Mt Morgan (S): Was That Snow Just A Bad Dream?

30 Mar 1997 - by Steve Eckert (view roster page)

Sunday (30 Mar 97) two survivors of the Pilot Knob desert experience decided to change the scenery. After crashing in Ridgecrest (a real bed and a shower!) we made a leisurely drive northward on 395 to the high country. Rock Creek is plowed to about 9000' ($3/day SnoPark permit required) so for the second day in a row we started from the cars at about 1pm. This time, however, we started thousands of feet above our peak elevation the day before.

Ski people are snobs, aren't they? I was skiing, and David Harris was on snowshoes. He was asked not to walk on the snow-cat-packed surface. We indicated that he was staying out of the groomed ski tracks. She indicated he should walk off the side of the road, hinting that the entire 10 foot wide packed roadway was reserved exclusively for skiers . Hmmm. Not today, lady! (Having used both snowshoes and skis, I completely understand that ski tracks should be left undisturbed because holes in them make skiing harder... but how can you assign the entire public road to just one group?)

The forecast was for rain in San Francisco the next day, but just partly cloudy in Ridgecrest. We figured we could sneak in a peak before it hit, and stomped up to camp around 11000' in the highest trees above Francis Lake. We had bivy bags, but I decided to try digging my first-ever snow cave after being inspired by Craig Calhoun on a trip earlier this season. It took just under an hour, and was not big enough to sit up in, but it looked sturdy and cozy. Our doubts about the forecast were fueled by big clouds, increasing wind, and gathering darkness. We finished filling the water bottles with melted snow and turned in just as it started snowing.

Bivy bag problem: If it's windy and snowing, you have to zip it up tight. If it snows a LOT, you can suffocate (he didn't). Snow cave problem: If you don't dig it right, snow blows in the door. I decided to see if my DryLoft bag would really be OK in the spindrift without a bivy bag (it was). After a restless night for both we had a brief discussion at first light about whether to make a run for the peak in gusty wind and snow (or was it just spindrift?). We decided to sit tight for a few hours and see if it quit. That never works, right? Wrong!

The clouds lifted and the snow quit, but there were still high winds whipping the remnants of the fresh snow off the peaks and ridges. We ate quickly and packed quickly, then faced the dying storm and headed up. Less than a thousand feet higher the snow was blown completely off the rocks, so I ditched my skis and we combined icy windslab with rockhopping to the summit. Crampons were not used, but plastic boots were nice to have.

Perhaps a boring class 1 rocky hike in the summer, it's great in the winter! Two other parties had already summitted Mount Morgan (13,748') this year. We saw no one on or below the mountain this windy clear post -storm day. The 10 degree temp at 10am on the summit (plus wind) was a rude slap in the face after sweltering in the desert two days before. Hey, this is California! We're SUPPOSED to be able to drive to any climate.

We shed clothes the whole way down as the wind dropped and the sun continued to shine. The fresh powder nicely covered the icy snow we had the day before, and I tracked as much of it as I could on my randonnee skis while Harris jogged along on snowshoes. I don't think I've ever skated across a meadow with a full pack before... it was more fun than I should have had, marred only by a final steep crusty slope thick with trees and brush (that's where his snowshoes left me in the dust).

Driving over Carson pass we hit some snow, but turned the heater up and continued to eat our ice cream. 12 hours after the summit we were back in San Francisco unpacking: 1000 miles, 4 seasons, 2 peaks, 1 long weekend.


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