Location(s): Shoshone Range (North Shoshone Peak) and Toquima Range (Wildcat Peak)
Conditions: Blower pow around a foot deep depending on wind and aspect, quickly warming and transforming with sun. Skiable snowpack above 8,000 ft. on most aspects, North/shaded aspects down to 7,000 ft. Road skiing and sagebrush tip knockers predominant at lower elevations. Choose approaches wisely.
Concerns: Mostly just a few wind loaded pockets and storm slabs were forming in spots. Snowpack seemed well consolidated below the fresh snow, and (as typical of Nevada) was well anchored by many bushes. Good and stable spring powder, which will probably be corn soon if the snow comes out.
Story: As usual, the team got a late start heading out of Reno on Saturday. By the time we got everyone rounded up and everything packed at 8:45, it was beginning to snow heavily. As we headed east into Nevada the snow turned to rain, and then let up entirely. Some doubts definitely circulated -why weren't we in Tahoe getting that fresh?! But we knew the forecast called for decent snowfall, and we persevered with the hope of finding some skiable storm zones.
Interesting roadside lines at Carol Summit (old Highway 50)
Pretty soon we were crossing into the Smith Creek Valley, where the lack of storm was a blessing. To the south we scouted out the Shoshone Range, and decided that North Shoshone Peak would be the perfect objective -especially if the storm rolled in. It appeared big, and beautiful, and lightly treed, and generally better than Google Earth had made me believe.
The good visibility also had an unexpected benefit, which was that we avoided smashing into a huge herd of sheep crossing the highway. With poor lighting I might have careened into a few of them, but instead we were able to see them and stop in time. After the sheep finally got off the road, we chatted to a friendly rancher who seemed confused about our destination and goals. "Ya ain't gonna get real far trying to go up that canyon." He told us. I tried to explain to him we were going skiing, and we wanted that snow, but he seemed perplexed. Finally my clarification worked, and he said, "Ahhh, you got some of them uphill skis?! Yeah just drive through the cow pen over there...".
This also proved to be exciting, as we witnessed a large heifer in the process of giving birth. Finally, as the clouds intensified, we made it to the snowline and took my truck up the road as far as we dared.
Sheep crossing, and a friendly (?) doggo
In Peterson Creek Canyon
As we skinned up, the storm moved in and it was dumping! The kind of walk where you put your coat on and try hard not to sweat. After a mile or two skinning the road up a long canyon, we were all drenched and ready to get to higher elevations. In the storm, we couldn't see anything except the bottoms of mountains, and various treed slopes. Luckily, Theresa's phone had saved a map from earlier, and we were able to pinpoint our location in the blizzard. Soon we were skinning up the northwest ridge of North Shoshone Peak. We also began experiencing some major skin glopping, and struggled through a few gear malfunctions in the process
Bottom of North Shoshone Peak
As we skinned upwards and the storm pounded, conditions got deeper and we got colder. Our hike took a long while, but finally we reached the top of the mountain -a treed summit around 10,300 feet tall. Although chilly, we were all eager to drop into the goods. We knew we had 2,500 feet of foot+ deep blower to ski.
We dropped into the treed north slope of the peak, and enjoyed poking our way down through the forest. At one point the trees even opened up, and we found some steep gullies with small cliffs and features. Coverage was excellent, and had the snow been much deeper I might have even been concerned. As it was we were experiencing quite a bit of sloughing in the deep and light storm snow. We hooted and hollered all the way back down to the canyon bottom.
Theresa likes pow
Yours truly also likes pow
Ben broke his pole whacking off skin glop, but I think he likes pow as well
Once back at the car, we were all soaking and a bit cold. Our two companions were headed back to Reno, so they elected to start the drive while still light out. We high-fived and parted ways (thanks for a great time friends!). Theresa and I opted to warm up at a nearby hot spring (a fantastic choice), before continuing on to meet other friends in the town of Kingston.
That night we stayed with Matt Francis (happy birthday by the way Matt!) and family and friends in Kingston -which is south of Austin on the east side of the Toiyabes. Without a definite plan for Sunday, and with (perhaps) a few too many drinks in each of us, we finally headed to bed. The storm continued to rage outside, and we slept great in their fantastic Kingston abode.
