By Rob McCormick
This has been a great ski season so far with plenty of quality powder skiing. Until recently though, I had not really dug into my tick list of bigger objectives in the region. Once the storms abated and conditions stabilized, I began to look toward a tasty zone northwest of Truckee. Local bush pilot Kevin Quinn flew me over the area two years ago and it’s been firmly engrained in my brain ever since. The east to west ridgeline features rolling bowls and gullies, majestic cliffs, gorgeous tree runs and striking couloirs. The remote location that is not easily viewed from anywhere only adds to the intrigue. The time had come to check it out. My ski partner in crime Robb Gaffney was up for the mission. The fact he owns a snowmobile didn’t hurt. Our goal was to work our way into the region and see how it played out. Actually skiing something was of secondary importance. We had no idea what we were in for.
An hour long snowmobile ride ate up the five mile approach and placed us at the north end of a huge basin. Leaving the sled behind for the day, a short tour brought us to the top of the ridgeline and our first glance into the zone I had been thinking about for two years. The first thing we noticed was that north aspects were still holding unconsolidated powder despite recent east winds. We gazed down into steep glades which rolled over into the abyss. We continued along the ridge to the top of a cirque which I had seen from the plane. It was wind scoured and littered with rocks so we traveled a bit further and came to the top of a long, steep, north facing couloir. We skirted around an overhanging cornice and a quick pole scrape told us the snow was good. We knew the low January sun wouldn’t affect the north side so we decided to check out two southeast facing couloirs we had seen on the approach. It was 11am and they were in prime shape for an amazing morning corn descent. Robb dropped into the skiers left couloir and I took a dogleg entrance into the skiers right. We descended between radiant rock buttresses for about a thousand vertical feet of buttery goodness. It was barely noon and the day had already exceeded our expectations.
A quick skin brought us back up to the top for lunch and another look into the north facing couloir. Robb entered first and made turns down perfectly edgable steep snow which sluffed hundreds of feet below. I went next and was amazed at how good the conditions were. Massive rock walls and northern exposure had kept this gem in perfect shape despite recent winds. Once at the bottom and full of smiles, we skinned up and started working our way west, constantly looking up the ridge to examine options. The first thing we passed was another large couloir, which started just to the skiers left of the one we skied. The entrance to this one was far more challenging, most likely requiring a rappel or a few very exposed turns. Once in though, it’s about as classic as you could ask for in a backyard discovery.
As we continued on, I was blown away by how rowdy the entire region stacked up. If we had dropped into the first sightline we looked into, we would have come upon huge ice bulges, cliffs and other technical challenges. My view from the plane two years earlier had left me with the impression the terrain would be fairly easy to navigate. I now have a new found respect for how complex the entire zone is. We finally came to a frozen lake and a reasonable ascent route. On our way back up, Kevin Quinn and Grant Kaye flew directly over us on their return from ice fishing on Independence Lake. We later discovered Grant had snapped some great photos of the couloir we had just skied (see title photo).
Back at the snowmobile, we sipped a couple of celebratory beers before heading back to civilization. We felt completely stoked to have accessed a thrilling new ski paradise. It seems some of the best days unravel when your only expectation is to explore something new and see where it leads you. We will pay attention to conditions and plan to visit again when everything lines up. Until then, we can only dream about returning to the Land of the Lost.
Thanks to Grant Kaye for aerial photos from 2013. You can check out Grant’s photography website here Grant Kaye Photography