This was an ambitious winter trip. Saturday travel 9 miles on snow across a succession of uphill/ down hills for a total gain for 1800'. Sunday climb 1600' and another 4 miles roundtrip to the summit and return via the initial 9 miles and uphill/downhill of 1500' to return to the trailhead, a 13 mile, 3000' day on snow.
We all met Saturday at the Tragedy Spring turn-off on Highway 88 just above Silver Lake. The turn-off is a small plowed area 4.1 miles East of Iron Mountain Snow-Park, immediately after the 8000 FEET highway sign. At the time of our trip, there was plowed space on both sides of the road and enough room for about 10 cars.
We left the trailhead at 8am and headed SE of Hwy 88 along the 4WD summer trail toward the wilderness boundary. In winter, there are several obvious opportunities to shortcut the switchbacks of the jeep trail. After 4 miles and a couple uphill/downhill, one reaches the site of the Plasse Trading Post. The route up to the Post is used by snowmobiles but we hardly saw any during our trip. At 1 mile from the trailhead, we stopped for a cloth break. Steve, Kirsten and Stephane were on skis and looking at a nice downhill run, so we let the snowshoers take a short head start. As Steve was putting his pack on and sliding slowly, he fell and injured his ankle. It was extremely painful and it looked like it was going to be a while before Steve could get over the shock and be moving again. As Stephane was helping Steve and icing his wound, Kirsten spontaneously ran down the hill to catch up with Pat and the rest of the group who did not realize the accident. In hindsight, Kirsten the RN should have done the first aid while Stephane the co-leader should have immediately caught up with Pat before he was too far. Kirsten told Pat to continue with the group while her and Stephane (who were ready to function and navigate on their own) would evacuate Steve and maybe attempt the trip on our own if time allowed. We used Steve's plastic Telecuff to brace the ankle and fortunately, Steve was able to use his poles and our shoulders as clutches and walk slowly on one leg. For a while, we did consider dragging him in the snow, which could have been interesting. Kirsten and Stephane left their own skis + pack behind and carried Steve's skis and pack. The walking was slow but the morning snow was not too soft and it took us maybe 1 hour to cover the 1 mile downhill back to the car. The ordeal was not quite over: Steve could not get into his car because of some alarm failure. We stopped a Highway Patrol officer and he radioed for help. Steve felt like he could drive home and he had plenty of food and water and the cop was working on his case, so Kirsten and Stephane felt like we could go again.
We started walking on the snow at 10am, retrieved our skis + gear and tried to move fast along the agreed upon trip route. As it turns out, we caught up with the group at their lunch break near the Plasse Trading Post. From that point, the route turns straight South, more or less following the Pack trail toward Munson Meadow, our camping spot. On the way in, we did not quite follow the pack trail but dropped West of it and below the ridge and navigated a small maze of bumps to end up at Cole Creek Lakes. We dropped down to the saddle after Cole Creek Lakes and climbed up toward Munson Meadow which we reached around 5pm.
Anticipating a long Sunday, we left with Sunrise at 6am toward the North ridge of Mokelumne. We switched to crampons and ice axe and enjoyed the great climb along the sometimes knife-edge ridge. We reached the summit at 8am. The run out below the summit looked rocky, so we dropped until the slope was gentler before skiers could start having their fun. We got back to camp around 11am and left camp around noon.
For the return, we followed the summer pack trail more closely and stayed on the ridge. This route felt faster, more efficient and provided nice views. We were particularly concerned about exiting before dark. Your scribe tried to keep the group moving at a good pace with regular (but timed) breaks. In spite of minor (mostly fake) moaning, everyone realized how tight we were with daylight and the group did a great job keeping its spirit and energy up. We reached the cars right as the sun was setting through the trees at 6pm, tired but thrilled by the great adventure.
Thank you Pat Callery for organizing this fantastic trip. The climbing was excellent, it was a tough trip but the announcement did warn we would be exhausted by the end of the week end
Epilogue: Steve Eckert drove himself back to the bay area without problem and had his injury diagnosed the next day as a displaced fracture of the fibula.