"Pole Creek the Hard Way"

March 10-11, 2001

  Lucy O'Brien on Silver Peak
Lucy O'Brien on Silver Peak
Trip report by Lucy O'Brien

Like the first robin or the first California poppy, a sure sign of spring is the first appearance of Bob's yellow Patagonia shorts. So we were all delighted to see Bob sporting his auspicious spring ski attire on this warm, sunny Saturday as we gathered at the Pole Creek trailhead, we being Bob (our trip initiator), Cathy Bianco, Dave Schneider, Dave's four-footed companion Sierra, Mark Chin, and me. Carol Palecki was supposed to come, but at the last minute decided to use her kayak for its intended purpose instead of simply hauling it around on her car roof.

Now, you may know the Pole Creek trailhead off Hwy. 89 as the starting point for a gentle kick-n-glide up a road to the Bradley Hut. That would be the easy way. Not that there's anything wrong with going easy, but why do it the easy way when you can do it the hard way? This being our philosophy, our intent was to hike up the road a ways, go up the north side of Pole Creek, cross over into the adjacent Deep Creek drainage, climb up Tinker Knob, then back over to Pole Creek, summit Silver Peak (passing Bradley Hut in the process), and ski down the road on the south side of Pole Creek back to the cars. All told about 5000 ft of climbing in two days, mostly with full packs. In anticipation, I had included a few extra tablespoons of butter in my instant mashed potatoes breakfast.

  David Schneider on Silver Peak
David Schneider on Silver Peak
Lugging packs and skis down the road to our starting point, we pinheads are a source of entertainment for the Alpine/Squaw crowd crawling along bumper-to-bumper. Cathy receives several catcalls, and at least one driver appreciates Bob's spring outfit as much as we do, calling out "Your shorts make me hot!" Singing songs from "Oh Brother Where Art Thou", we start up alongside Pole Creek, a pleasant route with the morning sunlight filtering through the trees. I am quickly falling behind until I discover that the fabric of my new Ascension kicker skins was mounted with the grain going in the wrong direction. Amazing! I replace them with my old skins and continue on.

By midmorning, the snow becomes wet and sticks to the bottoms of our skis in the most cumbersome way. Mark comes to the rescue, brandishing a purple block of Glopstopper skin wax, which he deftly applies to our skins. This gives David the opportunity to expound on the relationship between skin wax and back surgery:

Mark (explaining): See, the wax increases the hydrophobicity of the skins . . .

David (interrupting): I don't need to know details. It's like, when my back was hurting, I went to the doc. Doc, can you fix this? Good, then fix it. Mark, you got some good wax? Good, then wax it.

Don't ask questions.

  Mark Chin on Silver Peak
Mark Chin starts down Silver Peak, pre-wipeout
With progress restored, we continue upwards and cross over into the Deep Creek drainage. Deep Creek lives up to its name, as a deep canyon surrounded by dramatic rock formations marks its headwaters. It is stunning, and we choose as our campsite a bench with a beautiful head-on view of the canyon. Bob and David head off to Tinker Knob, while Cathy stays behind to build the kitchen and I stay behind to get a lesson in midology from Mark.

I'd slept in megamids before, although not in the snow. I had thought of them as a sort of lightweight, minimalist tent. Little did I realize that mids represent a camping philosophy, and that setting them up in snow is a lengthy ritual on par with a Passover seder. An hour later, Mark and I finally finish, with one side of the mid hopelessly dangling loose in the pit. Cathy is putting the final touches on the kitchen, complete with seating for big behinds and skinny behinds. She thankfully does not designate which space is intended for which person. (Next time, Cathy, you will have to include some tenacious Ionic columns.) As we cook dinner and melt snow, we are treated to an almost-full moonrise.

The next morning Mark and I awake to a wet nose insistently nudging our faces. Sierra! She had gotten in through the loose side of the mid. With no way of keeping her out, we are forced to abandon the warm bags and think about how to thaw out frozen water bottles. Bob, it really got down to 12F last night? No wonder my butt was cold! But the morning sun works wonders, and soon we are tromping off to Silver Peak under bluebird skies.

After a thorough discussion of avi hazards, Bob leads the way across an interesting traverse above the headwaters of Pole Creek. The idea is to save ourselves about 500 feet of climbing en route to Silver Peak. Unfortunately, a cliff appears out of nowhere and forces us to retreat down a slope of breakable crust (Mark's favorite), skirt the cliff, and climb back up. This was Pole Creek the hard way, after all. But we all make it up to the wind-scoured top of Silver Peak via its west flank. Dropping down off the top, we are given a treat: on a protected easterly slope, the wind-scoured hard pack transforms into about 20 turns worth of fluffy, powdery ego snow before becoming breakable crust. I don't anticipate the change to crust and am pitched forward violently, slicing my lip with my pole. The lip swells up instantly, but hey, that run was worth looking like a baboon for a few days.

The party over, we gingerly pick our way through breakable crust to get back to the cars. When we reach the Bradley Hut road, it is late afternoon and the soft snow on the trail has refrozen into an icy, rutted mess that goes on for miles. A fitting end for Pole Creek the Hard Way.

-Lucy O'Brien, 3/14/01

More pictures on the Pole Creek main page