13/03/2022 10:00:00 pm, Nathan

Dunderberg Peak (#26) and Excelsior Mountain (#27)

Day 21, Dunderberg Peak and Excelsior Mountain

I skinned up the Virginia lakes road just after sunrise, the summit of Dunderberg Peak glowing in the morning light and looking decidedly far away. When the road is open, the peak is literally roadside, but today I had a 5 mile walk just to get to the base. About a mile in, I heard a low rumble behind me. I turned, and saw a snow cat grinding it’s way up the incline. I stepped to the side and offered a friendly wave to the driver. He stopped the machine, grinned, and asked if I wanted a lift. I debated for about half a second, then jumped in the cab. The driver worked for a backcountry skiing guide company, with an operation in the Virginia Lakes area. It’s a great spot for it, with a plethora of wonderful terrain that is easily accessible. The miles cruised by much more easily with mechanical assistance, and before long I was back on my skis, headed up the east face of Dunderberg.

After a bit of skinning and a bit of talus hiking, I reached the “skiers summit”. I dropped my pack, changed into trail runners, and cruised across the plateau to the true high point.

Back at the skis, I enjoyed a wonderful, 3000’ sustained descent back to the bottom of the canyon. The snow was firm and tricky on top, but with each turn it got softer and better, until I was ripping fast turns through perfect corn, straightlining through the tight exit and out onto the apron. It was a truly delightful descent. I glided back down to the road, then transitioned for the long trek out to Excelsior.

In the warm, sunny afternoon, I feared the worst -- a gloppy, sticky nightmare. Fortunately, another skier had hiked up the first part of the climb that morning, and I was able to follow their skin track until I reached the wind-hardened alpine.

As I climbed higher, gusts of wind swirling with icy spindrift buffeted me from seemingly every direction, at times threatening to knock me off my skis and send me sliding back down the icy slope. In the worst sections, I spent more time standing, feet wide and poles firmly planted for support, than I did moving. On the bright side, the shimmering spindrift blowing across the snow, sparking in the afternoon sunlight, was mesmerizing and beautiful.

Just below the summit ridge, it became too rocky to continue on skis. Cresting the ridge on foot, I was hit with the full force of the gale, like a jet engine on full throttle, straight to the face. Fortunately, the terrain was non-technical, and I hobbled my way to the summit, stumbling back and forth with each powerful gust.

I sat on top with my back to the wind, reveling in the power and majesty of the mountains. I love the sheer power of high wind in the mountains -- for about 30 minutes at a time. After that, it becomes frustrating and cold. I hobbled back to my skis as quickly as I could, ready to be back in the calm lowlands. The ski out went remarkably quickly, thanks to the mostly consistent, gentle grade (and the groomed road). I arrived back at the van right at sunset, finishing another very successful and enjoyable outing!

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