The trip started off on an auspicious note. Tom and Jack arrived at my house 10 minutes early! We headed out of the city around 7:30 with a truckload of gear. As we crossed the Bay Bridge I asked Jack where he wanted to stop for dinner, but he was already fast asleep. After a quick dinner in Vacaville, Tom promptly joined him. I picked out a Kyuss cd and cranked the volume up a couple notches. Sleep on that, bastards. We arrived at the Lassen N. entrance around 12:30, located Eric's car and hit the sack.
The next morning we awoke to a gray day. The forecast had called for flurries. We spent some time at the ranger station getting our permit and talking to the ranger. He pointed out some good places to ski and camp. Between the 4 of us we had 3 altimeters. We considered forming our own club and naming it ARGH "Anal Retentive GearHeads." We synchronized altimeters (6000 ft) and headed out.
Jack and Eric were on randonee skis, Tom on telemark skis and I plodded along on snowshoes. Our route followed a trail up to Manzanita creek where we branched off and followed the creek south east. Our "flurries" turned into a solid snow storm.
After climbing for a couple hours we stopped for a break. Disaster. Tom opened his pack to find that his water bottle had opened and drenched his down sleeping bag and all his clothes. We hadn't brought a tent and the temperature the night before was 14F at the trailhead. Tom suggested that he might be warm enough if we dug a snow cave. I took a look at Tom and realized that if he became hypothermic, one of us might have to perform mouth to mouth resucitation on him. "You can go back and sleep in my car," I offered. After a bit of discussion it was decided that Tom would take Eric's car and head to a hostel and possibly ski at Shasta, then meet us in S.F. on Sunday night. Eric, Jack and I spent the next 10 minutes merrily devouring Tom's snacks, then Jack convinced Tom to tag along (with some group gear) to the top of the next hill. There we went our seperate ways.
As the day went on and the snow showed no sign of stopping, we decided to build a snow cave. Around 1:30PM we were at an elevation of 7500 ft. After some scouting around we found a tree well about 4 feet wide and 6 feet deep. We threw down our gear and started digging a cave at the bottom off the well. Everyone agreed that Eric's Black Diamond shovel kicked the pants off the two Life Links shovels. In the end, Jack and I slept in the cave while Eric decided to rough it in his bivy bag in the snow. We estimated the temperature at about 5F outside but we were all toasty warm in our respective shelters.
In the morning we crawled out of the snow cave to find a bright blue sky and 4 - 6 inches of new snow from the day before sparkling in the sun. We got a late start due to a sputtering MSR stove (mine) and a case of toes (also mine) that froze while waiting for the sputtering MSR stove. Eventually we got underway and headed up the valley. Eric and Jack attached their ski crampons and traversed across the froxen slopes while I took a straight up approach in my snow shoes. As we approached the North side of Ski Heil peak, one of the most beautiful alpine scenes unfolded in front of us. Miles of untracked snow in all directions ( we were the only permit issued from the north entrance of the park.) Corniced ridges stretched out from Lassen to Pilot Peak to Ski Heil and down to Diller and Loomis, with Brokeoff in the background. The back of Ski Heil showed signs of a small avalanche and we debated for a while what type of avalanche it was and what triggered it.
A bit more climbing through soft sastrugi and we were on top of Ski Heil at 9100 feet. Now we got a full view of the south side of the park. With a bit of concentration we picked out a single set of ski tracks leading to a tent somewhere around the base of Lassen and Helen Lake. Other than that there were no signs of tracks on the south side of the park either. As it was already past noon and we had a long trip back to the car and then to the city, we declared Ski Heil our high point and decided to head back.
The previous weekend, Jack and I climbed Castle Peak in a white out, Jack on skis and I on snowshoes with my snowboard on my back. Conditions were icy and terrible for boarding and more than once I wished I had my crampons and ice ax to help get up the steep slope. Now I was on top of a great 1500 ft descent in excellent conditions without my board - and the ice ax and crampons stayed strapped to my pack. So much for luck of the Irish. Jack and Eric had an excellent run back to camp, descending a couple hundred feet at a time and then waiting for me to catch up. After packing up, we repeated this process on the long trip back to the trailhead.