A Perfectly Nice Day for a Ski.
I have had my eye on Lassen Peak for quite some time but just kinda forgot about it since the drive seemed a bit boring for such a minor ski. I was wrong, though and I found out because the annual "Dieu-Meyer" camping trip was located in Lassen National Park. I wasn't sure how much snow was left in mid July and frankly didn't care enough to investigate. I didn't even check the topo! I just chucked my skis, boots and poles into the back of the truck along with my camping gear and decided I would just find out what conditions were like once I had arrived.
So, we drove to the park and set-up camp. I planned to drive to the pass and ski something the next day and since I was not sure if I was even gonna ski I got a very restful night sleep not dwelling on the upcoming adventure. I got up around 6:00 am, gathered my stuff and drove to the pass. On the way up I was pleasently surprised at how much snow lingered on the peak; even on the south side, which is what I decided to ski, due in part to the fact that all other routes would require either a long talus slog and/or hitch hiking back to the pass. There I sat, in my truck trying to motivate myself. I saw quite a few other skiers gearing-up and it kinda disappointed me to see so many people. When I ski off piste I prefer to be alone. But, I said to myself, "Let's do this!". In a mocking sort of voice.
I followed the partially snow covered trail, switching back up the south ridge of Lassen Peak. I took it slow. I wanted to be sure that any and all ice would be sufficiently melted and all snow would be nice and mushy. Also, it was fairly warm and I figured a casual hike at a slow pace suited the occasion. I stopped several times along the way to watch other skiers descend, pick my line and to evaluate the slope. Normally all slopes look steep to me, especially when I am alone, new to an area and unsure of conditions. It's a fear caused by a self preservation instinct, I guess but usually I hold up a ski pole in a vertical position with my arm streched out and verify that the angle of the slope is well under the 45 degree mark. I chide myself, "Oh! See? It's no more than 30 degrees. You can ski that blindfolded, you idiot!" Not this time, though. I'd hold my pole up there and see that it was hard to tell where the slope was in relation the the imaginary 45 degree marker.
Oh, well. I came to ski and I did not want to carry my skis down the hill. What a waste! I came all that way and I couldn't just turn around. I continued to argue with myself like this, comparing the list of pros and cons. I felt blisters slowly forming on my heels again. The slope was steeper than I expected and the snow looked kinda cupped but I hate it when I talk myself out of doing something that I know I like. What the hell? So, I just decided to hike to the top and decide once I got there.
Soon enough I was at the summit. The snow was extremely sun cupped up there but on the steeper aspects it couldn't be nearly that bad and, so, I had a decision to make but the weather was so nice I just took it easy for a while, napping for about 20 minutes. I realized that dealing with the disappointment and self-humiliation would be far worse than the consequences of falling and I quikly put on my pack, grabbed my poles and clicked into my bindings. Since I could not see the slope I traversed out accross the headwall dropping elevation slowly so that I could get a look at what I intended to ski. What I saw was so horrible that I almost pooped my pants. Not really, but my heart did sink and stomach did jump up into my throut. The entire freaking snow field was cupped and runnelled from top to bottom. Not only that but where the snow had loaded from windy winter storms the first 30 to 50 vertical feet were approaching 45 degrees. I know folks like to exagerate the steepness but this is no exageration. It was steep. For me anyway. Once I got home I checked the topo and sure enough, that aspect is a steady 35 to 40 degrees for 1200 feet so the upper portion was, easily, close to 45. But what really worried me was the condition of the snow. The cups and runnels were anywhere from 8" to 18"! Holy crap! How do I do this? I stood there berating myself. I could not remember why I started participating in this sport to begin with but I knew I had to ski. After about ten minutes I had convinced myself to try a turn. If I could get the first turn then I could get the rest, I figured. So, I said "F*&k it!" and dropped in.
Gathering speed quickly in the brief moment of free fall caused me to take things one turn at a time, choosing my next turn carefully, trying to maintain my balace and keep my speed managable. Pole plant-jump-turn-slow down. I continued this for the first half a dozen turns until the slope eased off to it's normal 35+ degrees and then I felt more comfortable linking turns. Once I got closer to the bottom I traversed skier's right over to some snow that looked smoother. It was steeper but less cupped. From there I let 'er rip until I met up with the lower portion of the trail.
Boy. That felt great. For some folks that might not be much of a challenge but for me to do that solo, skiing the most sun and rain affected snow I have ever skied and at that pitch was an accomplishment. I can't wait to do more. Bring on the sun cups!
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