By: Reiner Stenzel
This trip was a an-athletic adventure involving mountain biking, climbing and skiing. Our destination was a 12,520' peak in the Eastern Sierra Nevada near Big Pine. The access was via the infamous McMurry Mdws Rd and the Red Lke trail. We were a group of five: Ruth von Rotz von Truckee, Susan Livingston, Baharam Manahedgi, R. J. Secor and yours truly. On Sat, 4/28, 6 am, we met at the intersection of the Glacier Lodge Rd and McMurry Mdws Rd, drove up the dusty dirt road for 7 mi and then parked the passenger cars at McMurry Meadows (6,400') prior to the Birch Creek stream crossing. The idea was to mountainbike the rough 4WD road which normal cars cannot make. However, the plan to bike 5 mi, ÷1,000', with full packs and skis was not fully appreciated and the ladies brought their trucks as a backup. So the bikers, Baharam and myself, had our motorized support team. Without packs and skis the bike ride was fun, at least down to the Red Lke Ranch, then it became a workout to paddle up 1,000' on a sandy road. But by 8 am we all made it to the correct Red Lke trailhead (6,500'). Here we stashed the bikes into the cars and saddled up our packs with skis which weighed anywhere from 39 lbs (R. J.'s) to 65 lbs (sufferer's name omitted).
By 8:45 am, on a sunny spring day, we headed up the sandy northern trail high above Red Mtn Creek. It felt like a summer trip since the paint brush was already blooming and no snow around for the next 2,500'. The 5 mi, 4,000' hike up Red Lke trail involves some bush whacking, route finding and postholing. At about 9,500', we had solid snow coverage and skinned up the last 1,000' to Red Lke (10,500'). The beautiful lake is located below the steep east face of Split Mtn and offered great campsites among trees near its shore. It was frozen over but with ice axe and shovel we opened up a suitable waterhole. Around 3 pm we pitched our two Bibler submarines, Baharam set up his bivvy, and we cooked and ate on dry rocks near the shore. It was time for relaxing and enjoying the great mountain scenery. The north facing slopes were solidly covered with snow but we were not so sure about the south facing slopes of Tinemaha which were out of sight. R. J. did some scouting and brought back good news about plenty of snow. We all admired his flawless turns down a steep hill. The mood was high by dinner time. In the evening spectacular lenticular clouds formed over the Sierra crest. Gusts of wind drove us into the tents. Baharam shared his delicious herbal tea with everyone which made us sleep well.
On Sun, 4/29, we got up by 6 am to take pictures of the first sun rays on Split Mtn. Surprisingly, it was completely calm and there was not a cloud in the sky. After our sumptuous oatmeal breakfast we packed and started around 7:30 am for Tinemaha. There was no need for an alpine start because we wanted to time our ski descent to the best corn snow conditions around mid day. From Red Lke we ascended north into a 1 mi long valley which leads to the base of the peak. On the frozen snow it was faster to crampon up than to ski up. We had a few breaks to enjoy the scenery and to take pictures. At the end of the valley we climbed to the crest, left the skis in the rocks and continued the next 300' with crampons and ski poles over mixed rock and snow. Finally, the last 50' was just a rock scramble on foot to the western summit (12,520') where the peak register was hidden under a rock pile. At 10 am we signed in as the first visitors in 2001. The view was worth all the effort. Sitting 8,500' above Owens Valley on a sunny, calm spring morning was a true pleasure. Many 14,000' mountains were clearly visible: Split, Mid Pal, Sill, and Williamson. We snacked and replenished fluids, took summit pictures, and had a good time. But by 11 am it was time to leave. We retraced our steps back to the skis and then started the best part of the trip, i.e., the ski run down on now perfect spring snow, about 2" of soft snow on a firm base. It was telemarking at its best. The alpine skiers had equal fun. Turn after turn we flew down the slopes in minutes which took us an hour to climb. This is the best way to enjoy those SPS peaks which, in summer time, are boring scree/talus ascents.
By noon the last ones were back at camp. We had lunch, packed and left the beautiful Red Lke area by 1:30 pm. Skiing with full packs became a bit more strenuous. Initially the snow was still forgiving, further down it turned into deep mush. Turning became an act of strength and balance and fancy turns gave way to survival turns. Falling with heavy packs in deep wet snow is exhausting and worse, one can easily twist one's legs. We skied down on the north facing slopes (south) of Red Mtn Creek which had snow coverage much lower than the trail on the south facing slopes. However, we needed to cross the creek to regain the trail. This proved to be a painful bush whacking experience which not only R.J. but also the ladies expressed in colorful language that shall not be quoted. Finally, we were back on track and marching down the dry trail into cactus country. Coming through a turn I almost stepped on a 3' buzz worm whose angry rattle required a temporary retreat. By 4:30 pm we were back at the cars. After the 6,000' descent there was no desire left for mountain biking. So we squeezed five people, bikes, skis and gear into the two 4WD cars and drove on the bumpy road back to McMurry Mdws. By 6 pm the last ones were on their way home. All together, we had a wonderful trip, a fun group, excellent weather, and some fine backcountry skiing. Thanks to everyone, especially co-leader R. J., for this fine weekend.
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