Winter Ski Traverse of the Sierra Nevada

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Trip Report
California, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Dec 27, 1983
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83.69% Score
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Winter Ski Traverse of the Sierra Nevada
Created On: Oct 22, 2009
Last Edited On: Jan 23, 2010


Winter Ski Traverse of the Sierra Nevada
Mono Lake to Yosemite Valley
December 27, 1983 to January 5, 1984

Skiing across the Sierra Nevada through Tuolomne Meadows is a popular ski trek. Most people climb over Tioga Pass, ski across Tuolomne Meadows and then drop down into Little Yosemite.

In the winter of 1983-84 some friends and I decided to ski across the Sierra Nevada as my last bit of fun before military boot camp. Our ski trip took 10 days, of which we spent 2 days waiting out a storm below Mono Pass. We started December 27, 1983 and got to Yosemite Valley ten days later on January 5, 1984. During New Years Eve we had Tuolomne Meadows all to ourselves.

We decided on an alternate route because of high avalanche danger. Beginning at Mono Lake, we ascended Bloody Canyon and climbed over Mono Pass. We entered Tuolomne Meadows from the southeast. We skied to the west end of Tuolomne Meadows and then headed south, past Cathedral Peak, over Cathedral Pass, over Sunshine Mountain and finally into Little Yosemite.

Our camps were as follows:

Dec 27: Walker Lake
Dec 28: Lower Sardine Lake (storm)
Dec 29: Lower Sardine Lake (storm)
Dec 30: Below Mount Gibbs
Dec 31: Tuolomne Meadows
Jan 1: Cathedral Meadow
Jan 2: Cathedral Pass
Jan 3: Sunshine Camp
Jan 4: Little Yosemite
Jan 5: Yosemite Valley

Map of our Trans-Sierra ski trip


My two friends used cross-country skis with skins, 3-pin bindings and single leather boots. I only had climbing/approach gear, so I used my double leather climbing boots (Galibier Makalu), original Ramer AT bindings and Fischer randonee skis.

I discovered that rigid boots used with AT bindings are great except when you're touring for long distances. I literally "ached" for boots that flexed.

Galibier Makalu double expedition boots

For those of you too young to remember the original AT bindings, here they are, Ramer AT bindings:

I think the most interesting piece of equipment we had was a carbide miner's lamp that we used to illuminate out camp at night. We had to clean it at night and drain the water to prevent it from freezing up, but otherwise it worked perfectly.

I'll never forget sitting around camp at night, with the flickering carbide flame, and staring up at Orion's belt.

Fred and Gerry in Little YosemiteFred and Gerry

Bloody Canyon

We started at U.S. 395 at Mono Lake and drove as far up Bloody Canyon as we could with the 4x4 in deep snow. Then we skied up the lateral moraine above Walker Lake.

Lateral moraineSkiing up the lateral moraine above Walker Lake. The obsidian domes are visible on the horizon (Mono Craters).

On the second day a storm moved in a trapped us below Mono Pass at Lower Sardine Lake for 2 days. We were afraid to climb over Mono Pass in the storm because of avalanche danger.

Camp at Lower Sardine LakeOur camp below Mono Pass at Lower Sardine Lake.

Fred and Gerry during the stormFred and Gerry

Weathering the StormSierra Ledge Rat killing time in Bloody Canyon during the storm. The cliffs on the left are the southeastern slopes of Mount Gibbs.

Mono Pass

When the storm passed and the skies cleared, we evaluated the avalanche danger and then ascended Mono Pass.

Mono PassStarting up Mono Pass

Tuolomne Meadows

We spent New Years Eve in Tuolomne Meadows. After spending so much time in Tuolomne Meadows with the summer crowds and traffic, it was so strange to see that place empty and quiet.

Did I say "strange?" Maybe I should say "nice" instead.

Tuolomne MeadowsTuolomne Meadows, December 31, 1983

Cathedral Pass

We left Tuolomne Meadows at the western end and climbed up between Fairview Dome and Cathedral Peak, towards Cathedral Pass. The views of Cathedral Peak and the domes were spectacular.

Fairview DomeSkiing up past Fairview Dome

Cathedral Peak on New Years DaySkiing across a frozen lake below Cathedral Peak. Cathedral Lake is off to the left.

Cathedral PeakCathedral Peak

Avalanche DebrisA large avalanche from one of the domes near Cathdedral Pass. I was surprised to see how far the avalanche traveled, given that the break point was not really high up on the dome. This photo was taken only half way down the avalanche track. Seems like the break point was only 100 feet up the side of the dome but the avalanche traveled 2,000 feet.

Cathedral PassCathedral Pass and a "Sierra Wave"

Little Yosemite

I had mixed feelings about dropping into Little Yosemite. The big pine trees were wonderful to see. But we kept having to dismount from our skis quite often to cross bare spots. On the other side of the bare spots, we tried to hike across short patches of snow but post-holing forced us back onto skis. Skiing, walking, post-holing, skiing, walking, post-holing, skiing, walking.....

When the skis came off for good, I knew that out fine adventure was over. And I was sad.

Little YosemiteHalf Dome


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Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - Nov 3, 2009 12:58 am - Hasn't voted

Re: That's a sick traverse!

Ha! It's not sick! It's a common ski jaunt. Most people are probably faster than we were. I'm an old-schooler, I like to slow down and smell the roses....


jmc - Oct 29, 2009 9:43 am - Voted 10/10


adventure. congratulations (belated) on the trip and great report, thanks

mttmsn - Mar 30, 2013 2:30 am - Hasn't voted

Cross country skis

Would you recommend this on standard skinny xc skis? I know an A/T setup or Teles would be better but I'm down to give it a go if its doable.

Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - Mar 31, 2013 7:49 pm - Hasn't voted

no skinny skis

It would be really difficult to keep your balance with a pack and skinny skis, not to mention breaking trail. I don't like AT for long tours, hurts my feet. Tele is the way to go.


Harlen - Nov 24, 2013 1:16 am - Hasn't voted

advice please

Hey Ledge Rat,

I'm thinking of skiing some of your fine route with my boys; can you tell me how it was descending the last couple miles from Little Yosemite Valley down to the valley floor. Might the "Mist Trail" section be hazardous in mid-winter re. avalanches? Any other portions of the trail below Cathedral Pass strike you guys as risky? Thanks a lot, Harlen

Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - Nov 24, 2013 12:35 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: advice please

Sorry, it's been 30 years and I don't specifically remember that part of the hike.

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