After a return from Japan (land of the ever-deepening powder), I was slightly unimpressed by the dismal conditions in Tahoe. This was both a blessing and a curse, as I felt uninspired to go skiing, but was substantially less distracted from getting work done. Nonetheless, my spell of hard work was quickly broken by Presidents Day, and the promise of a three day weekend.
Feeling the urge to get out of town yet again, we decided that adventure skiing in bad conditions was at least better than skiing the same old lines in bad conditions. Plus, the Ruby Mountain Heli guides had been posting conditions updates that made Eastern Nevada look pretty darn good. A trip to Elko was in order!
We left Reno late on Friday night, and camped out along the way. Everything was frozen on Saturday morning, but we got a reasonably early start (with thoughts of desert mountains on our minds!). With clear weather forecast for the day, the plan was to check out the East Humboldts and maybe get into some high alpine terrain.
As we drove 80 east that morning, one thing became clear. The winds were howling up high! We could see huge snow plumes blowing off the Rubies and crest of the E Humboldts. Regardless, we exited 80 at Wells, and pushed on towards Angel Lake. There didn't appear to be an excessive amount of snow on the peaks, but it looked like enough to ski at least.
E. Humboldt view from the Angel Lake Rd.
Ignoring the "closed" signs on Angel Lake Rd, we drove through a few snow drifts, and were able to park just below the summer camp ground. In front of us was a massive bowl, and the East face of Greys Peak. Lots of terrain to drool over. Legitimate, big mountain terrain.
Theresa looking up at Greys Peak from near the truck.
We skinned across the lake, and this beauty of a couloir came into view. It was hard to tell exactly how steep and how wide it was from a distance, but it really called to me. Hard to get it out of my mind.
The snow was wind affected, and variable. As we skinned up toward the ridge, we could see snow continually blowing off the crest. Near the top, we found a medium-sized debris pile from a recent avalanche (within the last day or so). It looked like wind deposited snow had overloaded the East Face, and the slide broke on a crusty firm layer underneath the new snow. Above us we could see remnants of the crown, and snow continuing to reload the slope that had already slid. We opted to stop before the final bit, play it safe, and ski the lower angle terrain below the summit ridge.
It was the kind of skiing that makes you feel like you can't control your legs. One moment soft and pleasant, the next crusty, then hooky. Here's Theresa finding some good turns underneath Greys Peak.
We took a few laps on different aspects, and didn't really find any particularly good snow. Despite being mid-February, it was certainly low tide. I kept thinking about the couloir we had spotted earlier, and decided that it had to be skiied. Last lap?! Never call last lap. Two more -skip the last. Theresa was a little nervous about the line, so she opted to drop into a different spot and wait at the bottom. I skinned over and dropped in. It was nice to find out that the couloir was in fact wider than it seemed, and still holding decent snow. A great way to end the day!
That night we camped out again, and woke up in the morning to howling winds and pounding snow. It was dumping in Wells! It was hard to motivate for the cold weather and wet tent packing, but the thought of hot gas station coffee got us moving. We finally enjoyed some breakfast, and hit the road around 9:00. Our goal was Soldier Canyon, in the Ruby Mountains. It was a spot that looked to have good trees and storm skiing, based off my google earth reconnaissance at least.
One major problem with the Ruby Mountains is access. The range is bounded by private property on all sides, and there are very few legal access points. North of Lamoille, Soldier Canyon is a summertime access point into the region, one we thought would also be good for the winter. Not so much. At the turnoff we found a locked gate, with a sign telling us that the road crossed private property, and was closed in the winter. Continuing south, we found more locked gates, and no mountain access. Time for plan B...Lamoille Canyon.
We had heard reports that there wasn't much snow in Lamoille Canyon. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I knew we would probably be able to drive the road up canyon until we found the snow line. Other than that, we no longer had a real plan. Drive up the road and find some good storm skiing. Easier said than done when its nuking snow outside and you can't really see the mountains. We also didn't have a high detail map, and I had only been up the canyon as far as Terminal Cancer. Adventure time.
