Winter Western States 2006

Wendell Doman, Jasper Halekas, Bob Akka

On February 11 and 12, 2006, I joined Wendell Doman for part of his Winter Western States trek. And why not? It's a beautiful course, with winter conditions giving it a deep-backcountry quality that is somewhat lacking in the more accessible summertime.

Three of us, Wendell, myself, and Jasper Halekas started out of Squaw Valley at 5AM Saturday. There was a full moon out, but we were in the shadow of KT-22. Still the reflected moonlight was adequate. Mostly; "Oh no, I think this is a mogul run!" We kept our flashlights off, progressing upward in stealth mode.

Jasper near Emigrant Pass

Sunrise in the mountains

We had daylight by Emigrant Pass. We took a short break, and dropped into the icy traverse south of Granite Chief. Wendell and Jasper were doing OK on their snowshoes, but I was getting a little gripped on my non-metal-edged XC touring skis. So I took off my skis and wore crampons for the next couple of miles, which worked much better. Then, as the slope angle got easier, I put skis back on and negotiated the crusty snow, scraping loudly left and right (and leaving a few large divots) as I skidded towards the Lyon Ridge saddle.

Lyon Ridge aid station

Jasper and Wendell approaching the ridge

As the late morning daylight started to soften the snow, we found the next bit much easier. We climbed the ridgeline towards Cougar Rock, treated to increasingly grand vistas of the Sierra Crest behind us and other peaks to either side. We rolled on further west, enjoying the sweeping gentle traverse along Elephant's Trunk, finally leaving the main ridge where Red Star Ridge meets it.

Wendell at Cougar Rock

Elephant's Trunk

We had 7 miles or so of snow-covered dirt road, which went easily as we were following the recent tracks of a few snowmobiles (I have to say, it was especially easy on skis). We arrived at Robinson Flat around 3:30, and I melted some snow on the campstove I'd brought along.

Bob at Robinson Flat

After a short break, Wendell and Jasper continued west, doing Cavenagh Ridge, Deep Canyon, Last Chance, Devils Thumb, and all that good stuff, eventually reaching Michigan Bluff before sunrise. I cut out, cruising the smooth (and snowmobile-groomed) Foresthill Road for 14 miles down to China Wall, getting there a little after dark.

Approaching China Wall on Foresthill Road, the end of a nice ski tour for Bob

Jasper decided that he'd had about a day-full at Michigan Bluff. Wendell, after taking a break for some morning coffee and pizza, continued on towards Foresthill. I met him again between Ford's Bar and Rucky Chucky. He was doing fine, the pace having slowed a little since the previous day, but as I talked to him he seemed relaxed and together. A good thing, because it was time for a swim. Wendell put on a wetsuit and life jacket and swam across the chilly Middle Fork, where his wife Sarah and son Aaron were waiting for him. He completed the course in Auburn at a little before 10:30 PM Sunday.

Ready for a nice February swim?

Wendell sampling some melted snow; next stop, Auburn

-Bob Akka, 2/13/06