The Land of the Ancient Trees
After a great day on McGee, KJ, Logan, John and I wanted to get in one more ski day before some cloudier weather passed through. But the forecast called for very strong westerly winds. The wind looked a little weaker in the Southern Sierra, so we figured that going down south for an east aspect might be our best bet. We were also excited to see a different part of the range.
Last year, I never went south of Bishop because of the poor snowpack in the Southern Sierra. So it was not since 2018 that I had been down south amongst the giants of Owens Valley. The relief is simply incredible.
We drove up the Kearsarge Pass road until it was blocked by snow around the Sardine Creek Trail at 7k. In satellite imagery, we had spotted a narrow ribbon of snow that extended down to the Sardine Creek Trail. We decided to take it up towards Kearsarge Peak. So we walked for a few minutes on dry trail, then found a perfect narrow ribbon of snow descending into the desert. It looked completely out of place, but was very helpful for us!
We booted up and up, into the land of ancient Foxtail Pines and Sierra Juniper. These trees survive in such harsh alpine environments. Some have been around for hundreds to thousands of years.
Above 9500 ft, we entered the main east bowl of Kearsarge Peak. The higher we got, the more impressive the vertical relief to the valley became. It felt like we were rising straight out of the desert.
The last few thousand feet of snow was still firm in the windy conditions. Large penitentes, pointy icy mounds of snow, had formed on this aspect, so the skiing would not be good even if the snow softened!
We eventually reached the top of the east face at 12,500 ft. As we poked our heads into the open, we were greeted with 50 mph winds and beautiful views into the heart of the range. John was entranced, while the rest of us tried to stay warm and out of the wind.
The ski down was rather bumpy. We jump turned the steeper, icy upper section, our skis chattering on the penitentes. The wind swept the little chunks of ice swiftly down the slope, attacking whoever was below.
But eventually, the snow started to soften and the skiing became pretty good. It was not quite corn, but still enjoyable.
Down around 9k, we skinned back up to get over the ridge that would lead us to the “white ribbon of Kearsarge”, just as we came out. Much to our dismay, this steep eastern slope was already refreezing at only 3 pm! It was not awful, but was definitely beginning to develop a breakable crust. Fortunately, the final 1500 ft was still soft and corny.
We intercepted the trail at 7k, but the ribbon kept going another 400 ft lower. So Logan, John, and I kept skiing, milking every last drop. It felt pretty hilarious to be skiing a tiny strip of snow down into the desert.
A quick boot through the sagebrush brought us back to the car.
While the skiing was definitely a mixed bag, it was fun to see the Southern Sierra once again and soak in the unique biome that exists out here. And we all felt pretty good at 12,500 ft, our new high point for the trip! Things were looking up.