Despite snow-clogged driving on Interstate 80, a group of eight Sierra Club members had a ball telemarking through wondrous snow in the Truckee area on Jan. 21-22. Tim Hult, Brenda Bowman, John Langbein, Karen Davis, Pat Cecil, Andy Hudson and Andy Skumanich joined leader Butch Suits on this powdery pilgrimage.
We stayed at Brenda and Tim's cabins in Tahoe City. At least one car skirted the "metering" roadblock on Highway 80 by taking 49 north and 20 east to rejoin 80 at Emigrant Gap.
On Saturday we skied Silver Peak. The trailhead is a plowed area about 2 1/2 miles north of the Squaw Valley turnoff. The snow-covered roads that ascend Pole Creek and the neighboring ridges offer great skiing for intermediates; for inveterate peak baggers and telegeeks, the ridgetops are the place to go.
We were fortunate to start about 1/2 hour behind another strong party. They broke trail for us all the way to the summit. As we left the snow-covered road for the steep shoulder of Silver Peak, the gray clouds cleared and, to the southeast, Lake Tahoe lay glittering in the sun.
Near the top, spectacular vistas opened in all directions-notably the Squaw Valley peaks to the south and the lovely snowy cirque of upper Pole Creek to the northwest. Some of the slopes we crossed were steep, but the avalanche hazard was low. The previous weekend's rains had refrozen and added strength to the snowpack.
After lunch near the summit, we skied over the top, enjoying a delightful powder run down the mountain's west flank to the next saddle on the ridge. We tried to ski directly over the next peak, but at the summit we found cliffs everywhere except the way we came up. Skiing back down this northeast slope was pure bliss. Our skis turned almost effortlessly in a foot of dry snow. Waves of powder whispered from our edges.
It was time to go down. We completed a loop by tracking more virgin powder to the bottom of Pole Creek canyon, then following a low-angle road back to our trailhead.
That evening three of us soaked in the hot tub at Tim's complex, wedging ourselves in with a bunch of raucous post-adolescents. Later the conversation was much more intelligent when we retreated to Brenda's cabin for a group spaghetti feed. We had a birthday cake but no birthday boy. Dave Giese had to work this weekend, so we sang Happy Birthday to him over the phone as we devoured his cake.
Sunday we awoke to snow flurries. Instead of battling a blizzard on the open slopes of Castle Peak, we decided to go powder prospecting at a more sheltered area. From the Blackwood Canyon snowpark south of Tahoe City, we ascended the north slopes of Blackwood Ridge-a steep, wooded climb of about 1500 feet. Breaking trail in the deep snow was tiring, but Pat Cecil got us off to an energetic start. Later, our labors lessened when we found a trail made by skiers the previous day.
At the top we traversed the short, bare ridgetop which forms the summit. Spindrift howled across the crest-what the Scots call "full conditions." Soon, however, we were out of the wind, swooping joyfully through the open forest on the mountain's northwest flank. As the flurries returned, muffled hoots of glee could be heard from skiers surfing the powder wave. In 14 years of Sierra skiing I've never had better snow.