December 26, 2018
The day after Christmas is a great time for a full day in the backcountry, wouldn’t you say? So much pie, cookies, and candy has been eaten and you are ready to get out and back in shape.
We decided to go do a tour with Alpenglow Expeditions off the back side of Squaw Valley. The cool thing about doing this with Alpenglow is we were able to take the lifts up to the top of Squaw, boot pack Granite Peak, and leave the boundary to access this terrain. This is not allowed unless you are with an AMGA Certified Alpenglow guide and allowed us to access the terrain we skied more quickly!
Our guide was Ben Mitchel who is a IFMGA/AMGA Certified Guide and has guided all around the world including at Mt. Rainier and Points North Heli in Alaska. He’s also a Certified Level III Avalanche Professional, Wilderness First Responder, and an Emergency Room Nurse.
We got on the Gondola from the Squaw Valley Village at 8:30am and transferred over to the Granite Chief lift which we took up and began our 500ft boot pack to the top of Granite Peak. The ridge had an atypical wind coming from the north/north-east blowing pellets of snow directly in our face. The snow surface was bullet proof from scouring winds hitting the peak from all directions. The trees had the most dense rime I had ever seen on the south west side of them from the storm just two days before.
From this initial climb, it seemed like it was going to be a rough day skiing…
We got to the top and dropped down the other side, dodging exposed rocks and trees on the ridge as we made our way down towards Needle Peak. Eventually we had to put our skins on to continue our journey towards Needle Peak. We skinned on the south-west side of the ridge and it was very firm still.
As we wrapped around a shoulder peak of Needle, we climbed to the top and looked at the shaded north-west aspect. It looked firm but not too wind effected so we made the decision to take our skins off and give it a try.
Ben went first to test out the conditions while Brian Sharpes and I watched from the top. It looked firm but not icy so when Ben waved his pole from the bottom, Brian and I dropped in. It was what we called “packed powder” but it was a fun descent never the less.
After doing two laps of that, we traversed to the north-east to access a treed slope in the hopes that the snow would be better. We picked our way over through dense trees and boulder fields. We dropped down a steep rollover and when I hit the bottom, my left ski got stuck in a hole and I ejected. It was actually nice to be reassured that my Dynafit Radicals will release properly!
At the bottom before we skinned up the shoulder of Granite Peak, we stopped, had lunch, and I did a little boot modification to try and take up some space under my foot.
Our observations skinning up were the snow was soft, light, and protected from the wind. It was a densely treed
area so the snow stayed fresh. We skinned up for about 45 minutes and the snow coming down was excellent with very good coverage.
At the bottom of this run, it was about 2:00pm – time to head back into the boundaries of Squaw. We toured back up the shoulder of Granite Peak and dropped down the other side towards Squaw’s Shirley Lake lift to get back to the village.
It was an amazing day out in the backcountry with some amazing terrain and incredible views of Lake Tahoe, Desolation Wilderness, and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains.