Donner to Squaw

March 23, 1996

We actually got another foot of snow up there on Friday! Which wasn't what we were hoping for, since we had plans to ski the classic Donner-to-Squaw tour on Saturday, and for such a long tour, firm snow sure is nice.

But what else were we going to do? So the five of us packed up our rucksacks and drove to Squid Valley to drop off a car. Then on to Sugar Bowl. We parked next to Alpine Skills Institute at Donner Pass on US40, slapped skins on our telemark skis, checked our beacons and off we went.

Not far from ASI, this dog started walking along with us. The hound happened to know Ken in our group, since Ken had been on an ASI clinic, and the dog, Jesse, belonged to one of the ski instructors.

We skied into the Sugar Bowl resort, upwards and underneath the new Mt. Judah chairlift. We stayed in the trees, only seeing occasional downhillers, as we gained elevation towards our first goal, Mt. Lincoln. 400' short of the top of Lincoln, we returned to the groomed stuff and climbed further alongside the ski run. The dog, still with us, ran out onto the piste causing a couple of downhillers to fall. Ken and Barb tried to keep the dog under control.

At the summit, we took off the skins and descended onto the heavily corniced Anderson Ridge, which we would follow for much of the day. The storm that was now blowing its last flakes had been a windy one, so there wasn't much fresh stuff on the ridge line.

After following the ridge for a ways, we came upon a nice hill to the right that was a fine powder pocket. We telemarked down it, our carved turns cushioned nicely. We couldn't help but to yell for joy.

Then we put skins back on, and climbed back along the ridge to the Sierra Club's Benson Hut at the base of Anderson Peak. It was windy, so we climbed into the top floor entrance to have our snack inside. We'd been skiing four hours and that silly dog was still with us. Me & Jester shared a knish and some pizza bread.

Cathy was really not herself at this point. For good reason: The last time she did this tour several years ago, she took a bad fall on an icy slope, and damaged her leg and pelvis badly enough to require hospitalization. We were approaching the site of her fall, and all these wonderful views were giving her terrible flashbacks. She couldn't eat much.

We took off our skis and kick-stepped to the top of Anderson. From there we followed the ridge some more towards Tinker's Knob. The wind was blasting us from the east, blowing swirls of snow up off the cornice. At Tinkers, we removed skins once again, and skied off the notch, finally dropping off the ridge to its west side.

Long sweeping traverses, with some occasional tele-turns, took us across towards the next pass. The snow was powdery, but sun-moistened on top. Slow going, and time was going by so fast. Now down to 8000', the pass elevation, we put on skins and traversed on contour. The dry snow underneath wet was causing our skins to ice up badly, slowing us down.

At 5:30 we took a break. Andy poured some water into his shovel-blade for the dog to drink. We all chowed down some snacks, but before anyone could get comfy I got the group going again. Not much daylight left.

We made the pass by 6. No more skiers to be seen on the moguls of Granite Chief at this hour. And no more sunshine for us in Shirley Canyon. Gulp... hey kids, looks like 2000' of breakable crust.

They say everyone should ski some really bad snow once in a while. That's what we had. Survival skiing, careful traverses, kick-turns, parallel skids when we found some nice consistent slopes whose crust held solid. We all took our share of falls. We enjoyed a brief stretch of ski-trail near the base of Squaw's Silverado chair, then back into the forest.

It was getting dark. Stars were appearing. We followed some snowshoe tracks until the right side opened up. Then we traversed by crescent- moonlight towards the orange lights of Olympic Village. Five shadows and the dog, skidding along in the dark, negotiating the terrain by sight and by feel. Quite strange, eerie, wonderful.

We hit some condo parking lot at 7 PM sharp. We all congratulated each other. We had done very well with some less-than-ideal snow conditions. And Jesse! You are one gnarly dog!

We all piled into Ken's sedan, Barb holding Jesse in the front seat. Back at ASI, Jesse lept out of the car, spotting his owner a few seconds before we did. She had been extremely worried. Jesse never misses dinner, you know. We told her all about our tour. Apparently, this was Jesse's first stroll over to Squaw Valley. Then we went and ate a lot of pizza, and drank a lot of water.

-Bob Akka, 3/24/96

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