Location: Star Peak east side -Star Creek Drainage - and Buena Vista Valley
Snowpack: Thin with lots of exposed sagebrush, not particularly deep, but drifted and consolidated. Patches of skiable snow exist above 7,500 ft., and (as is typical of Nevada) the snowpack is very supportable despite exposed brush. More fun than you'd expect looking from a distance!
Weather: Blizzarding hard with heavy winds higher up on the mountain, though the frozen baselayer seemed to have softened somewhat prior to new snow, and was generally bonding well.
Story: Despite many back-to-back weekends of long drives on I-80, dusty roadbed fires, and stinky sleeping bags -I was clamoring for some more NV adventure. However, the forecast was calling for potential powder in Tahoe on Sunday, which seemed like something to not pass up. This season has procured quite the shortage of powpow, so I knew that I needed to get some if it fell! Unfortunately, the Great Basin looked to be in a major rainshadow, so our plan would be clear: check out someplace close on Saturday, then blast back home for some Sunday snow farming.
Leaving town every weekend can also take a toll on friends and hangout time. Theresa and I really wanted to see some of my buddies, who had just returned from a trip to Colorado (no they don't have Coronavirus -yet). So with the weather forecast in mind, we asked them if they'd want to go hot springing, and check out some peaks if it wasn't ripping wind/snow (the contingency plan was just to have a full day NV spa experience).
Some Friday texts/calls made Clynt and Sara seem stoked on the plan, though they were going to drive out first thing Saturday morning and meet us. "Oh ya dude, we're totally in!" I heard on the other end of the line. "But Clynt is too tired to drive tonight, and my car is out of comission. I've been waking up at 5AM every day though, so we'll blast out and see you for sunrise from the tubs!"
I thought that plan sounded fine, but of course there was no cell service at the spa -this being rural NV. We could have waited, butTheresa and I were determined to have a relaxing friday evening under the stars, plus I wanted to do some tinkering on an old tub that was currently out of commission. With that in mind, we set out for the West Humboldts...NOT the East Humboldt Range for a change.
Star Peak and the West Humboldts from their east side. You better believe the cow warning signs!
And so, as the sun set on another beautiful Friday night, Theresa and I found ourselves packing the truck for yet another weekend adventure. This time, we weren’t sure if we would actually go skiing or not, but we were merely excited to wake up in the desert and hopefully spend time with our friends!
A couple hours later, and we were turning off the freeway, headed south from Mill City Nevada -a blip on the map the few are familiar with. Signs dot the narrow 2 Lane Rd., most of them warning about cows. I squinted into the darkness, while Theresa napped obliviously in the passenger seat. A few minutes later and two dark blobs emerged rapidly from the night. One a dead pummeled piled of flesh in the middle of the road, and the other a very live cow standing alongside it. I slammed the brakes and swerved, no doubt giving Theresa a miniature heart attack from her dreams, but was happy to not have created any additional ground beef.
Soon we were on the dirt road, and short while later we had made it to the hot springs. Theresa napped in the car while I fiddled around with some hoses and siphons, an engineering project I have been dreaming about all week. Stoked with my ingenuity, the large concrete and rock tub began to fill, and I reveled in that I soak we would have the next morning with our friends. After a short sleepy soak in one fo the other functioning tubs, I was soon setting up the tent, coaxing my tired girlfriend into it, and settling down for the night myself.
In the morning, we awoke to calm winds and beautiful skies. I wanted to sleep in, but I was anxious -thinking that our friends would show up at any minute. I also wanted to see how the tub that started filling was doing. Around eight I jumped out of bed, and to my dismay saw a mostly empty pool filled with not much water. Unfortunately the tub featured a number of cracks in the concrete bottom, and had spent the night draining as much as it filled. Slightly disappointed, I set myself to filling and cleaning the other nearby (functioning) soaks. As Theresa and I sat and enjoyed the morning, we kept her eyes out for our friends and took shelter from the ever increasing winds. As the day progressed, the mountains became more socked in with clouds, and the winds only increased. However, we remained toasty in our private pots of human bone broth.
No I won't give you any hot spring beta. Yes its nice.
Around noon, we were definitely convinced that our friends wouldn't show up. We debated about how long to wait before bailing on them, but with no cell phone service we didn’t want to make the wrong decision. Based on their enthusiasm the night before, I felt certain that they would show up. Where were Clynt and Sarah?!?!?! Surely they would have to show up. I was also worried that maybe, just maybe, they had hit that cow on the road, or had broken down, or worse. Maybe they had tried to call us but we simply hadnt gotten the message. What if they were stranded out there in the desert? I pushed the thought aside… knowing full well that it was Saturday, and they probably just wanted to sleep.
Finally, around 1:30, Theresa and I made the call to go check out some skiing! We hopped in the truck and drove across the valley to the East Humboldt Range. In the daylight, we could easily see cows on the road, but somehow couldn’t quite seem to find the right trailhead access road. After some struggling we managed to find Star Creek and drove up, closer and closer to the mountain. The further up we got, the worse the weather also got. Soon we were driving in a blizzard, crossing the creek, and inundated in a full white out.
Go skiing? ok!!
I asked Theresa if she still wanted to go skiing, to which she voiced her enthusiasm! Despite the white out, and the fact that the visible skiing was a strip of snow-covered road about 6 feet wide, we were optimistic that we could find something better. We began our ascent in the blizzard, heads down, but determined to at least scope out the zone.
Getting on to snowpack!
After a little while, some enormous cliffss came into view and a nice looking chute. Unfortunately we couldn’t see up it, and we didn’t know what snow might be depositing at the top of it, with the wind and blizzard. We debated the merits of trying to climb it to the top, but decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea in the intense storm. Instead we opted to ski the sagebrush covered slope that was tucked under a nice cliffy buttress.
As the snow accumulated, we skinned uphill. Unfortunately it didn’t accumulate enough to make a powder day, and the clouds in fact parted just as we were nearing the top of our secondary goal. We took in beautiful views of mahogany covered slopes, much of the rest of the range to the south, and the Buena Vista Valley. Before long it was time to drop in!
Mahogany, cliffs, chutes. Oh yes...another great Nevada zone with shitloads of potential! We'll be back.
I opted to hit a small limestone chute, with a technical mahogany choked entrance. Theresa meanwhile decided to shred the slope to its left – probably the smarter and safer decisions. After I made some punchy hop turns and reconnected with her, we smiled our way down a sagebrush stunt ditch all the way back to the car. Eventually the road skiing got extra thin and narrow, and I skidded to a tumbling halt amongst 3 foot tall sagebrush, NOT my most graceful finish. A fitting end to brief Nevada tour! Theresa cruised up slightly more moderately, and finished off with a nice pizza, a smile, and a high five. We hit the road back to Reno, and avoided any cows.
Blah Blah Blah...obligatory ski shots. Check out that sweet couloir though! Straight up to the top of Star Peak.
Star Peak sunset...time to go home and not hit any beefs.
So what happened to our friends? Well… Without ratting them out too much, I will just say that at least one of our guesses was the correct one. Sometimes the desire to sleep in on a Saturday outweighs the desire to have an adventure in the desert. Maybe next time guys!