Apr 21 2014

TR: North side of Mt. Lassen


Mt. Lassen's north side from treeline.

Mt. Lassen’s north side from treeline.

Meeting people through the internet has always seemed a bit weird. The concept isn’t what is weird. Meeting strangers at a party, in a bar, through a dating service, or a notice on a kiosk is always a bit of an adventure with the unknown. The internet is just the electronic version of how strangers rub virtual elbows before actually meeting.

What is weird is the perverse perspective that results when you see the side of a persons personality they chose to project on the internet before meeting them. That face may or may not sync with their actual personage. To be sure half of that is due to what is lost in translation. The other half is due to what leaks through between the lines. It was the latter half that had me a bit nervous to join an ad hoc meeting of BCTalk regulars for a ski tour on Mt. Lassen.

Breaking out of the trees and moving up the NE side of Lassen.

Breaking out of the trees and moving up the NE side of Lassen.

Considering I already knew and had met three of the attendees beforehand there was a reasonable safety net of social security. Though I’ve met a few backcountry skiers I’d rather not tour with, in more than 30 years that number is still no more than my thumbs.

There was a surprisingly good turnout, with about a dozen people in the Devastated Zone parking lot on the north side of Mt. Lassen (~10 mi. S on Hwy. 89 from the N. park entrance). From the cars there at 9 am, it looked like there were another one-to-two dozen others with the same general objective. Six of us, Baaahb, Bobs, MattJ, Mr. and Mrs. Quadzilla and myself were there to meet, some for the first time, and make turns on Lassen’s north side.

Matt J skinning up Lassen with Mt. Shasta behind.

Matt J skinning up Lassen with Mt. Shasta behind.

It had all the makings of a classic cluster with a group of strangers heading out into the backcountry on a good sized tour in potentially dangerous terrain with no acknowledged leader and a lot of suppressed egos. It wasn’t like anyone was overtly exerting theirs, but it was evident by how we moved as a disjointed group through the trees and patches of snow down low that nobody was leading, nobody was following, and nobody wanted to take control by force so we all sort of meandered in the same direction through the trees. Once we hit consistent snow it was easier to move as a group as the trees fell away and the slopes of snow rose above us.

We had a quick pow-wow at treeline on the days objective. At the cars we had all agreed that making the summit was not the goal, getting good turns was. My original proposal was to head for the east facing slopes of the north ridge of Lassen. In theory it would be protected from the wind and more likely to corn up. However, as we broke out of the trees I realized the northeast bowloir descending from the eastern ridge of Lassen ought to yield the same conditions without slogging across a mile of relatively flat terrain. Three abstained and three voted for it, so we turned left and began ascending the days objective.

Mt. Shasta lingers beyond as Lynnzilla skins up Lassen's NE corner.

Lynnzilla skins up Lassen’s NE corner,
Mt. Shasta in the distance.

Though we had a relatively late start by alpine standards, a gusty wind threatened to steal untethered toques and kept the snow from softening too quickly. In the end that would be a benefit, but while ascending it meant that a steeper skin line yielded better grip.

Mrs. Q asked me if I thought it was okay that everyone was making their own tracks. The implication was we were tracking up all the untracked. If it were a powder day we’d want to conserve the slope, but it wasn’t. Besides, in the current al dente corn conditions, where grip was good but marginal, it made more sense for everyone to use untracked snow for grip, rather than a single track where it was compromised.

Quadzilla loves to skin.

Quadzilla loves to skin.

On a powder day it doesn’t make sense for everyone to break their own trail, and etiquette demands conservation of untracked terrain. However, I’m a big believer in everyone setting, or following, a line that fits their own personal rhythm and optimal angle of ascent. In these conditions setting your own line meant better grip. Even though that meant skin track chaos, where there’s no harm, there’s also no foul. If it really mattered we could’ve imposed the beer rule where you owe a beer if you cross another skier’s tracks but on this day, with corn snow and a group of relative strangers, who could enforce it?

