After being snowed and blown off almost every peak I've tried this year, it was refreshing to drive to the Sierra under perfect skies. We had great plans to bag Three Sisters as a day hike, then pack in to do Spanish Mountain and Tehipite Dome as an overnight trip. We also had common sense!
The roads around Wishon and Courtright dams are plowed to where people live or spend money. They are not plowed to where people like to start hikes.
Since Courtright is under 12' of snow, and will not be plowed until mid July, we parked in Hall Meadow (the Courtright turnoff from the Wishon Dam road) and headed toward Eagle Peak. It's not Three Sisters, but it's over 10,000' and has a great view toward our overnight trip. The road IS plowed to the power station between Wishon and Courtright, but it's gated and you have to walk between 9' walls of snow hoping no service vehicles come barrelling down the mountain.
The Friday day hike crew consisted of Steve Eckert, David Harris, Bob Haxo, and Ron Hudson. We tore up the 3-4 miles of dry pavement, but snowshoes were required as soon as we left the road for our cross-country jaunt. Route choice debates raged as we traded miles for elevation gain, with the snowshoes changing the normal balance. We finally opted to head straight for the peak, on a compass bearing through the trees.
Uneventful climbing (walking?) lead to a windy ridge with snow hard enough to take off the snowshoes around 9500'. Eagle Peak had a register, with surprisingly few entries and none from this year. It felt more like February than May, and several of us wished we had skiis (and skills) to enjoy the broad smooth slopes on the way down.
We had enough time left to pop over an unnamed dome on the way out, said "hi" to a marmot, and started some small snowslides glissading on snowshoes. (Well, Harris actually made it seem more like competitive diving with a face plant glissade, but I promised not to embarass him by saying anything here.) Hudson and Harris played "Don't Follow the Leader" and took a drainage route back, while Haxo and Eckert retraced their route down the road and saved half an hour of plowing through the increasingly wet snow.
We camped near the spillway on Wishon Dam, and enjoyed warm sun and snacks as the sun set. The next morning we were joined by Scott Kreider, Ted Raczek, Suzanne Remien, Warren Storkman, Bob Suzuki. The trip was revised from two peaks to one: our day hike had convinced us to ditch any attempt at Tehipite due to mileage and snow conditions. We missed our start time by almost an hour, but took off cross country at a pretty good pace. It became clear that the snow would be too soft to sidehill along the route of the trail, so once again the route debate raged and we wound up following Hudson and Haxo up to Spanish Lake for the night.
Stream crossings were not too difficult, with snow bridges in many places and quite a few freshly downed trees to walk on. It stayed warm and windless all day, and we got to camp early enough (4pm) to relax, eat, and build a fire big enough to all sit around and dry our boots. Ron "The Termite" Hudson tried to build a fireproof platform out of bark plates torn from a dead tree. This worked for a while, but they smoldered through the night and melted 4-foot-deep holes in the abundant snow.
It barely dipped below freezing at 8500', so rousting people at 5am was less difficult than expected. We started for Spanish Mountain around 6am, and arrived at the peak before 8am. The snow was hard above treeline, and the bear tracks (REALLY!) looked to be a few days old. No crampons were needed, but the cleats on the snowshoes came in handy. Ice axes stayed on the packs of those foolish enough to have brought them!
The return to camp surprised us all: Snow hard enough to kick steps in just an hour earlier was now breaking through to our knees. Sun-facing slopes, even those steep enough to require ice axes, were wet and heavy with hip deep corn snow. The early ascent saved us from a real slog! We got comfortable with skiing on snowshoes (except for Storkman, who claims never to have worn snowshoes before) and were back in camp by 9.
The hike out took almost as long as the hike in, but we took a more interesting route along the ridge above Saturn Meadow. A couple of raging streams, one wrong turn, one person abandoning the group, and we were back on dirt! We chased a bear out of his/her meadow (sorry!) and stomped down the ridge to the Crown Valley Road. The road had quite a bit of snow, but we made it without snowshoes. The wind was picking up and the clouds were getting thick. By the time we reached the cars (4pm) all of the hilltops around Wishon were gone and it was downright chilly.
OK, now about Auberry Road: Remember last year when the Mt Henry trip report included mention of two cars getting lost coming back? I now know what happened! Auberry Road has TWO intersections with Hwy 168, and it suckered Suzuki this time like it got me and the other car the last time. I'm revising my driving instructions (which always work for GETTING there) to see if we can actually get everyone BACK next time. Stay tuned! This trailhead is only 4-4.5 hours drive from the Bay Area, and there is a lot of great country there, but getting back should be fasta than from Shasta.