Sunday, August 2, 2015

Running Squaw Valley: Emigrant Peak, July 30, 2015

Emigrant Peak, Squaw Valley Ca., July 30, 2015

Up early again to run but this time it was up Emigrant Peak from the Squaw Valley resort village, via the Shirley Canyon trail rather than the resort services roads. Shirley Canyon is just north of Squaw tram. Compared to the resort service roads I ran during Tuesday's run up Squaw Peak, Shirley Canyon is more challenging due to the 'bouldery' trail. Otherwise, both runs were similar in stats: just under eight miles round trip, and just under 3k vertical rise. 

Along the Shirley Canyon Trail on the way to High Camp and then Emigrant Peak.
This was a tough trail to run given all the granite boulders and big steps on the trail, but there were a few "easy" parts on the slabs of granite. Shirley Canyon is dressed with big, beautiful Red Cedars, Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine. It is beautiful country. I lost the trail on the way down, got too far north on a slab and which led me to a big drop-off, and, remembering this dead Cedar during the ascent, I relocated the trail from almost a quarter mile off route.

Emigrant Peak from Shirley Lake. Look hard and you'll see the Solitude Chair lift base terminal.

"High Camp" at Squaw Valley is a rats nest of chair lifts, trams, gondolas, swimming pool and skating rink. And all 2,000 feet above the resort base.

High Camp. It's so flat even Sasquatch could ski it. From here it's tough to believe you're nearly at the top of one of the toughest ski hills in America. On the left is the upper terminal of the Squaw tram, swimming pool and skating rink. The pointy peak on the right is the Eagle's Nest near the summit of the much talked about steeps of the KT-22 chairlift. 

Squaw Peak and the Palisades (ski runs through the cliffs) as seen from High Camp. The 1960 winter Olympics were held at Squaw Valley and the Men's Downhill started just right of the cliffs of Squaw Peak, the high point above. 

This is the summit of Emigrant Peak, view south towards Squaw Peak, washed out in the early morning sunshine.

From summit of Emigrant Peak, view north towards Granite Chief Peak.

The bull-dozed flat summit of Squaw Peak, from Emigrant Peak. The peak was leveled years ago to install an FAA radar facility (see my previous post). The platform on the right is the upper terminal of the Siberia Express chairlift, currently under re-construction. I've never seen a ski area build, tear-down, move and re-build chairlifts like Squaw Valley. During my two summit runs this week, I encountered numerous old chairlift tower foundations and old lift terminals (like the old Cornice chairlift). 

Shirley Lake reflecting Emigrant Peak (l) and Granite Chief (r).

One more reflection, but without the log.

Running Squaw Valley: Squaw Peak, July 28th, 2015

Squaw Peak, July 28, 2015

ALL skiable, the Palisades on Squaw Peak as seen during my descent through Siberia Bowl. 

My son lives in Reno and he snagged a Squaw Valley condo from a work colleague for a week-long family vacation in the Sierra's. Squaw Valley is a notorious extreme skiing mecca (for the resort crowd) and, for summer fun, it is less than ten miles from Lake Tahoe. The plan was to go to Tahoe each day. Good enough, but my personal, selfish plan was to run the mountain early each morning while the family slept. Great plans usually fall apart and this one fell hard. Let's just say it is tough to get up at 5AM while on vacation. Worse yet when sleeping in a hard, unfamiliar bed in an un-air-conditioned condo when the nights are hot and dry. (Low temps in the 70's in the Sierra's? Who knew!) I nearly failed completely, but finally managed to get up two mornings out of six. I managed to run both Squaw Peak and Emigrant Peak.

From the condo in the resort village they (Squaw and Emigrant Peaks) are both just under eight miles round trip with an elevation gain of just under 3k feet. Statistically they are similar to running up to Hidden Peak from the Snowbird tram base. In hindsight, and after running both Snowbird and Squaw, I can say Squaw overall is NOT as steep at Snowbird. The vertical gain is similar, (Snowbird has slightly more vert), but Snowbird is not as long as Squaw, therefore Squaw is not as steep. Yes, Squaw Valley proudly brags that 50% of their runs are black diamond (expert) but that is a bit misleading. If measured by acreage rather than by number of runs, Snowbird has the edge in overall steepness. Squaw has some damn steep, challenging runs, but Squaw also has huge tracts of flat prairie terrain below those steep cliff shots. In short, Squaw quickly transitions from crap-your-pants-steep to major-yawn-fest-flat. Those flats are a big reason why Snowbird and Squaw don't really compare. If you like short, fall-you-die-steeps, go to Squaw. If you like longer, sustained descents, go ski Snowbird.

But I regress, I tried running up Squaw Peak from the base of the resort village (6,200 feet) using Squaw's summer trail map, but quickly found the map is a mere guideline (a bad one at that) rather a definitive hiking guide. The trails are faint and discontinuous and I soon gave up on the trail and ran the summer service roads to the Gold Coast area of the mountain (roughly 8,000 feet). From there I ditched the service road altogether and headed SW for the 'Cornice Bowl' ridgeline, the ridge that runs from KT-22 to the top of the Headwall chairlift and then to the summit of Squaw Peak (8,900 feet).

Hiking/running that ridgeline was immensely more enjoyable than running those resort service roads anyway. It gave me great views of the Sierra's and a glimpse of Tahoe. The mountain is hot and dry during the summer, with no trace of lingering snow anywhere, but in the early morning hours the air was crisp and clean and it just felt good to be high on a mountain

Sunrise from Cornice Bowl Ridge, above the Headwall Bowl of Squaw. The shadowed peak through the trees is the Eagles Nest near the upper terminal of KT-22 (ski lift). 

View of Squaw Peak (8.9K) from just above the summit terminal of the Headwall Express chairlift. The white tough-shed thing is the ski patrol shack. I hiked up the ridge (center) to the summit.

Signage on the Squaw Ski Patrol tough shed. What's this no hiking stuff?  I thought Squaw skiers were badass?!? Maybe as  badass as Jackson Hole skiers (as they both like to claim anyway).

Ignoring the 'No Hiking' rule, I headed up the SE ridge of Squaw Peak to find this cable and ladder assisted route up the ridge to the top of Squaw Peak. Hiking the ridge was no big deal in summer, but I can only guess that in winter, while wearing ski boots and carrying skis, maybe this Via Ferrate ('iron way' in Italian) assist might be necessary?
I'm scratching my head on this one. For all their talk I'm wondering why they need an assist at all? Perhaps riding lifts makes one soft?

The ladder just below Squaw Peak's summit. Yes I'll admit I climbed it, but the rock looked like a very easy climb, with or without the ladder. The notorious ski runs known as the 'The Palisades' is on the right.

View down from the top of the ladder. Gold Coast is barely seen to the right, Sunshine Bowl to the left.

Tahoe from the summit of Squaw Peak (8.9K). The upper terminal of the Headwall Chairlift is just below and the resort village is seen far below (the green meadows/golf course in mid picture).

View from Squaw Peak, north across the Palisades and Siberia Bowl,  toward Emigrant Peak (8.7k feet - site of Thursday's run) and Granite Chief (9k ft.) 

View down the 'Main Chute' of the Palisades.

Weird stuff on the summit of Squaw Peak. Later that day I asked the Squaw tram operator what is was and he looked at me shocked, said it was an FAA radar facility and that is emitted huge doses of radiation. He then said it was dangerous to get near it. He was incredulous that I didn't obey the 'DANGER KEEP OUT' keep out signs.  I saw no signs anywhere (evidenced by my photos), other than the 'no hiking' sign on the patrol shack. There was no warning on the summer trail map either, which lists a trail to this very spot. He seemed totally pissed that I was up there. If it was dangerous, it totally explains the fried-brain-mentally of Squaw skiers, other than maybe Scot Schmidt, Glen Plake or Mike Hattrip.

FAA communications and they still use mail boxes. Hey Squaw, if this is dangerous perhaps fence it in??

FAA diving bell at 8,900 feet.

Back side of Squaw, view SW.

Tahoe in the morning sun from Squaw Peak.

I descended the north ridge of Squaw Peak to the top of Siberia Bowl Express (chairlift). This it the trail map at the top of the lift, with no warning of radiation hazards. I think the tram operator is full of crap, maybe fell on his head a few too many times while skiing the Palisades?

No GO at Tahoe, so went to Hidden Leaf Lake, July 25, 2015

Hidden Leaf  Lake, July 25, 2015

Perhaps I am naive but I honestly thought I could drive to Tahoe, walk barefoot on the beach and maybe stick my toes in the water. Little did I know, you have to get up at the crack of dawn just to find parking within a mile of any beach on Tahoe. Yeah, I am a tourist, and I'm sure the locals have their tricks, but the bottom line is this: Lake Tahoe in July is a freaking mess of humanity, and as you might guess from my previous rants, I'm not really into overdoing humanity. It's a chronic genetic disorder passed down by both parents, one a Utah Farmer, the other an Australian who knew the spiritual/psychological benefits of periodic "walk-abouts." Moderation in all things, especially politics, religion and tourist traps.

Our plan was to rent SUPs (stand up paddle boards) and head out to Tahoe's open water and enjoy the alpine scenery of Lake Tahoe, but as we're driving through the traffic jam of South Lake Tahoe, and as we're approaching Pope Beach, we start to see parked cars lining Highway 89 (1/2 mile from Pope no less) and swimwear clad people walking the highway. Not a good sign. When we reach the turn off to Pope Beach we're greeted with a "LOT FULL" sign. Duh - this is Lake Tahoe during daylight hours.

Time for plan B. I flip a "U-ey" and head back towards town ("South Lake Ta-hell"). I had seen a SUP-Board rental shop (  along the way and it was high time to ask for advice from someone who knew the scene. We walk in and the owner gives a knowing, smirk/grin. He's undoubtedly seen folks like us a thousand times: tourists frazzled by the huge crowds and absolute zero "solitude" of America's largest, highest, deepest, most beautiful (arguable) alpine lake. He is friendly and knows his business, and suggests we don't even try Tahoe but rather go to a much lessor known lake just a few miles away, a place that only the locals know: Hidden Leaf Lake. I'm wary - how many other did he reveal this secret? - but I'm also desperate so we rent the boards. (The owner was even kind enough to load the location on our phone, which says eight miles or twenty minutes SW of Tahoe.)

We drive to Hidden Leaf on a windy, one-lane road. When facing on-coming traffic on the narrow road, Hawaiian rules dictate: if you have a pull-out, stop and let the line of traffic pass. None of this Utah "he/she-in-the-baddest-Escalade-has-ROW" bullshit. Just be kind and wait your turn when it's not yours to take.

The road is lined with nice, yet discretely modest cabins, each with private docks for private lake excursions, and, I'll admit, I'm a bit envious of those lucky souls. I was also a bit nervous the whole drive in, thinking it'd be packed like Tahoe, but when we reach the public parking lot I see there are only 30 or so spaces - all taken - but within minutes someone waves us over saying they are leaving. We carry the boards to the water and find the small public beach, all of 50 feet of sand on the otherwise deep and rocky lake shore, but it's mostly vacant and the folks who are there are relaxed and happy and not concerned about defending their territory. Such a relief to get away from the maddening crowd of Tahoe. We spend the rest of the day at a leisure pace, paddling Hidden Leaf or just snoozing on the secluded beach.

Hidden Leaf Lake is about a mile south of Lake Tahoe; it's about 3 miles long and a mile wide and over 400 feet deep just off it's western shore below Cathedral Peak. The lake was created by several glaciers that descended northward down the Glen Alpine Valley. Once the glaciers retreated, the basin below the terminal and lateral moraines filled with water and Hidden Leaf Lake was born. If the glaciers had continued downward and reached the level of Lake Tahoe, the lake would instead be a bay of Tahoe similar to nearby Emerald Bay, which is  several miles to the NW.

I love Hidden Leaf Lake. Tahoe is nice but a bit of a disappointment with it's crowds and access issues.

Kara's a champ! Five minutes and she's a SUP pro. All that high speed skiing has its benefits, namely a keen sense of balance.

On the other hand, I'm just a pastey white guy in a dorky hat.
Cathedral Peak forms the west shoreline and the deepest part of the lake, over 400 feet deep just below those steep slopes.

The paddle boards move surprisingly fast when you dig into the water.

Kara ahead, paddling over about 400 feet of water (where's that life jacket?). The terminal moraine is easily seen on the north edge of the lake, just above Tahoe.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Kings Peak via Henrys Fork, July 15-16, 2015

Upper Henry's Fork with Kings Peak on the right (almost hidden by trees) and Gunsight Pass just out of view on the far left (eclipsed by the flanks of Gilbert Peak).
One of the most beautiful places on earth is the high Uintah Mountains of Utah, particularly upper Henry's Fork (as in Henrys Fork of the Green River). We (Varsity Scouts of the Sterling Heights Ward) did a quick hit on Kings Peak by hiking to Dollar Lake (7.7 miles) sleeping the night, then up early for a sprint up Kings (11 miles r.t. from Dollar Lake) before the afternoon thunderstorms blew in. While descending Kings we debated about sleeping another night at Dollar Lake. The weather looked to be serious again, heavy dark clouds filling the sky, and we didn't want another long, tent-bound evening. We got pounded with heavy rain and hail the first night, with temperatures cold enough that we could easily see our breath, and we lay in our wet tents for nearly 12 hours. If we stayed at Dollar Lake another night, and IF the weather was good, we could spend a leisurely afternoon/evening fishing, sleeping, swatting mosquitoes. We ultimately decided there were too many Scouts and we didn't want to sit in our tents all evening if the rains came back. Having already done that, we decided we'd rather hike in the rain than lie in a tent in the rain, so, once back at Dollar Lake we packed up and started down the trail.

