The Full Nelson, 12-14 Jan 2002
Looking for a place without the slumber-party atmosphere of crowded sno-parks? Want to cut your own tracks where no one else will ever see them? Head on down to Dinkey Creek, east of Prather, where there is a plowed parking lot, no apparent permit requirements, no parking fees, and not a soul in sight.
I've been to Courtright and Wishon reservoirs in the spring before, so I was sure the road was plowed. What I discovered is that in winter the plowed/sanded/perfect road is LOCKED at the Dinkey Creek bridge. No problem. I had a backup plan, with GPS waypoints already loaded... and it allowed me to explore a drainage I'd never been in before also!
I left the pavement about a mile and a quarter east of the bridge (waypoint CABIN0) heading up a snow-covered dirt road from BM 5818. No tricks, it's a beginner ski paradise. Miles of road flat enough to ski without climbing skins even if it is a bit crusty in the morning. If you make all the right turns (GPS waypoints are below) you skirt Cabin Meadow and end up on the ridge north of Ruby Creek. It's pretty nice here, with dense forest at the base, giving way to bigger trees and then open high country trees by about 8000'. The overlooks are better in the winter, I think, when the Central Valley is blanketed in fog and the hills are highlighted in stark white.
I made about 8 miles with my pack the first day, 3000' of gain or so, camping on a shelf around 9000' elevation (waypoint CABIN8). By this elevation the road had essentially disappeared under mounds of snow, and the old snowmobiler tracks had turned around when it got steeper. A fire near Tollhouse Road provided a glowing red sunset, accenting the scraggly trees and the ocean of fog. Dead quiet, but my cell phone worked and I could say goodnight to my wife from the warmth of my sleeping bag.
Summit day dawned perfectly clear. The trees glowed yellow and green, the frost sparkled, and that leaky toilet seemed worlds away. I started late (8am), hoping the snow would soften a bit. The breakable crust wouldn't be an issue on the way up, but since I don't ski that much I wanted to enjoy myself! I went over the ridge west of Point 9438, and dropped 400' without taking off the climbing skins: Ice and trees don't make me happy, but with skins only a few kick turns were required.
Entering the bowl south of Brown Peak, I was surprised to find running water at almost 9500'. The summit of Brown (10350') was stunning! There was essentially no view until I popped onto the summit ridge near the top, and then I could see across Courtright Res, the LeConte Divide, to the crest peaks in the background. Like Silliman, this little bump gives MUCH better viewing than you expect. It was dead calm when I arrived, but taking my boots off seemed to cause a stir and I only stayed about 45 minutes.
Coasting down the southeast shoulder of Brown was easy even for a hack skier like me. Mostly open slopes, with enough huge boulders sticking through that you have to plan your path to avoid cornices. From the saddle above Chinquapin Lakes, I realized I had time for Nelson also - a significantly more challenging peak due to the knife edge northeast ridge (blown to an even sharper point by the wind). Several places I could not ski and had to kick steps. The soft styrofoam held well once you got your feet into it, but tended to plate off if you edged on skis.
By the summit of Nelson Mtn (10220') there was enough of a breeze to kick up a ground blizzard and it was past 3pm. Not as pleasant, and the view wasn't as good. A quick call to update my wife on my route, and I was off down the west ridge. The steep west ridge. With a cliff on the north and lots of little trees on the south. I would have spent less time glissading, but I skied the thing just on principal.
Near the saddle northeast of Hatch Lake the fun really started. Lower angle slopes, the snow warmed by the sun all day, the breeze gone, and I was gonna make camp before dark! (I've made a promise to myself not to do death marches after Norman Clyde last summer.)
Sure enough, the sunset was even better than the previous night. Camping high in crystal clear conditions by the dark of the moon has advantages... I saw a couple of shooting stars and didn't roll out of bed until the sun hit camp the next morning.
It had gotten colder. No chance of out-waiting the ice today. Fresh huge frost flakes reduced friction to near zero, and I glided back and forth for 45 minutes to lose the first 1000' of elevation. Talk about payback for the grunt coming up! Of course, a good skier might have carved turns straight down, but with a big pack and a chance to criss-cross the drainage sightseeing for free, I was in no hurry.
It took 3 hours to uneventfully ski back to the car, only a third as long as it had taken me to get to camp. The grade on the road was perfect for taking it easy, but you might actually have to skate or kick if the snow was soft.
Perfect spring weather in January. Quite a nice surprise after the incessant rain of December and a Christmas vacation in the tropics. Dogtooth will have to wait for another trip: the full Nelson and Brown loop was 7 miles, quite enough for me.
Datum,North America 1983,GRS 80,0,-1.6E-7,0,0,0 RouteName,1 ,PLACES RoutePoint,D,EAGLE, 37.0886474832,-119.0165287729,01/17/2002,22:54:48,EAGLE PEAK 10318 RoutePoint,D,NELSON, 37.0894789680,-119.0490907903,01/17/2002,22:54:48,NELSON MTN 10220 RoutePoint,D,BROWN, 37.1254795774,-119.0571588750,01/17/2002,22:54:48,BROWN PEAK 10350 RoutePoint,D,SISTER, 37.1411919578,-119.0607905860,01/17/2002,22:54:48,3 SISTERS 10612 RoutePoint,D,DOGTTH, 37.1542489512,-119.0392792697,01/17/2002,22:54:48,DOGTOOTH PEAK RoutePoint,D,CLIFFL, 37.1400010570,-119.0414894099,01/17/2002,22:54:49,CLIFF LAKE RoutePoint,D,CLIFFC, 37.1320509894,-119.0182024713,01/17/2002,22:54:49,CLIFF CK TR JCT RouteName,2 ,CABIN MDW RoutePoint,D,CABIN0, 37.0535638239,-119.1484154601,01/17/2002,22:54:50,CABIN MDW TURNOF RoutePoint,D,CABIN1, 37.0503599985,-119.1359999633,01/17/2002,22:54:50,CABIN MDW JCT RoutePoint,D,CABIN2, 37.0571499984,-119.1374699633,01/17/2002,22:54:50,CABIN MDW HAIRPI RoutePoint,D,CABIN3, 37.0511399985,-119.1122799633,01/17/2002,22:54:50, RoutePoint,D,CABIN4, 37.0634499984,-119.1031999633,01/17/2002,22:54:50, RoutePoint,D,CABIN5, 37.0733099984,-119.1019799633,01/17/2002,22:54:51, RoutePoint,D,CABIN6, 37.0743399984,-119.0903899633,01/17/2002,22:54:51,START OF OPEN TERRAIN RoutePoint,D,CABIN7, 37.0844399984,-119.0938099633,01/17/2002,22:54:51, RoutePoint,D,CABIN8, 37.0944699984,-119.0759999634,01/17/2002,22:55:01,CAMPSITE RoutePoint,D,CABIN9, 37.0973299984,-119.0706999634,01/17/2002,22:54:51,TRAIL JCT RoutePoint,D,HATCH1, 37.0993199984,-119.0682699634,01/17/2002,22:55:01,SADDLE NW OF HATCH LAKE RoutePoint,D,HATCH2, 37.0949399984,-119.0608799634,01/23/2002,20:03:35,SADDLE NE OF HATCH LAKE RoutePoint,D,CHNQPN, 37.1083199984,-119.0485599634,01/17/2002,22:54:51,SADDLE NEAR CHINQUAPIN LAKES