Disaster Peak Tour
- Mostly moderate hilly terrain with some kind of steep slopes (30 degrees)
- 30 miles in 3 days
- Cumulative gain, loss: +5400', -6800'
- Avg. Relief: 500'/mile
- Topos: Markleeville, Dardanelle Cone, Sonora Pass (15'); Ebbetts Pass,
Dardanelle Cone, Disaster Pk., Sonora Pass (7.5')
Are you up for an adventure? This tour is long and tough, and it traverses a section
of the Sierra Crest that few people ski. There's a lot of varied terrain, and though
this route can be done with only moderate technical challenges, it is a tough tour.
We finally skied it in May 1999; parts of it went surprisingly smoothly, while a
couple of sections went slowly. Overall, it was a rewarding, unique tour.
The best approach to timing this tour is to wait until just after Sonora Pass Road (108)
and Ebbetts Pass Road (4) are open, usually mid-May. It can also be done a few weeks
earlier than that, once 108 is cleared up to within about 3 miles of the pass (11 miles
west of 395) on its eastern side, by which time the east side of Hwy 4 should also be
cleared up to around Silver Creek (7 miles west of 89). (For the most accurate
information about exactly where these roads are closed, call the local Caltrans
maintenance stations: 530-694-2241 for Hwy 4, 760-932-7261 for Hwy 108.) Or I suppose
you could do the tour much earlier and add even more road walking miles. If you
do the tour much later than mid-May, you're likely to start losing snow coverage.
The tour's average elevation is just over 9000'. Parking is available at both ends.
From Sonora Pass, drive or ski alongside the road northwest for about a mile, before
heading due north. Head over the ridge at an elevation of about 10200' to 10400', and
contour along the west side of the Sierra Crest, to the south of Stanislaus Peak. Then
continue to contour around Stan's west side, as it becomes a somewhat steep traverse
around Stan's north side. Once on the east side of the crest, ski the bowl (above photo)
down to the pass. Then follow the crest northward around the east side of Peak 10379'; this is
best done by gaining about 100' or so towards the peak, and then doing a sort of steep
traverse across the peak's east slopes.
Continue to traverse to a NE-facing gulley. Descend that a few hundred feet, and
continue to traverse. There are some good campsite possibilities around here, with
outstanding views of this canyon of the upper East Fork Carson.
Next, continue northward near and along the crest for a few miles. This involves some
descending, some traversing, and a lot of rather convoluted tree-covered terrain.
I won't try to describe the detailed route through here, except to say that you should
generally stay east of the crest until you start to ascend the south shoulder of
Boulder Peak. Then, turn westward to the south of Boulder Peak, doing a mild descent,
and then ski uphill towards Disaster Peak. From Disaster's east side, head northwest
to the north side of Disaster Peak, and continue to follow the Sierra Crest up the
summit ridge towards the top of Arnot Peak.
Looking down Nobel Canyon
Arnot Peak is named for an 19th century Alpine County superior court judge. And I'll
bet he was mean too. Arnot's summit ridge is steeply corniced to the north and
strewn with steep volcanic rubble to the south, so once you get to the summit ridge,
you'll want to drop back down a few hundred feet to the south and traverse around
the summit. Then climb back to about 9800' just west of Arnot and ski down the very
fine north-facing bowl to the west of the summit. We took Camp 2 at the base of this
There are three options on the third day, so choose your poison:
Note that this tour has an unusual amount of relatively level and rolling terrain for a
Sierra crest tour, so waxless patterned skis are highly recommended. Also, I can tell
you that you'll need to be really on-the-ball with map and compass, and good at matching
minor terrain features with them contour lines. My altimeter came in handy too. Enjoy!
- The safe and sedate way home would be to head west from there over to near
Highland Lakes, and ski out to Hwy 4 via the snow-covered dirt road. This road will
leave you a few miles west of Ebbetts Pass.
- Or, here's what we did: Continued north from our bowl down Arnot, and then went NW
along the north side of the Mokelumne River's headwaters. Then we turned northward again,
and ascended to the pass just east of Tryon Peak, and descended Nobel Canyon (second photo) all the way
down to Hwy 4. This went pretty well for all but the last two miles. Below 7500', the
trees get pretty dense, snow cover gets spotty, and if you're doing this tour in
mid-May, there's a raging creek crossing with no bridge, which is totally undoable
unless you find a good fallen tree to shimmy across (as we did). And don't try to cross
to the west side of Nobel Creek until around 7400', or the canyon walls will force you
back to the east side.
- An untested option that looks sort of doable on the map would be to attain the
same pass just east of Tryon Peak, descend just a few hundred feet, and then
traverse the north side of the crest out to near Ebbetts Pass. This route appears
to have a few steep traverses, at least one of which seemed to have a big honkin'
cornice right above it, so no guarantees on what kind of fun this route will be.
General info and disclaimer about backcountry skiing
Go to BobSkiing.com Home Page