The North Lake loop to Lake Sabrina provides a wonderful ski mountaineering experience in the dramatic Darwin Canyon, the spectacular Evolution Basin, and the resplendent Ionian Basin.
Tue, Apr 14: We met at the locked gate about 1/2 mile below the North Lake trailhead parking lot. The road was clear of snow, but "ours is not to reason why." Our group of strong backcountry skiers consisted of Reiner Stenzel, Peter Green, Marcia Male, Howard Schultz, and Nancy Gordon. At 0715, we hefted our packs with skis and started the long hike to North Lake (9,250'). We then skied to Grass Lake (9,900') and stopped for an early lunch on some dry rocks above the lake. When the clouds descended, we decided to set up camp at 1700 hours in the bowl just below Lamarck Col. During dinner, light snow fell. Five excited skiers were beginning a trip that would present fantastic scenic highlights and sensational skiing. En route to Lamarck Col, we encountered one other person whose progress was much slower than ours; he was hiking on snowshoes.
Wed, Apr 15: Up at 0600. 17 degrees Fahrenheit. After we breakfasted and packed up, we ascended Lamarck Col (12,900') on very firm packed snow. The view of Darwin and Mendel from the Col was awesome. Due to the mixed snow and rock terrain on the west side of the Col, we again mounted our skis on our packs until we were at about the 12,200' level. Skiing Darwin Canyon was a joy; we were now over the crest and in the heart of the Sierra Nevada. At the west end of the canyon, there is a bench overlooking Evolution Valley that offers an absolutely breathtaking view! The Hermit loomed impressive as we skied down to the John Muir Trail. Skiing on Evolution Lake (10,850') felt daring and a little eerie. At the south end of the lake, we stopped for a lunch break and hung out damp tent flies and miscellaneous gear to dry in the intermittent sun. Reveries of past summer climbs in the area lingered throughout our trip. After lunch, we continued along the John Muir Trail over Sapphire Lake, past Mt Haeckel and Mt Wallace on the crest, and Mt Huxley and Mt Fiske to the west of the crest. The clouds rolled in as we approached Wanda Lake (11,452'), and we decided to continue to Muir Pass (11,955') in the whiteout rather than to Wanda Pass as we originally planned. Reiner had mentioned his desire to make Muir Hut, that amazing circular stone structure built in 1931, our base camp for skiing the Ionian Basin. Arriving at 1700, we found two skiers from the Bay area already there. When we removed our boots, steam exuded from our socks - testimony to our "hot" skiing? Not. Three of us decided to use the stone shelves in the hut for sleeping, and two decided to set up a tent nearby with a snow block wall on the west. We all used the hut for cooking and strung two lines for drying our gear.
Thur, Apr 16: Up at 0600. 18 degrees Fahrenheit and not a cloud in the sky. This was definitely the day to ski Mt. Goddard! At 0715 we headed for Solomons Pass (12,450'), just west of Mt Solomons. From the pass, we skied into the Ionian Basin and down to take 11,592’. The Three Sirens and Scylla to the south prevented views of the Enchanted Gorge, a possible goal for a future ski tour. The weather was clear, and all of us eagerly awaited the first views of our destination, Mt Goddard (13,568'). As we headed west after crossing Lake 11,824', our view of Mt Goddard to the northwest was breathtaking. The snowfield on its west slope beckoned as we skied down to the lower drainage before climbing up to the long lake (11,951') at the base of Mt Goddard. We wondered why this lake is not named Goddard Lake, since it is the largest of the lakes that flows into Goddard Creek. Peter and Reiner experienced mountaineers' trepidation at the sign of a slight breeze and a wispy cloud, which created an adrenaline rush to the summit reached by noon. Howard, Marcia, and Nancy took a more social and serene approach to reaching the summit the same day. Among our many fascinating topics, we discussed being surrounded by the Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui) butterflies (dark brown with rusty orange and white patches) making their migration from northern Mexico to Canada. Being on the summit of Mt Goddard was definitely THE HIGHLIGHT of this trip. Peter's endeavors to shovel enough snow to locate the register were in vain. [Goddard was my SPS emblem peak (Aug '81)]. We took enough photos to make any mother happy, but our real exhilaration was about to begin: a sensational ski descent down the west slope! We watched in amazement as Reiner began his 160 perfect turns to a regrouping area 1000 feet below. Not to be outdone, Nancy jumped in to make figure 8's out of Reiner's turns. Not to be outdone, Howard and Peter jumped off the summit in a radical steep descent, which linked up with the others' route. Not to be outdone, Marcia had her moment of glory in an exquisite ski run down the slope. Ahhhhhhhh! This is what it IS all about! There was some debate over the round trip elevation and mileage from the hut; I figured just under 4,000' gain, and 8-9 miles. We arrived back at the hut at 1815 with plenty of sunlight and much to be grateful for: good ski buddies and good skiing! That evening, however, dark clouds began to roll in menacingly.
