I Freel Fine

22 Nov 1995 - by Steve Eckert

"It was a dark and stormy night..."

No, it wasn't.

"It was a dark and cold morning..."

More like it, but still melodramatic.

"On 22 November 1994, Jeff Fisher and Steve Eckert set out from the intersection of Oneidas and Chibcha in Meyers (SE corner of Lake Tahoe). It was 6am, it was 0 degrees, and they wondered if there could be any finer way to spend a Tuesday morning."

Nope, sounds like a documentary.

All of the over-night trip participants cancelled, so we decided to try for only one peak as a day hike (ignoring Job's Sister at some peril from the Feminists). Besides, Freel Peak was closer and higher.

The first four miles of the route are open to 4WDs and bikes in the summer, and snowmobiles in the winter. There were none in sight (or in earshot), probably because it was mid-week. The tracks the snowmobiles left on previous days meant we did not need the snowshoes for the two hours it took to get from 6400' up to 8000' (just past Fountain Place).

We decided to angle across a broad face rather than attain the ridge, hoping that the snow would be drifted or melted due to a western exposure. No way - it was some of the finest powder I have ever snowshoed in. The face rises 2500' in about a mile, so it was pretty steep. We found some deep holes around bushes and logs and rocks, but most of the ground had 2-3 feet of cover.

As we got higher, the snow firmed up a little due to the wind. That meant you could ALMOST step on the drifts before breaking through. Drifts or not, we sank between 6 and 12 inches for a true aerobic workout.

Somewhere around 10000', we noticed that our SNOWshoes were being used as TREEshoes, and we decided to stop punishing the scrubby trees (limber pine?). We rockhopped, plowed, and kicked steps over to the peak at 10881', where there is an old radio relay station (now abandoned but with the door left open) built like an oil tank. Not pretty, but you could sure get in out of a storm.

The view was great, with no clouds and snow on the desert floor around Reno. The last climber before us reached the peak on 11/4, and prayed (in the register) for snow. No problem. We got it. Last year no one climbed the peak between September and July, but the register only goes back two years due to the number of people who make it in summer.

We had some problems with the RedFeather rental snowshoes on the steep return route (GO Sherpa!), but still managed to get out by 6pm. It was back down to 10 degrees by then, so this would have been a brutal night to bivy. This was the longest day (14 miles, 5100' gain/loss) either of us had ever done on snowshoes, and one of the more varied due to the powder and drifts.

If you are buying snowshoes, make sure they hinge easily, that the toe does not catch when pivoting steeply, and that you can control the sideways angle of the shoe if the tail gets caught or if you are on a side slope. Bindings must not have plastic buckles which break and slip, and must hold your boot firmly. If you plan to do any climbing (vs. flat walking), make sure there is traction both on icy and powder snow. The only way to get powder traction is to have lacing between the fabric footbed and the frame, so the snow can push up between them and get caught. Trust me, the RedFeathers don't have traction!

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