Tioga Pass Opening Weekend – April 2012

This Adventure of the Week comes from TMS owner, Dave, who ventured down to the Eastern Sierra to salvage this crazy, low-snow season for some high elevation, alpine fun!

Who: Dave, Andy from Sierra Descents, Zach, Sara and Molly the dog

What: Backcountry spring skiing

Where: Tioga Pass Road, the Eastern Gateway to Yosemite National Park

Gear: Deuter Guide 45 Pack, Black Diamond crampons and ice axe, Sol Sunscreen, Mammut Gobi Hat and so much more……..

Caltrans doesn’t take a big liking to skiers I don’t think, but when fishing season is due to open, you can rest assured that means most of the roads on the Eastern Sierra are going to try and open. And luck just has it that every year, the fishing opener coincides with some of the best spring skiing the country has to offer. Yup, right in our own backyard, the Eastern Sierra is a spring skiing mecca, and when the roads open up to 9,000 ft+, you can’t really go wrong.

View of False White from the parking area on Hwy 120

View of False White from the parking area on Hwy 120

Being a horrible snow year in this part of the Sierra, we were quickly turned around from a lower route on Mt. Koip due to miles of hiking that would have had to be done on dirt, and instead opted for the snow start and end. We parked at the intersection of Saddlebag Lake Rd and Hwy 120 both days. False White is a pretty easy and straightforward 2.5–3 hour climb from this parking area. Saturday was super warm with almost no wind, so we opted to explore a bit as the regular descent (southeast face) was a bit mushy already. Instead, we headed to this notch we spotted that would drop us on the north side into the Skeleton Lakes Basin.

The shoulder on False White by which we accessed the North Bowls

The shoulder on False White by which we accessed the North Bowls

This proved to be a great choice as the skiing stayed wintery over there and gave us an extra long tour to get out. We were still off the snow by 2pm as the warming was getting extreme and the snow was turning quickly. Our views and ideas just as quickly turned to Sunday and the idea to bag one of the couloirs on Mt. Conness.

For Sunday, Andy from Sierra Descents and Sara (Zach’s wife) met up with us for what was sure to be an epic. I had never traveled in the winter back to Saddlebag Lake and Conness in particular so I was extremely excited to see this new terrain and ski some of the best stuff we could find.  We started at 6:30am to ensure the midday heat would not be as much of a problem as it was on Saturday and headed out towards Saddlebag Lake. Once rounding Saddlebag, getting overtaken by some super fast and crazy backcountry Nordic skiers (see this photo album), we pushed on to the Conness Glacier and eventually the Y-couloirs on another route to the ridge.

The Conness Basin as seen once rounding Saddlebag Lake

The Conness Basin as seen once rounding Saddlebag Lake

It took about 4ish hours to reach the base of the Y-Couloirs and based on the look of them and the possible bergshrunds that we could see in the shorter, Summit Couloirs, we decided this was the way to go. Crampons and axes out, we headed up. Andy lead the first half and then I took over for the second on some pretty steep and exposed terrain; we sure were happy to have those crampons on. After about an hour in the chute, we pulled up and over and were on the ridge with a view out into the rest of the Sierra that can’t be beat.

Sierra PanoramicThe snow in the chute was perfect, edgeable and carveable with even a little pow thrown in for fun. And then, the way out was just perfect soft, corn snow and we were able to kick and glide our way back to the car without donning skins again. This video from Andy at Sierra Descents pretty much sums it up. Can’t wait to get out there again!

See the rest of the pictures from this Tioga Pass skiing trip on our Facebook Album.

Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe
Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe
MSRP: $109.95

The Tahoe Mountain Sports Adventure of the Week blog series takes a walk, hike, bike, or Eastern Sierra backcountry ski trip in someone else’s shoes, from pro athletes to local Tahoe adventurers. Let us know if you’ve got an adventure to share.



Founder and Owner of Tahoe Mountain Sports and www.tahoemountainsports.com


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