An ambitious troop of seven PCS mountaineers gathered in the Echo Lakes sno-park on a sunny Saturday morning, March 7, for a sojourn deep into the Desolation wilderness: Dee Booth, Steve Eckert, Scott Kreider, Arun Mahajan, Alex Sapozhnikov, co-leader Kelly Maas, and leader Pat Callery. Our objective was to climb two somewhat ordinary peaks, with very ordinary names. We found, as expected, that the majesty of the Desolation wilderness in winter belies its inconspicuous place names.
An enjoyable, if uneventful, cross-country ski & snowshoe brought us several miles from Echo Lakes to Lake Aloha, roughly paralleling the Pacific Crest Trail. We found it useful to stay well to climber's right of the drainage leading up from Upper Echo Lake towards Haypress Meadows, then staying high on the small ridge to the left of the PCT before dropping down steep forested slopes to the lake. As we made our way up through the meadows, fine views of Mt. Ralston gave way to the stunning profiles of snowy Pyramid Peak and the Crystal Range as we neared our camp at the lakeshore, still blanketed in white. A leisurely afternoon was spent constructing our various shelters, and we gathered for a group dinner on a large, dry rock outcrop near the shore. With dusk came strong winds, and all retired early.
The next day awoke before sunrise, and the team set off just as the morning sun began to break through the treetops to light our camp. The ski/shoe across the lake was deceptively long, and we reached the base of the steep south slopes of Jacks Peak after an hour or so. Many in the group donned crampons here, and plucked up various routes on hard snow between the exposed rocks and cliffs on the face. At about 9000' we reached a broad shoulder south of the summit ridge, and elected to traverse around the right to a steep snow slope on the east face. Climbing diagonally up the slope we crested the ridge, climbing over blocks, rubble, and snow to reach the broad snowy summit. All agreed that the climbing on the ridge was enjoyable; not too loose and not too exposed, but challenging enough in the winter conditions to make it interesting. Future parties may want to consider climbing the entire ridge from the south buttress.
As the hour was growing late, the team conceded the long traverse to Dicks until another day. The skiers were disappointed to find that the entire broad west face of the peak had complete snow coverage, whereas our chosen route on the south slope had weaved from left to right between cliff bands and rock outcrops, convincing us to ditch our skis at the base of the peak. Another reason to return. Descending, we plunged down the now softening southeast slopes into the large snow bowl east of the peak. We again traversed to rejoin our ascent route at the 9000' shoulder, now finding the snow soft enough for standing glissades on the steeper parts of the slope. Back to the lake, and the long trudge across the lake to camp. After a leisurely lunch, another long trudge brought us to the head of the Echo Lakes drainage, where the skiers found nirvana on impeccably sweet afternoon corn snow, worth the price of admission on its own. One more trudge, even longer, took us across the lakes and back to the trailhead as the sun set on another glorious weekend in the mountains.
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