Fri, Apr 17: Buried in our sleeping bags, we listened to the ferocious winds howling outside. It was a total whiteout! Howard popped in at 0830, surprised to find no activity. After breakfast, we crawled back into our sleeping bags. All of us sought the shelter of the hut during the storm. There were discussions such as Plans A, B, and C (we couldn't think of a Plan D) regarding our exit options from the Sierra if the storm continued, future trip plans, other peaks to ski, and how many rocks were used in the construction of the Muir Hut. Marcia's C. S. Lewis book got good use. We napped until lunch. Cabin fever struck Reiner and Peter a little after 1400 hours, and they proposed a ski ascent to Black Giant which had just emerged out of the clouds. Nancy hid in her bag rather than respond. Marcia started reading more intently. And Howard nodded an acknowledgment and decided to work on improving his snow block wall. The "tigers" made a speedy ascent of Black Giant among shredded Painted Lady butterflies and returned before Marcia finished her book. Quite an accomplishment since the fierce winds continued during their climb. The winds finally abated late that afternoon and the glow of the sun at the horizon in the evening gave us a mild assurance that our original plan to exit over Echo Col may still be feasible.
Sat, Apr 18: I started the three MSR stoves at 0545. I wanted the opportunity to ski Black Giant (13,330') before heading over Echo Col. No other takers. I set off solo about 0715. The shady, icy west slope made for a slow, cautious approach. My skins weren't grabbing on the steeper sections of the climb, and the skis weren't edging enough in the ice to provide a secure platform. I took off the skis near some rocks about 100 feet below the summit. Kicking steps was not much better as far as feeting any more secure. I don't think I kicked in as much as an 1/8" boot edge hold on the ice. I moved slowly and with extreme caution and concentration, ready to arrest a fall at every step. At 0900, I arrived on the summit and was rewarded by the most spectacular views in all directions! Peter had requested that I take lots of pictures since their visibility was not good the previous day. Goddard looked magnificent. Echo Col and the Crest looked pretty intimidating. It was awesome no matter which direction I looked. I signed the register and took a panoramic array of pictures. Then I took a very deep breath and kicked my heels with great vigor as I descended the still shady, icy, west slope. It was a definite project getting my skis back on; I ended up jamming them into the rocks to gain a more secure stance. It was a great, fast, icy run down the west face. I remember listening to my skis, which were smooth and silent on the descent compared to my very audible breathing. There was no trace of my descent tracks when I looked back up the slope. Reiner skied over from the hut. With warm congratulations; his face radiated visible relief. I picked up my pack, and we skied swiftly on to join the others headed for Echo Col. Echo Col (12,450') is to the left of a large dark-colored rock mass just below Clyde Spires. We were able to ski up to within about 40 feet of the col. The rock scramble up and over was 3rd class. On the east side of the Col, it was strictly a snow descent. Howard insisted on skiing the top part, and he used every trick in his book to make it appear skiable. The rest of us donned our skis about 100 feet below the col. The snow on the east side of the crest was breakable crust and lousy compared to the west side. We skied over Echo Lake (11,600') and Moonlight Lake (11,050'). Reiner and I made a slight error and headed for the Middle Fork of the Bishop Creek rather than Blue Lake. Peter caught up with us and pointed out the error of our ways. We proceeded to correct our direction and to regain some elevation in order to hit the trail out to Lake Sabrina (9,150'). Marcia and Howard decided to kick back and enjoy another evening in the Sierra. The rest of us decided to tough it out to the cars with thoughts of being home for Easter Sunday. This decision presented a great physical and mental challenge. The snow got ugly. Eventually, we had to put the skis on our packs as we lost visibility. There was a rather lengthy episode of head lamps, post-holing, and expletives. By the time we hit the asphalt, we were a bone-weary group. Dinner was shortly after midnight at Denny's in Bishop. We did, however, get home before sunrise Easter Sunday. I know the joy I saw on my daughter's face when she woke up was worth my effort. Reiner got to attend sunrise services with his wife. And Peter, who thought we were crazy, humored us by not commenting on any of this.
Sun, Apr 19: Howard and Marcia walked out to the cars from Blue Lake. They walked on top of firn. They smiled at the heavy duty post-holing of their compadres and said they still heard echoes of our expletives bouncing off Table Mountain.
This is a glorious trip, highly recommended for experienced backcountry skiers of high intermediate ability. Opportunities for fine skiing abound in the area and the touring is spectacular. In retrospect, the trip might be better done starting out from Lake Sabrina going over Echo Col and coming out Lamarck Color Alpine Col and Piute Pass to North Lake.
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