This joint SMS/SPS trip was planned to take advantage of the opening of Hwy 120 to Tioga Pass, to get easy access to some great skiing in the Tioga Pass/Tuolumne Meadows area. Eight people met Saturday morning at the top of the road at Tioga Lake, the eight included: Wally Drake, Carmen and Jim Garvey, Thomas Johansson, Angel Ocana, Eric Watts, and myself on a first lead trip with Reiner Stenzel as my assistant leader. The road was closed half a mile before the Park entrance.
After the usual trailhead organizing we headed up the hill towards the Dana meadows, with the plan to find a camping spot and continue to Mt Gibbs with daypacks. Instead of circling around through the meadows we took a more direct route through the trees following the base of the Dana plateau. Some steep slopes with hard snow delayed our progress. By around 10.30am we decided we had carried our heavy packs far enough and setup camp on a bench overlooking the Dana meadows, close to Dana ridge running down to the Dana Fork. Carmen decided to stay in camp and the rest headed off more briskly towards the Dana Fork. The Dana Fork drainage was narrow to start with but higher up it opened out into a large snow-filled cirque with sparse trees, great skiing.
As usual by this time Reiner was powering ahead since otherwise it would get too late for a summit attempt. Reiner, Eric, and Angel made it to the summit of Mt Gibbs via a rocky ridgeline after having climbed up as high as possible on skis. They ascended the ridge 0.5 mi west of the summit, which involved a short class 3-rock/snow scramble. Then they followed the dry ridge to the 12,773' summit. The views were great in all directions but there was no summit register. According to info from the SPS, the registers on Dana and Gibbs vanish often due to the heavy traffic in the summer, hence are no longer replaced. The three hermanos had a great ski run down into the Dana Fork.
Wally and Thomas skied up to the ridge and then skied directly down to Jim and I, waiting below. The four of us enjoyed the great mid-afternoon snow conditions on the ski down the Dana fork, before putting on our skins and heading for camp. Angel, Eric, and Reiner followed some way behind, staying in contact by radio. The evening proved warm enough for Eric to take a quick shower to freshen up after a warm day and mosquitoes to appear around dusk.
Sunday morning dawned clear and sunny. Surface hoar sparkled in the sun. We packed up and headed out around 7.30am, back towards Tioga Lake and our cars. This time to kept to the meadows the whole way and made much better time, taking our skins off at the park entrance for a short ski down to the car at Tioga Lake.
A large crowd of skiers/climbers was at the road end and we missed to see the other SMS group (Mark and Randy's group) heading up to Mt Dana. We dumped our heavy packs, put on light daypacks and decided for a quick ski tour up Mt Gaylor. Skis were put on straight away after climbing the roadside snow bank. We were able to skin up the whole way on the southeast side, although it got a little narrow just before making the east ridge. This route avoided most of the crowds of people and the snowmobile towing lazy skiers up the peak. Angel, Eric, Thomas, Reiner, and Wally climbed the short but steep summit, while Eric and I rested on some rocks for the ski down.
We skied down the northeast face, which had some short steep sections, with the snow getting heavier as we descended. After a couple of binding releases we were back down at the road. A short hike brought us back to the cars before 2pm. It was a fine ski weekend. In Owens Valley it was 90+ degree summer weather.
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