Driving up the road, we found a dismal amount of snow. Right Hand Fork was bare. Terminal Cancer wasn't filled in at all. Thomas Creek looked thin. Before we knew it, we were at the very top of the canyon next to a bunch of snowmobilers. All we could see were clouds, and snow, and no real skiing. Great. Theresa thought she had seen a spot that could work, maybe, back down the road a couple miles. But it hadn't looked overly inspiring. We weren't too stoked, but we knew we had to go skiing since we were there.
Our easy access spot across from the Terraces Campground.
It was storming hard, and as we geared up our zone kept coming in and out of view. We crossed the creek and began skinning uphill, quickly noticing how good the snow felt. It was deep in spots, and way more filled in than it looked from a distance! It was also super windy, so we made use of the wind to find the best snow. Cold, light, fluffy snow. Celebrating our good luck, we spent the afternoon in our own little storm world, never quite sure where we were but always smiling. Although it was cold, the snow just kept getting deeper, and we made laps through the trees until it was almost dark. Hooting and hollering through every turn!
Myself in Powville, Nevada.
Was it cold? You bet!
Theresa: "Did we mean to go this way??" A little steep, and still a little thin in spots.
Nevada cold smoke.
By the time we left, the snow was substantially deeper. Close to a foot had fallen since we'd been there, and the hills looked much more filled in. It was still dumping too. Monday was going to be a good day! Thanks presidents for getting us the time off!!
That night, some friends in Spring Creek were gracious enough to give us a warm and dry place to crash (Thanks Trav and Brittany!). Being able to dry out our gear, and get warm made all the difference. On presidents day, we awoke to several inches of fresh snow in Spring Creek, and headed up Lamoille Canyon yet again. Our goal was some new exploration up Thomas Creek.
Despite the new snow, we were still able to drive past Terminal Cancer, and up to the Thomas Creek Campground. At the trailhead, things still looked thin, but we were optimistic that we'd be able to access higher elevation goals. The storm was clearing up, and from the truck we could see some nicely filled in treed shots above us. With all the new snow, and variable snowpack underneath, it seemed like playing it safe with some "hippy pow" might be the way to go.
Beautiful views as we skinned up Thomas Creek. It looks thin from a distance, but was actually quite filled in.
After about an hour of skinning up the creek, we found a nice looking North aspect with some trees and a few small features. Theresa and I took turns trenching a skintrack up the pitch, and we eventually made it to the top of a small ridge. It was a powpow paradise, with about 2' of light and dry fluff. We proceeded to rip a whole bunch of laps, yo-yoing pitches until our legs screamed. Despite just spending the last few weeks in Japan, I thought that the snow here was the best I've had yet this season. It was just too good!
Even though the clouds parted, and occasionally revealed epic big mountain lines in all directions, I was happy we kept it safe and mellow. I managed to trigger this small slide (below), on a short northwest facing pitch. It didn't run very far, but the crown was about 2' tall, consisting mostly of recent storm and wind slab. Interestingly, the slide broke on an older weak layer, sitting a few inches below the recent accumulation -something to watch out for as the season progresses. With the super thin and variable snowpack, I would currently be uncomfortable on anything too big or rowdy in the area.
A parting view from the trailhead, of the backside of Terminal Cancer through the clouds. If skiing this, make sure to take the skiers right fork (left side in the image). The left fork ends in an enormous ice fall.
Current snowline ~8000 ft on north facing aspects, higher on other aspects.
Snow conditions = cold and dry. More pow on the way!
Avalanche Info? Buried weak layers exist in the snowpack, depending on aspect, slope, etc. Things seemed consolidated on most aspects, but I would play it safe. At least dig a pit if planning on skiing anything steep. There isn't a lot of snow to slide, but there are a lot of hazards to hit if you were carried downhill.