Kearsarge Peak (#34)
Day 29, Kearsarge Peak
I awoke outside the little town of Independence to a fantastic sunrise, clouds scattered among the soaring Sierra peaks glowing brightly in the dawn. I looked out my back window, and spotted a very familiar van -- Jason and Ashly, two of my favorite people in the world, had arrived late the night before. They were en route to Death Valley, and had stopped to visit on their way. Before long, we were exchanging cheerful greetings and excitedly discussing the SPS project, future plans, and life in general.
All too soon, with the sun rising high in the sky, the mountains called. We bid farewell, with plans to meet up again on their way back north. Before long, I found myself hiking through dry, dusty sagebrush, with no snow in sight. I was optimistic that it would come soon, though. I was headed towards Sardine Canyon, on the north side of Kearsarge Peak.
I had scoped the line the previous evening, and the snow looked patchy, but I had been able to spot what appeared to be a continuous line from 7,000 feet to 12,000 feet. I knew that the last stretch to the summit was undoubtedly unforgiving talus, but I hoped the rest of it would have good coverage.
I reached the mouth of the canyon, and sure enough, a perfect little strip of snow lay along the sheltered, north facing side of the narrow gully. I headed up the gleaming path that would lead me from desert to alpine. I climbed quickly up the canyon, the snow providing the perfect consistency for efficient booting- firm, but grippy.
As I continued up, it became clear that there wasn’t going to be any spectacular skiing to be had, but that the line I had spied was indeed continuous. I navigated my way between bare patches using a photo I had taken with my phone through my binoculars the night before, which was quite effective!
The canyon was fairly unremarkable, with the most interesting scenery being various mining relics from a (thankfully) bygone era poking up through the snow. High above me, I watched huge, Himalayan swirls of spindrift blowing off the rocky ridges -- I was in for a beating.
Sure enough, a few hundred feet higher, strong gusts began buffeting me from seemingly every direction, accompanied by waves of spindrift that found their way into every chink in my armor, cold and wet.
Between gusts, I climbed as quickly as I could, then hunkered down when I heard the telltale low, ominous whooshing of another approaching wall of wind. Often, I had to kneel to avoid getting blown off my feet. Fortunately, the breaks in between gusts were long enough that I was still able to make good progress.
The higher I got, the funkier the snow got, including sections of wild wind scoops, 2-3 feet deep.
When the snow finally petered out, I wedged my skis securely behind a boulder and scrambled the remaining 800 feet to the summit. I hunkered down on the leeward side of the summit block and inspected the nearby peaks, mentally mapping my routes for the next couple days.
Further beyond, the towering forms of some of the tallest peaks in the range beckoned, adorned with sweeping granite ridges just begging to be climbed. Their time will come soon enough!
I hastily returned to my skis, eager to get out of the icy wind. As I clicked in, somewhat dreading the manky, funky snow I was about to ski, I had an excellent and horrible idea -- I was in a fairly uncommon position, at the top of a 5,000' uninterrupted descent, all fairly moderate but with no flat sections. Why not try to ski it without stopping? Continuously navigating a vertical mile of tough snow could make for a fun and interesting challenge.
I dropped in, nearly fell more than once catching tips and tails on the wind scoops, but was able to keep working my way downhill relatively smoothly. By the time I had skied half of the line, my quads and hips were screaming for relief, but I pushed on. Fortunately, as I got lower, the funky snow finally softened, and I continued linking turns ever downward until at last the snow, and my stamina, came to an end. I had to pick my way over some rocks and bushes here and there, but for the most part, I had continuously linked turns down the entire line of bumpy, funky, frozen snow. It wasn’t particularly fun, but it sure was satisfying. It also made for a quick exit -- I finished in just under 6 hours.
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