Eleven snowshoers and two skiers (myself on very wide telemark skis and Steve Landes on very skinny track skis) departed the car park at 8:30 am with a speedy Ted Raczek in the lead. The trail meandered through the forest before reaching an opening with a brief view of Round Top framed by trees. At this point, Arun and Steve Eckert suggested a minor adjustment in our course, as our direction through the trees had left us a bit to the left of the southerly bearing we needed to be on, headed towards Elephant's Back instead of Round Top.
Continuing on, we left the forest and Round Top came fully into view, a beautiful peak with a rocky arete descending from the left shoulder, a smooth snow slope descending to a col on the right, and a steep snow slope in front of us ascending to a couple steep gully lines leading nearly to the rocky summit. We crossed an open area in front of the peak to reach the snow slope on the right, heading for the obvious path where others before had made a gentle rising traverse to reach the easier slopes on the right and the nice flat spot that Arun had designated as the spot to regroup and exchange large footwear and poles for spiky footwear and ice axes. Personally, I was quite pleased that I could get my normal crampons on my large plastic telemark boots, and hadn't had to carry a second pair of boots with me.
The final push to the summit was a steep snow slope and I could feel my breathing get more rapid with the exertion. The very last slope up to the rocky tops steepened even more so Maxym Ribolov, without crampons or ice axe, waited here. The rest of us continued upwards and assembled on the false summit from 11:10am to 11:20am. Some of us (Arun, Dee, Steve Eckert, Steve Landes, Ted, Noriko, Maxym Runov, and myself) made it to the second and true summit in ten more minutes, with repeat summiters saying it was the easiest conditions for the true summit they've ever seen. Everyone sat on summits and enyoyed the glorious panorama of the snow covered Sierras; photos were taken and it was time to go down. With a loaned ice axe, Maxym Ribalov made a quick ascent to the false summit as well. At this point, we met up with Joan Marshall and Nancy Fitzsimmons, who had hiked in by themselves and met with the group at the final saddle before the summit.
The descent, as usual, was a bit quicker, with Steve Eckert leading the advance party with speedy bum-slide back to our other footware, where we regrouped again. This same Steve, keen to do more, recruited the Maxyms to join him on a quick detour to bag of Elephant's Back and they set off in the lead. I sped off shortly after, foolishly hoping that the previous days successful telemark practice at Kirkwood would translate to skiing in the back country. It did not, and I careened off into what I'm told was an 'Agony of Defeat' quality face plant and somersault with skis on. With the return of caution, I resorted to the tried and true method of traverse and kick turn to descend the rest of the steeper section, repeatly criss-crossing the path of the snoe-shoers. Finally, on one last gentle slope before the forest, I managed some controlled, if exaggerated, telemark turns.
Despite much discussion between Arun and Dee on the difficulties of navigating back through the forest, on this trip in beautiful clear weather, it all went smoothly. Dee spotted the blue blaze of the trail marker before we entered the forest and we were back to the car park by 2pm, with the three person Elephant's Back team back only twenty minutes later.
Steve Eckert adds:
>repeat summiters saying it was the easiest conditions for the >true summit they've ever seen
Last time I was on the summit, there was water ice from freezing rain that required frontpointing in crampons. This time I removed my crampons at the false summit and never put them back on again. They certainly made the hard styrofoam windslab easier on the way up, but without actual ice my leather boots were OK on the summit ridge and I didn't have to beat my crampons up on the rock parts.
>This same Steve, keen to do more, recruited >the Maxyms to join him on a quick detour to bag of Elephant's Back
Everyone we met was cheerful, EXCEPT the couple sitting on the lower end of Elephant (which is indeed shaped like an elephant). The younger Maxym sat down to wait for the older Maxym and the even older Steve near the tail of the Elephant. A logical place to rest, where the slope leveled off, but the two people there took great offense at our presence. They were screeching about "look at all this space, and you sit one meter from us!" but did not comprehend that a simple "can you sit further away" would have done nicely. I tried to tell them that we were headed for the high point, but they angrily packed up and headed south as we headed north, leaving no one on their treasured spot. Hey, if they had been naked, or if we had stayed more than 60 seconds, their reaction might have been understandable!
>I sped off shortly after, foolishly hoping that the previous days successful telemark practice at Kirkwood would translate to skiing in the back country. It did not
Sadly true. I've done easy black diamonds on my randonnee skis and plastic climbing boots, but stick to bunny slopes in the crust.
>into what I'm told was an 'Agony of Defeat' quality face plant and >somersault with skis on
A true Kodak Moment. Where's that video camera when you need it? Maxym and I detoured slightly thinking some assistance would be required, but were quite pleased that no real damage was done. Over the tips, full extension cartwheel! Where are those bruises?
>Despite much discussion between Arun and Dee on the difficulties of >navigating back through the forest, on this trip in beautiful clear >weather, it all went smoothly.
The Elephant Crew went up the tail end and down the steeper head end, directly off the high point toward the cars. The glissade (or "bum slide") wasn't nearly as much fun as the smooth hard snow near the summit ridge. We traversed higher than the trail for much of the way, rejoining the main route near where it turns around a small ridge. We actually passed the last member of the main group before reaching the cars, but some were already driving away by the time we dropped our packs.
Thanks, Arun, for organizing this trip and putting up with side trips!