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King Lear Peak

I don't feel like writing the usual conditions/snowpack/whatever beta bits. Lets just say it was a thin Great Basin snowpack, with some isolated windslabs and generally firm conditions underneath. Its unusual to get that much snow there, but it worked!

Story: King Lear peak is a captivating Nevada mountain , which holds a special place in many people's hearts (mine included). It’s frequently seen and revered as a steep hulking mass seeming to rise straight from the black rock desert playa, yet it remains infrequently climbed. Although marvelously aesthetic -a remote location, thick vegetation, and long convoluted routes have prevented numerous parties from reaching its summit.

Connor Phelan initially approached me about skiing king Lear last season (2019), at which time I scoffed at the idea. It’s location in the very dry Northern Black rock Desert, combined with a low elevation (8,842 ft.), didn’t give me hope of it ever acquiring a skiable snowpack. Plus, it’s just generally rocky/rugged, has lots of tall spiky vegetation, and no published information regarding good snow (not that it has a lot of published information anyway).

Fast forward to this year, and you’ll get to our story. Over the last few weekends of driving I-80, we had gotten a really good visual on snowpacks across the great basin. Using his new telephoto lens, Connor had snapped a photo of king Lear from the freeway, assuring us that it was not only snowy -but that it actually looked like good skiing. Northern Nevada has been getting hit with a good storm track (a track that missed a Tahoe for much of February), and I suspect the mountain accumulated a little more than the typical average. With (maybe) 100 inches of total snowfall, it was looking stacked!

Connor's beta pic from I-80, with arrow pointing out our dreamline

Theresa and I left Reno on Saturday afternoon, planning to camp out and meet our comrades at the trailhead Sunday morning. We were hoping to stop at a local hot hole on the way (the work week was been long, and I needed a spa day!).

With cold temperatures, snow, and wind forecast for that nigh, our fingers were crossed for a pow day. Unfortunately, the storm was kicking up a lot of dust in the desert, and we were immediately uncertain about our decision to camp. Miraculously, after driving through an intense blizzard on rough roads in the dark, the storm abated. We were treated to a calm night, and woke up to beautiful weather and a dusting of snow the next day. You never know what it might be like unless you go!

Theresa is stoked (?) that we found a gravel pit to camp in

Typical Nevada middle of the road fire...

Connor and Lacey showed up while we were enjoying coffee, and a nice morning sage brush fire. We took in views of the peak from its east side, and then loaded up my truck for the nasty approach road. 45 minutes later and we had made it successfully to the South Jackson Mountains Wilderness boundary, a little mud and a lot of sage under the tires. That road ended up being one of the worst I’ve driven in a while, and I think we were all quite happy to start walking through the sage.

Lacey on the approach

It looked like we had a mile or two still to go to reach snowline, so we packed up and began hiking. Despite the Jackson Mountains having a good snow pack, they are predominantly wilderness down to low elevations (so no roads), and still don’t get that much snow. But, the Great Basin cross-country hiking was easy as per usual, and the views fantastic! About 45 minutes later we were slapping on skins, stoked to be on snow!

The basin always offers good views!

Snow conditions were decent for a place that sees maybe 15 inches of annual precipitation, although most would consider it dust on crust, or windblown dust on crust, or windblown dust on crust on sage, or some variant of that. And so with some difficulty, we skinned up the east side of the peak, our sights set on a dramatic ramp that cut through the summit cliffs. King Lear is a complex, steep, and dramatic mountain. We saw numerous other ways up and down, but the same obvious line remained our focus -it was too sick looking to deviate from.

The final push to the ridge!

A steep yet short section of booting took us to the summit ridge, where some class 3 scrambling and ice ledges lead to the top. High fives were shared all around, and we basked in the glorious views. The Black Rock desert playa spread out expansively 5,000 feet below us, with the Pine Forest Range, Granites, and numerous other mountains dotting the distant horizon.

Summit stoke

Looking down, we were happy to see that the line directly from the summit was less steep and scary than it had looked from afar -and that it would be skiable from the top of the peak! A convoluted strip of snow lead down to a saddle, where the slanted panel of snow dove east off the mountain. Although conditions were a little scratchy, we all took turns skiing the steep line with different styles. At the bottom, we grinned and debated names for our strip of snow. Names like... "Coronavirus"! Had it ever been skied before? That was the topic of a whole separate debate.

Theresa drops from the summit.

Lacey drops...don't miss that turn!

A little sage poking through on the "coronavirus chute".

After the summit shot, we found a bowl with some wind-deposited pow turns, which eventually lead into another convoluted gully with some more pow turns. At each twist and turn, the mountain presented more distinct lines and convoluted chutes for us to gawk at. Stoke tanks full, we headed up for another lap on the northeast bowl.

Connor loves basin skiing. Perhaps he's actually part Nevadan?

Theresa in the surprise pow bowl!

And anyway, it's late and tired of writing this I'm going to make the last part of this short on words and thick on pictures. The skiing was good, so we did a bunch more. Connor and I skied a nice gully off the west side of the peak -straight towards the black rock playa, while the girls opted to head back towards the truck.

Straight towards the playa

A kind of random and low angle line, that was actually super fun and playful to yo-yo!

We also peeked onto the alluring North face of the mountain, a complex network of chutes and cliffs. One particular line seemed like the obvious path of least resistance, but would it go? We're not sure, but I think we'll be back with a rope at some point! Has anyone ever really skied or scoped it? It's remote and hidden nature makes me think not. Food to fuel future motivation...

Connor scoping

The North Couloir, does it go?

Finally we were on our last run, and all too soon we were hopping sagebrush snow islands and then chasing shadows back to the truck. Beers were shared, laughs were had, the sunset was amazing, and it was time to head back to Reno for the workweek.

In conclusion...go ski that mountain!


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