May 29-31, 1999

We converged on Hays Street Cafe in Bridgeport at 7:30, joining at least one other large backcountry ski group in crowding out all the regular tourists and locals. Then we ran shuttle and regrouped at the Saddlebag Lake turnout near Tioga Pass. There were a shocking 14 of us, me (Bob), Cathy, Menno, Larry, Carol, Sandra, Jay, Mark, Laurent, Isamu, Tina, Jocelyne, David, and Barbara. Two more people and we would have been illegal. Or maybe we were already illegal (you picked up a permit, right Mark?)

Anyway, we got off to an easy start with the mostly snow-covered 3-mile road to Saddlebag Lake, with lunch on the dam (seems like a strange choice for a bunch of wilderness granola eaters, but hey, it's dry and it's flat and there are metal thingies to lean packs against). And already, there were trivia questions (sorry gang, but I lied: California's lowest fourteener is Thunderbolt, not Muir).

We continued onward to a nice campsite with lots of dry tent spaces, near Steelhead lake. Laurent and I went and cut some turns on the south face of a nearby slope, while several others went out to a shaded gulley to practice self-arrest skills. Still others stayed at camp and emulated elephant seals while lying in the sun, occasionally raising their elbows to cool off.

The next day's plan was, in a word, "Excelsior". Which means "higher". The cool thing about Excelsior Peak is that it has so many different rises and false summits that you are repeatedly going "higher". Eventually it looked like we were finally near the summit, which happened to be only a little bit "higher" than that. From the summit, we had a fine view of our non-snow-covered descent route. But it wasn't so bad, because past the first few hundred feet, and a very brief stretch later, there were bowls of glorious corn snow taking us all the way down to Summit Lake. Well, except for one little stretch near the bottom where we had to schuss through a little bit of avalanche debris in the shadow of not-all-that-distant cornices.

Then we shuffled around Summit Lake and dropped back into Yose NP, camping near the base of Virginia Peak. Menno and I found a cool little piece of dry ground right near Virginia Creek. I figured it would be good for about 3 tents. Which would work fine, since there were 2 Megamids, and you know how those "Mid Kids" like to make a big ritual out of digging their tent-sites into the snow; that would leave the dry spot for 3 "real" tents, and, well, tough luck for the 4th one. Well, the Mid Kids showed up and boy were they glad we found a dry spot *for them* (the other tents have *floors* and thus, we learned, don't need to be on dry ground).

At that point, everyone whipped out their tents all at once in a race to cover all available ground space (except for Menno who co-discovered the place, yet was selflessly skiing around looking for a bigger better site for everyone, while carrying his tent with him; fortunately we all saved a few square feet for Menno's & Larry's tent). In the end, we fit 5 tents on the dry ground (including both Mids), with the 6th tent on semi-dry ground that was shoveled clear of snow. Some of the tent doors opened right into other tents' rainflys, but at least we didn't have to yell during the evening's trivia quiz.

One more thing about our Virginia Canyon campsite: It was stunningly beautiful, especially when it momentarily stopped raining just before and during sunset. Mmmmm.

We awoke early and were already skiing before 8AM. The day's highlight would be Stanton Col, and everyone was really looking forward to it! We crunched our way up to the pass; the last bit being steep enough that nearly everyone took off skis and punched steps up it. The west side descent was a lot of loose rock for a couple hundred feet. We took our time getting down this, largely because the rockfall hazard in a few spots meant that only one person could descend certain stretches at a time. Overall, it wasn't that difficult. Some people needed help with packs (including me; I lowered my pack down a short section on my first descent before I found the best route), and a couple of people wanted a belay for a very brief section near the top. On the whole though, I agree with the class 3 rating, starting towards the south side of the pass and then descending towards the middle (Jay took a harder route closer to the middle-top).

From there, we did a long warm traverse out to Horse Creek Pass, which was followed by a very fine descent (we'd pause sometimes to admire each others' lines, and the ones on the slopes too, and to rest our quads) to about 8300', where we lost most of our snow cover. Trail hiking took us the rest of the way down to the shuttle cars. It was a fine trip, with a great, surprisingly strong and together group!

-Bob Akka, 6/6/99

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