MattJ harvesting corn.

MattJ harvesting corn.

Upon reaching the throat of the bowloir we finally found a semi-flat spot in the rock wall to our right and took a lunch break. Bobs still had energy to burn so he kept skinning higher while the rest of us refueled and hydrated up. Above this point the slope continued to steepen, and with rock walls to shield it from the wind, it was also quickly turning to deep mush. Below the lunch stop the snow was now perfectly ripe corn, slow-roasted in the sun with the wind to keep it from rotting. Bobs position above us beckoned for Matt and I to continue on but after 30 knee-deep steps while booting it I decided it would only sap precious energy for dubious snow. That energy would be better used for a second lap on the corn below. I stomped out a platform to click back into my skis and join the others who had already begun their descent. Matt continued up but inevitably reached the same conclusion shortly after Bobs skied by him.

Tracks on velvet smooth corn snow.

Tracks on velvet smooth corn snow.

Baaahb had already taken an early descent and was just topping out on his second climb when the Quadzillas made tracks to the bottom. I followed shortly thereafter, Bobs came next, and before I had skins on for a second lap Matt started leaving his signature on the slope. The corn was too sweet to leave, so Bobs and I skinned up for another lap and Baaahb figured he had the energy for one more too. The snow was a bit softer this lap which made skinning even easier, and faster, than the first go round.

The run back through the lower slopes was a fun cruise where the key was to maintain momentum through the sticky patches without getting closed out by sections of rock and dirt that grew more prevalent the further we descended until we were practicing the common rite of spring skiing to link the absolute last skiable patch of snow through, in this case, ever tighter stands of adolescent pines.

The days harvest in the NE bowloir on Mt. Lassen.

The days harvest in the NE bowloir on Mt. Lassen.

Just as we began, everyone followed their own path through the woods with some landing on the road above the trailhead, some below, but all eventually straggling back by 2pm. Beers and hors d’ouevres were passed around and we finally had the opportunity, and breath, to engage in apres conversation. It ran the gamut. Even though there was disparity on the subjects of religion and politics, all politely deferred to differences. On subjects of highest importance we were of the same mind — it doesn’t matter if you ski free heel or locked, chasing powder is not why i-earn-my-turns, and 90mm at the waist is enough, anything more is a waste. So good to see the faces behind the facades and ski with the people of the BackcountryTalk forum. It’s going to be a short spring touring season, but hopefully I’ll ski with you out there, if not now, then later.

© 2014

BCTalk related thread: Lassen Mid-April Trip

  • charley white

    Nice,… thanks! Wait…”90mm at the waist is enough, anything more is a waste.” You mean 100 upper limit, or 90? I know the catechism; no hardfast, smile rules, and know you’re not talking powder, It’s just that I’m currently looking at 80-90 & feeling like an oddball, so….curious as to specific campfire consensus. (sorry to have missed the trip.)
    Charley White

  • Dostie

    Call it 90ish, give or take. If you’re in the 85ish camp, good on ya. If you’re in the 105 camp, close enough. If you’re over 110, the concensus was that’s too fat. Pick yer poison and “rung what you brung.” If you’re in the 80-90 camp you’re not odd, you’re old. But so am I. ;)

  • Nikolas T

    what site are all of you meeting on the internet? I live in the Chico area and would be interested in attending some backcountry trips to learn more about it.

    Also is there any good access from the south entrance for skiing?


  • Dostie

    The forum this began on is called BackcountryTalk. There is direct link at the bottom of this story to the thread where the trip began. Or you can click on the BCTalk link in the nav bar at the top of the site.

    South access may not be available until mid-May. The approach from Emigrant Pass on the N isn’t as long as I remembered and easily worth a little extra hiking/skinning for the results. More snow in the forecast this weekend (26apr14), so grab it shortly thereafter.

  • http://www.sierradescents.com/ Andy Lewicky

    Put me in the 90ish camp. :) Beautiful turns, Dostie. Wish I was there!