Mt. Dade, A Non-Winter Ascent

15-17 Feb 1997 - by Jim Curl

"Go on Kai, I've got to take a dump here". I perched myself on the rocky ridge leading up from the Hourglass Couloir on Mt. Dade and found relief. Kai continued to work his way through the mixture of soft snow, crust, ice and occasional third class rock moves.

I caught up with him just as he made his way onto the summit. Despite the high clouds, it was a warm beautiful day. Our desire had been to ski in and summit a Sierra peak in the winter, but it hardly seemed like winter all.

This Presidents' day weekend was an unseasonably warm one, and we had found ourselves the day before sweating up the road past the Rock Creek Resort. Despite our packs and mediocre skiing abilities, we easily passed just about everybody headed for the resort. After five miles of road slogging to the summer trailhead, we followed tracks over easy, albeit icy, terrain for a couple more miles to Long Lake. There we skinned up for the short climb to Treasure Lakes. A very pleasant evening followed, with wine and cheap whiskey flowing.

Sometime that night, Kai got up for a nature call and left the tent flap open. I could hear his feet plunging into the still unfrozen snow. My bag was half unzipped. "This isn't winter, dammit!" I felt cheated. Why weren't my hands cold?

Even though I'm new to telemarking, I had hoped I could ski some part of the Hourglass the next morning. But the icy conditions had us depositing our skis only a couple hundred feet up the 1000 foot 40 degree couloir. Cramponing the ice and kick stepping through the crust quickly got us up to the saddle where we turned and followed the ridge line to the top of Mt. Dade.

I attempted to take a summit picture of us both. In the process of rushing to sit down next to Kai, I completely disemboweled my lightweight waterproof pants with my crampon. No register to be found under the snow. I'd always wondered why there weren't more winter entries in registers. Should've been obvious, I guess.

We took an easier line down from the summit, a bit west of where we had ascended. Kick stepping down the couloir, we had to be careful not to launch off on some of the windslab skateboards that were breaking free near our feet. Certainly not skiing conditions for this gumby.

We got back to camp too late to ski out, but with plenty of time left to kill. Over some hot soup, we gazed lustfully at a splitter crack on a beautifully marbled triangular face left of the Hourglass (part of Pipsqueak Peak?). Then, as we tried to yo-yo the surrounding icy slopes, it began to snow. So we retreated to our tent, made dinner in the vestibule, and fell asleep to the sound of light snowfall.

Morning revealed 6"-8" of lovely powder, but the weather left us practically blind. Despite the powder, we skied very defensively down to Long Lake. The visibility was so bad that at one point I thought I was losing control of my speed only to look down at my feet and see that I was stopped.

The ski out only took us about three hours -- we probably could have escaped the previous day -- but another night in the mountains and the fresh snow that morning made an early return seem like a silly alternative anyway.

Sweating at the parking lot, waiting for Kai to arrive, I was happy to learn that the Sierra Nevada that I had left in my car had not frozen while we were gone. Beer at 11 a.m....

A fun trip, a nice peak, and easy skiing -- but I'm still looking forward to my first winter Sierra ascent.

Kai's return visit

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