David, Danny, and Mike joined SP to ski the “Beneath the Palisades” Tour, which follows the Palisade Range along its western slopes from South Lake to Taboose Pass. Eric and I joined too in order to experience a ski tour that we hadn’t had time for yet, and now we’re both looking forward to doing again next year!
The whole group met at Sierra Mountain Center’s international operations office in the heart of downtown Bishop to have breakfast at Jack’s and a gear check. Then our Operation Director Connie and her husband Mo helped us shuttle up to the end of the South Lake open road, which was still being plowed open. We spent our first night at Saddlebag Lake, just below Bishop Pass.
In the morning we crossed Bishop Pass, traversed across the top of Dusy Basin, and then crossed Thunderbolt Col. This is also the route we travel to gain the western routes on the Palisade Range, so I was traveling over familiar terrain. But 45 minutes later we had crossed the Palisade Basin to Potluck Pass and encountered a whole new world. The descent to the un-named lake below Potluck Pass involved a little bit of route finding and careful skiing, but was uneventful and fun.
On Day Three we got up and immediately climbed up to the low point of Chimney Pass, where a very careful descent negotiated hidden rock bands and a “wave” of moats. Another week and parts of this slope probably weren’t skiable. A descent to Palisade Lakes allowed us to skate-ski across in less than 15 minutes, and then led to a long, long, long climb to Mather Pass, where Danny found the tracks of a black bear, perhaps three days old. Another thoughtful descent – requiring a careful traverse to reach skiable slopes – led us to Upper Basin. We continued to descend a little a bench of small lakes right at tree-line.
The next morning Eric, Danny, Mike and I took advantage of a “free” day to take a day tour into the basin under the North Face of the Veneecher Needle. Unfortunately winds and cold temps kept the snow from really softening up, even on the south-facing slopes, so after a couple of runs we returned to camp, catching one last lap with Mark on the headwall above the lake, before calling it a day.
On the last day we descended from Upper Basin to Taboose Pass, and along the way we discovered an old pack, loaded with dated equipment, hanging bear-proof style in the trees. How eerie. We climbed into the wind on Taboose Pass, dropped over the other side quickly, and skied the first 2000 feet before bare earth forced us to strap our skis onto our packs and hoof it down the trail. Connie and Mo were waiting for us at the trailhead with cold beers, fresh fruit, and a ride back to Bishop. Another great trip.
Statistics: Beneath The Palisades Tour. 26 miles, 6400 feet elevation gained, 10,800 feet elevation descended.
Chris Simmons is a Ski, Alpine, and Rock Guide for SMC. More stories about guiding and his adventures can be found at his blog: Climb. Ski. Run. Sleep. Repeat.