Sonora to Sawtooth

May 11-15, 2001

  Helga skis Tower Peak
Helga skis down Tower Peak's spectacular northeast side
As our shuttle van chugged up the east side of Sonora Pass, we wondered aloud whether we'd have enough snow to ski on. Snowdrifts at 8000' were non-existant, and the surrounding peaks seemed to be more brown than white. But we had our skis on just a mile or two from the trailhead, and later in the day we were looking out across the Sierra Crest, stretching towards and beyond Tower Peak. It was beautiful, and it was snow-covered!

The next morning it was storming, but that cleared up after an hour or so. Cathy, Helga, and I meandered through the upper Cherry Creek drainage, over to Bond Pass and then to Dorothy Lake. It wasn't even 3PM yet, but the campsite (dry, soft pine needles) was too perfect to pass up, and who knew when it might start storming again? The women did yoga while I tended to snow-melting chores.

The snow had been pretty slushy, thanks to cloudy nights that never got much below freezing. But by Day 3, we'd wised up, waking at dawn and skiing by 7. The cool morn gave us the confidence to shortcut over Dorothy Lake, until we noticed that some of our pole-plants were feeling kind of liquidy. Past Lake Helen, we skinned up a pass and descended the other side, enjoying our first really good tele run. Then we ascended to the bench just beneath Tower Peak and ripped some fine turns down from that. That seemed to be enough work and play to earn us some lunch, and so we stopped at a nice sunny boulder. Then it started snowing and didn't quit until we left. The funny thing though is that it remained sunny throughout. It occurred to me that snow while warm beats rain while cold, and so we proceeded up the day's 4th pass back into Yosemite NP for about the 3rd time, where we found a nice camp just before a graupel storm.

  Cathy descends Mule Pass
Cathy descending the east side of Mule Pass
Day 4, we had a perfect freezing morning with clear weather, which only slowed us down a little bit (I think we were skiing by 7:05), but it improved the day's snow considerably. We skidded down icy morning slopes into Kerrick Meadow, and worked our way around Peeler Lake (skiing across it seemed unwise). This circumference stuff put us a little off-route, but some walking, step-kicking, and cautious side-slips eventually got us around and down to Robinson Lakes and then Crown Lake, where we skinned up and reentered Yosemite yet again at Mule Pass, descending the still firm snow to a beautiful Camp 4, at the base of the western Sawtooths.

Helga and Cathy returned from filling water bottles and tried to get psyched for the next morning's ascent of Mt. Eocene, which loomed above us. And we prepared for the evening's storm, which this time surprised us by not happening. Instead, the clouds stayed around and kept the night warm.

We awoke to soft snow and overcast skies. Cathy was concerned about wet snow slides, I was concerned about lightning, and on the whole, it was clear that the snow would not be all that great past mid-morning. So we decided to save the Eocene climb and descent for more worthy conditions, and exited north via Little Slide Canyon. Our early morning 1700' descent to where we ran out of snow was the best of the trip. We squeezed our final teles into the last patch of white stuff and shouldered our skis. 3 hours of boulder-hopping and bushwhacking later, plus a couple miles of trail hiking, and we were at the car, taking showers (a very cold natural bath, in my case), and driving home. I think that's it for the season folks, but we'll be back to ski Mt. Eocene next spring!

-Bob Akka, 5/19/01

Route info and more photos on the Sonora to Sawtooth main page