Bob, Charlie, Curt, Jon, and Phil joined SP and I for one of the classic tours of the Eastern Sierra, the Yosemite High Tour from Mammoth Mountain to Tioga Pass. After a breakfast meeting in Mammoth Lakes, we drove up to the ski area to get started on Friday, 11 April.
After a long descent to Agnew Meadows, we said goodbye to the snow-covered Minaret Summit Road and continued down to our first camp near Olaine Lake. We discovered fresh bear tracks moving ahead of us, and hung our food that night.
The next morning we had to pioneer a new variation along the west side of the valley. Strong wind events and warm temperatures had stripped the eastern slopes completely bare of snow. There was simply no way to follow the typical route across that side of the valley. With a couple of turns we found a bench system that traveled above the deep ravine and below the granite cliff band, which lead to the beautiful open bowls below Garnet Lake. After skiing past the Badger Lakes, we eventually made camp at the end of Thousand Island Lake, and watched the sunset behind Ritter, Banner, and Davis.
On Sunday we climbed up over Island Pass and had our first real ski descent down to Waugh Lake. After that experience we climbed again steadily, stopping for lunch, until we reached the highest of the Lost Lakes, were we camped again. In anticipation of the next day’s work, I skinned up to Lost Lakes Pass to kick in a track.
The morning of 14 April was windy and cold, and despite my work the evening before the track was firm and icy, causing several to slip back down the slope until SP chopped a bigger track with his ice axe.
The traverse from Lost Lakes Pass to the Kuna Connection is a muffled blur of wind and sun and cold in my memories. We were all wearing every possible layer to keep warm against the icy hand of the wind. Once we gained the saddle of the Kuna Connection, the only point possible to cross the Kuna Crest, the day’s wind and cold temperatures had kept the steep snow on the far side from softening and prevented us from skiing down. Instead SP and I short roped and set one fixed line to get all of us down to a lower angled slope where we put on our skis for a long, long, low descent into Parker Creek, Dana Meadows, and Tioga Pass. The last day we finished the ski descent until the Ellery Lake dam, where zealous road crews had plowed the road open. So we put skis on our packs and started the final hike down the road to Lee Vining.
It was a great tour that emphasized the travel over the descent. We traveled along the northern spine of the High Sierra, and finished good friends.
Statistics: Yosemite High Tour. 37 miles traveled, 6500 feet elevation climbed, 8000 feet elevation descended.
Chris Simmons is a Ski, Alpine, and Rock Guide for Sierra Mountain Center. For another perspective of the Sierra, you can read his blog at Climb. Ski. Run. Sleep. Repeat.