On Sunday we woke to bluebird conditions, and took in our surroundings. The Toiyabes looked fat with Bunker Hill rising high and white above town, but Theresa and I had been hoping to hit Wildcat Peak in the neighboring Toquima Range. From Kingston we eyed up the mountain across the Great Smoky Valley. We convinced the rest of the crew to join us, and decided to try and approach it from the south, near Northumberland Mine. Our hope was that there would be decent snow and a variety of terrain, possibly even opportunities to snowmobile the approach or ski elsewhere for those who weren't interested in the big mission.
I like when its bluebird and Bunker Peak looks that snowy
The Toquima Range is in a bit of a rain shadow, thanks to the massiveness of the nearby Toiyabes. As we drove up the road, it became clear that there was substantially less snow. Eventually we nearly made it to Northumberland mine, and started skinning around 11 AM. It quickly became apparent that this is perhaps not the best way to access Wildcat Peak, although the Northumberland zone does offer some interesting skiing of its own.
On the way up Northumberland (Wildcat in the background)
Roadside offerings in the Northumberland zone
Theresa on the ridge towards Wildcat. The zone in the back is directly north of Northumberland Pass
After a little while skinning, we realized that Wildcat Peak was a substantial distance away (like four long saddles away on the ridge). I was really interested in the northeast side of the peak, which also happened to be its far side. The group opted to split up, with Theresa and I continuing towards the peak, and the others finding some goods on the north facing aspects near Northumberland.
Bushes: "It goes!"
The route to Wildcat was long, and perhaps not ideal. Lots of ridge skinning with ups and downs, and bits of thick vegetation. Finally we reached a sub-peak to the south, and determined that the exit from Wildcat's northeast side seemed feasible given our location and time. We enjoyed a nice powder run down the sub-peaks shaded north face, a tease of what was to come. Then we slapped on skins for the third time of the day, and made the final push upward to the summit of Wildcat Peak.
Wildcat Peak is an awesome spot! The north face is craggy and full of cliffs and chutes, and the summit is a narrow block. As we wrapped around the side we peered down its steep shady slopes, and contemplated lines. The final 50 feet to the summit necessitated taking skis off and booting up rock, evening enjoying a little scrambling.
Theresa near the summit
After taking in the view for a while, we opted to ski a line northeast from the true summit. Its probably rare to find this line in good condition, and so we took full advantage of the fat snowpack. The turns were good, and the snow deep. I even found a couple small cliffs in the trees, which had soft landings. In true "JapaNevada" fashion, we blasted the mahogany forest and were all smiles by the bottom.
Looking back at lines on the northeast face
It was getting late, and we had a long ways to skin out. If I could do it again, I'd skin directly up one of the canyons either to the east or west of the peak, thereby allowing for an easy downhill ski at the end of the day. Instead, we had to cross two ridges and ski some slushy melted-out sagebrush slop. Theresa and I enjoyed the views for a little bit, but then put our heads down for the slog.
This zone on the south side of Mill Canyon (east of Wildcat) looked fantastic but will have to wait for another day.
Happy to be on the saddle, south face of Wildcat behind me
Theresa skiing out to the south
Finally we made it to the top of our last skin! The sun was just starting to set, and the final bit of skiing was surprisingly fun for a moderately pitched road. Back at the truck, we toasted our torched legs, and enjoyed the way beer tastes after a long days efforts.
No more uphill -Thank GOD!
The drive home was long -as expected. Since essentially no restaurants are open in central Nevada after 7PM, In-N-Out was a must once we hit Reno. Animal fries seemed to have never tasted so good.
I would absolutely hit both of those peaks again, and although Wildcat was definitely more of a highlight terrain-wise, Shoshone Peak was a fantastic choice for storm skiing. We all agreed that we didn't expect to be skiing snow that good at the end of March (or ever really in central NV). I feel like the Great Basin surprises me more than it lets me down!
Thanks Ben, Connor, and of course Theresa for the motivation and enthusiasm! Also thanks Connor and Theresa for the additional photos.
And if you want to see some video (made by Connor), then check this out: Shoshone Peak.