I'm told that I'm not the most decisive person, I second guess all my decisions, but in this case I was reluctant to head home to work and to the reality of a bitchy world. While hiking out, I suggested we camp another night at Alligator Lake, which is five miles closer to the car and would allow for a quick morning exit. Upon reaching the turn off to Alligator Lake everyone unanimously pointed for the trail head, which was only another 2 miles down the trail. So out we went. All told, we hiked roughly 18 miles on our summit day and about 27 for the two days, in just over 24 hours. Quick, fast and I wish I could say light, but I carried way too much crap for an overnighter.  
Same place, broader view.

After a cold night (rain, high humidity, bad sleeping bag), we started early for Kings Peak, to avoid lighting and weather.

Painter Basin from Gunsight Pass (view SE). I've been told this is very reminiscent of the Brooks Range of Alaska.

Painter Basin

Summit of Kings Peak (13,528 ft.) with the crew: (l-r) Me, Carter, Con, Eric, Sam, Nate.

Henrys Fork Peak (13,240 ft) from the north ridge of Kings Peak (view north). Depending upon what is considered a peak, rather than just a high point of a ridge, there are 19 peaks in Utah exceeding 13,000 feet. For the list of "19-ers," a peak is defined as a high point with 200 feet of clean prominence. All of Utah's "19-ers" are found within eye shot of Kings Peak. 

Eric descending the north ridge of King's Peak with the clouds are again building.

Wild flowers everywhere, even above timberline in the scree. I'm surprised they find enough soil through the rock to sustain their short life cycle.

Hiking back to the car the clouds never built up and unloaded like they had the previous day. This is the view SW towards upper Henrys Fork Basin, with Kings Peak hidden by the forested hillside on the left. Pic taken from the meadow at Elkhorn Crossing, roughly 5 miles from the trail head. 

A plack at the trail head. The Highpointers I've met up there (and on Rainier, Gannett, Hood, Granite, etc.) are serious about no-trace-conservation and saving wilderness for future generations.  I wish the all Boy Scouts we saw (we passed well over 100 on our approach to Dollar Lake) would show the same commitment to conservation. Dollar Lake is a mess, courtesy of the Scouts, who overrun the place every summer, with piles of turd and blowing, dirty toilet paper under every tree. Their Scout Masters evidently did not require their Scouts to read the classic book "How to Shit in the Woods." I read passages to my Scouts, in the church no less, just so they'd be prepared to poo correctly in the woods. Seriously, the book is a must read for anyone who may need to 'go' without facilities. Doing it incorrectly can spread disease and create a total yuck factor of otherwise pristine wilderness. It doesn't take a 'tree-hugger-hippy' to recognize the smart way to camp at the crowded base of Utah's highest peak. Another thing on Scouts, their group sizes are huge, often exceeding the regulation of 14. One Scout Master told me they had 20 scouts in their group. No wonder the USFS Rangers are so surly. I'm not against Scouting, I've been a Scout leader for over 20 years, and currently a Varsity Coach, but the BSA guidelines of 'No Trace Camping' are mostly ignored by the scout troops of Utah. I believe Scouters in Utah believe it is too "liberal" to backpack in an environmentally correct way and they fear their Tea-Party lifetime-memberships will be revoked if they do anything that could be construed as environmentally friendly. If it were up to me each Boy Scout and Scout Leader should pass 'no trace camping' training before entering wilderness areas, otherwise just stay the hell away. Instead go car-camp at the Hinckley Scout Ranch where scouters torched it. Best to keep the damage in one place.     

Friday, July 3, 2015

Mt Wire Sego Lillies, June 29, 2015

Tulip Prickly Pear (Opuntia Phaecantha).

Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii). I get a rush each spring when I see Segos.

Hundreds were in bloom today, starting at about 6,300 feet up to the summit of Wire at 7,140 feet. First saw them three days ago and they're already starting to wilt. The 100-degree weather perhaps? 

Bee in flight, too bad the shutter was too slow.