English Mountain
(Winter's Over, Blokes!)

14-16 Mar 1998 - by Steve Eckert

Climbing English Mountain (8373') in the summer is a few hour jaunt from the car (Bowman Lake from Hwy 20, Jackson Lake from Hwy 89, etc) but in the winter there are few easy options. You can rent a snowmobile from a place in Truckee (contact the Chamber of Commerce, and prepare to spend $200/day/person plus $100/day guide fee) and ride up the road. (We saw one track within a mile of the peak, but that's probably illegal.) You can start at the Little Truckee Stomach (on Hwy 89) and ski 25 miles up Henness Pass Road on snowmobile tracks. You can start off I-80 near Cisco Grove, or you can take Hwy 49 to Sierra City (year-round community right under Sierra Buttes) and take the Pacific Crest Trail south to Jackson Reservoir (about 28 miles round trip, the way we went).

If you're heading south from Sierra City, ignore the PCT trailhead on Hwy 49 and look for the Wild Plum Campground signs instead. There was so much snow (at 4300') this year that we had to park on residential streets before crossing the North Yuba River. Aside from a huge barking dog circling us while we slept near the car, it appears the locals don't mind parking here (no signs).

DeLorme's Street Atlas software shows roads the TOPO! software does not, but does not show the trails... and neither seem to have all the stuff you'll encounter on the ground. It's a confusing jumble mostly related to campgrounds and hydroelectric dams, but not too hard to navigate if you watch your compass. We walked right past a PCT junction on snowmobile tracks, but lost no time since there was another road that went back to the trail further up the hill.A GPS is a good idea, with Hal The Luddite even asking for the occasional location check as we turned and twisted around open streams, cliffs, and trees.

From about 5000' on, we could find no sign of the trail. LOTS of snow this year! We lost the trail near a bridge across Miller Creek that had 3' hand rails and over 5' of snow in the middle. An exciting crossing, on skis, climbing a pile of snow higher than it was wide while looking down 15' at the stream. From there we sort of headed for the east rim of the canyon, plowing through some close trees and very glad to have climbing skins. Further up the drainage, at around 6000', we kept getting pushed east by small cliffs and dense trees, and wound up doing a little extra distance getting to Bear Valley.

Jackson Reservoir was a welcome sight, in spite of the snowmobile tracks across it. We finally were out of the trees and knew just where we were. There was plenty of snow on a perfectly flat ice crust, so we skied a mile across the 6100' lake (about 20 minutes) and headed up the road toward the saddle north of English Mtn. We miscommunicated on fuel, and only had 11 ounces for 2 people and 2 nights, so melting snow for drinking water was going to cut our trip short or force us into cold dinners. Fortunately, we found a spring. Unfortunately, there was 7' of overhanging snow on the banks of the tiny stream. I shoveled a ramp down the side while Hal worked on the tent, and we soon had iodized water warming in our sleeping bags. Overnight low was 33 degrees.

Sunday was as clear as Saturday, a welcome sight after months of El Nino's weather tantrums. We skied the (snowmobile-packed) road toward Jackson Lake, then cut cross country to the northern ridge of English, climbing with skins once we got on the ridge proper. The trees are well spaced and there was no brush showing through the heavy snowpack, so we stayed right on the ridge until several hundred feet below the summit where the west slope steepened and the ridge was small (but bare) cliffs. We kicked steps the last 200', where an ice axe would have been nice but not absolutely required, and stood on the summit at 10:30am. It was not windy, and warm enough for my summer-weight polypro with a wind layer! Hal felt guilty about calling THIS a winter climb, but after Adams and Excelsior (clouds and cold wind) I was ready for the change. Now it's spring but (according to the calendar) THEN it was winter.

The view was amazing. From Lassen to Round Top (and maybe further south) we saw a sea of white peaks on forested hills. There were miles- long cornices on little ridges that probably have little snow during a normal winter. The snowmobile tracks on hills and lakes kept us from truly feeling like we were in the wilderness, but then again there was no evidence of any other travelers along the PCT or to the peak. If there is a register, it's buried in the snowcap. I have no idea what this peak is like in the summer, but the winter view is well worth the 2.5 day trip to get there on skis (better skiers might do it comfortably in 2 days, we could not). These SPS List peaks really ARE worth climbing!

Returning to camp, we skied back across the reservoir and down to 6100' hoping to avoid some icy crust in the morning. Surprise! It rained in the wee hours of the morning, and the snow was slush the next day. Soaked from brushing wet trees and one or two short sprinkles, we moved steadily downhill in mid-40 degree temperatures and dried as the sun shone off and on. We were back at the car around noon, and drove home through Truckee (40 miles longer than through Grass Valley, but no road construction and the same drive time).

There is a Sno Park at Yuba Pass, 10-15 miles east of Sierra City and several thousand feet higher elevation. The east side of the pass has much less snow, and I-80 was bare at the elevation where we saw 4-6' of snow along Hwy 49.

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