©2018 by Will Boyer for Nevada Backcountry. 

Wind and Winter in the Santa Rosa Range

February 8, 2020

Location: Santa Rosa Range, East Side

 

Conditions: Virtually everthing -dust on crust, windbuff, glare ice, mahogany forest powpow, corn, windcrust, mud, and lots of sagebrush tip knockers.

 

Snowpack/Avalanche Considerations: Dug a pit at around 8,000 ft. on east facing 33 degree slope. Snowpack was 170 cm deep at that locale. Some weaker layers with facets were buried in the top 10-15 cm of pack, and what appeared to be a rain crust was found 5-10 cm deep. I would be a little concerned with more snowfall, and also in windloaded pockets. We witnessed widespread windloading, with east and south getting especially hammered. North and west faces were nearly stripped bare -or at least to shrubs/glare ice.

 

Story: With Tahoe under the menace of a "Triple R" type weather pattern (stands for: ridiculously resilient ridge), we decided to head elsewhere in search of snow. Many of the storms this winter have simply been tracking too far inland, with a storm path from the north that seems to favor the Rocky Mountains and Utah. It's rare that conditions in Eastern Nevada are better than the Sierras, but this has been one of those times. The further north and east you go -the better snowpack seems to get, and the more recent storms have been. 

 

With those factors in mind, we made the trek north to the Santa Rosa Range. Located about 3 hours from Reno, the Santa Rosas are just north of Winnemucca and dominate the north-central Nevada desert. Although none of the peaks are taller than 10,000 ft, they are northern enough to receive cold temperatures and ample snowfall -and still remain quite prominent in appearance. Every time I've looked on the range, I've been in awe. They are some impressive looking mountains.

 

As we drove north from Reno, we thought we'd be in for some sunny skies and adventure skiing. Not the case at all. The further north we got, the cloudier the skies got. Pretty soon the mountains were socked in and it was blizzarding on us! Its always nice to get a refresh when you don't expect it.

 

Looking for some afternoon storm skiing, we headed up Singas Creek (just west of the town of Paradise, NV). Roads quickly turned to shit, and we were happy to have my very capable truck. Apart from horrible mud road conditions, access on the east side of the Santa Rosas is typically exceptional, and this was no different. We were quickly walking up the road/snow, and skinning through fantastic mahogany forest in no time.

 

 

 

 

 

Winds were howling and it was either dumping snow or scouring the range crest -so we opted to stay below treeline.

 

 

 

Mahogany Madness. Japan or Nevada? You decide. 

 

 

That night we camped at a local watering hole. In the morning we awoke to clearing skies and fantastic views of the range. With the weather improving we decided to head towards Granite Peak, high point of the Santa Rosas at 9,732 ft. The south side has good access from the Hinkey Summit Road, and many interesting rock towers and lines to explore. 

 

Santa Rosa Sunrise

 

We thought that maybe there would be some fresh powder from the previous day's storm. With the winds seeming calm, we were also optimistic for a day of nice weather. There was still a cloud over the summit, but we thought maybe it would clear in an hour or two. We were about to be wrong on all counts...

 

 

 Parking Bob's Truck, with Granite Peak Still hidden in clouds.

 

We skinned up Hinkey Summit Road for about 3 miles, enjoying beautiful scenery in the canyon. All too soon the wind was howling, and it was time to branch westward onto some ridges. Heads down, we opted to continue. Snow condition was equally as awful as the wind, with a mix of ice, windpack, windfuck, and windcrust. At least it was mostly edgeable. If we hadn't wanted to make it to the summit so badly, I might have turned around.

Views of the Range, and fantastic Santa Rosa Peak kept us going. 

 

 Bob eyes the summit.

 

Eventually we forced to boot up the final knife edge ridge to the top. Granite Peak is an impressive summit, and the clouds parted just enough for some fantastic views! We debated about some great looking lines, snapped pics, and prepared to drop in.

 

 

As soon as we put our skis on, clouds once again enveloped the mountain. We thought that we could wait for better skiing conditions, and sat on the side of the ridge waiting for light. Ten minutes passed, then 20, then 30. We had to get down! Eventually we gave up and did our best in the flat light and clouds.

 

Bob in a cloud 

 

Theresa happy to be out of the cloud! 

 

The mountain's south side finally makes an appearance again.

 

Cruising back toward Hinkey Summit Road.

 

With sore legs and happy souls, we celebrated our successful ski at the car! That night we relaxed deeply at a local hot spring, and devoured madras lentil tasty bites. Who would have thought that pre-packaged meals could ever taste so good?!

 

The next morning we were once again up with the sun, ready to hit one final zone before heading home. Back in Paradise, we headed northeast up the N. Fork of Hansen Creek -a spot that looked like it would hold a variety of aspects and plenty of entertaining skiing. We weren't wrong, although the road to the snow proved to be almost as entertaining. Though short, it was a muddy mess. My truck had quite the time getting up the few mile access road.

 

Soon we were once again hiking up the road/snow, and enthusiastically scoping our lines. This was a great zone, with little "bullshit factor". The mountains got steep immediately, and it was straight virtually straight uphill to the top. Our only stop was for about half an hour, to dig the pit shown in the introduction of this write up.

 

More road walking, better skiing.

 

Windy again. Always windy for Theresa and I!

 

Beautiful Mahogany Forest lines. This would be an awesome bowl for a chairlift...

 

UP, UP, UP 

 

 Nearing the top.

 

At the ridge, we were in awe of the incredible rime formations. Every surface was absolutely covered in amazing rime ice. We ascended a nearby summit (unnamed) and promptly dubbed the zone "Rime Ridge".

 

Paradise Peak in the background. Can you spot Bob?

 

Theresa Happy on the ridge top 

 

Looking north to Santa Rosa Peak, with Granite Peak to the right in the back.

 

We opted to ski some south facing panels, which had looked good from the way up. Dropping in around noon, the south facing snow was in fact a good choice. We enjoyed a mix of soft buff, and corn all the way to the car.

 

Theresa at the top

 

Your's truly

 

Theresa in some goods! 

 

Bob drops a knee 

 

Back at the car we were all smiles and high fives for the drive back to Reno. I know that I will be back to the Santa Rosas, and especially Rime Ridge. The combination of easy access, close location, entertaining terrain, and ample snowfall -make this a winning spot for NV skiing.

 

Editors note...

Our friend Connor Phelan made it out to the Range the Following two days, and had this to say about the range: "Rising out of the dry sage flats, the Santa Rosas are truly a sight to behold. Had success (and fun) reaching the summit of both Granite and Santa Rosa, but barely scratched the surface as far as ski potential goes. Can't wait to make my way back there. North to south spring corn traverse anyone?"

 

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