler starts smiling and laughing and speeds up the lift making it impossible for me to unload without taking a spill. The Captain exited the chair first and got the hell out of the way as I jumped, tucked and rolled down the ramp, laughing all the way. Mohawk dude was laughing so hard and we all had a good joke about it. Up came my skis and we were back in the bowl.
We ended up making turns on the mountain all day until they closed. It was a great day and trip so far, for sure!
Gettin' Loose in the Inn
Our tired legs walked off the mountain and up to the Inn. After checking in and getting the room dialed in, we had some drinks and smoked out. The trip was going so much better than expected and the snow was killer.
After a couple beers and ripps, we moseyed down to the bar downstairs. We had a good time hangin' out with the 7 people down there. 5 employees and a couple from Morro Bay. They were all very cool as we played darts, drank beer and got crazy on the foozeball table.
The bartender was a cute local girl that was telling us all about all the hidden runs and cool backcountry stuff in the area. Another employee was telling us about some great local ski mountaineering to be done. Later on and many drinks later we asked him if he know any groomers that would take us up in a snowcat for a real midnight run. He said yes! But, we assessed our situation and blood alcohol level, and decided that we should just chill out. Turned out to be a good idea. Awesome time! Big thanks to all you guys!
Last Day, Soak it up!
It snowed and got very cold that night. We awoke in our comfy room to empty beer bottles covered the floor and the faint smell of whiskey. We got dressed and went back out on the mountain. There was a dusting of snow, maybe three inches all over the mountain. Under the freshies, a brick hard frozen surface. On our first run, the Captain caught a edge and went down. I never saw it, as I was around the bend in front of him. So when I realized he was not behind me, I stopped and waited. 30 seconds later he came around the bend holding his wrist. Not broken or anything, but hurt. He decided it was too icy, and it was! It was the iciest I have ever skied for sure, and the Captain concurred. He went back to the base area, and I turned on my Ipod and started blasting Daft Punk to get me going as I headed up to the gnarly chair 2 to the upper Mountain and West side.
The conditions never improved as much as I would have liked, but I stayed in 2nd and 3rd gear and just rode the Mountain, working my turns in the icy ungroomed snow. Even though I missed having my friend around, I wanted to make the most out of it.
Guilt set in about 1200 noon. I went down to the base and the Captain and I got the party monster loaded and we split out of there under unsettled skies and snow flurries.
We drove down the 168 without having any problems and were on our way to grimy SoCal. We killed the rest of our cold chicken and agreed that the trip was a great success. Captain's wrist would be fine, and we decided to definitely come back.
We ended up spending about 50 bucks less than expected, and gas round trip for the 675 miles was 44 bucks. Food totals were 20 bucks for BOTH of us. The dirtbag method worked supreme!
As we got back to SoCal, we were already looking into another ski trip before summer was here. But it will be hard to beat this experience. A great one.