Mokelumne Peak (#15)
Day 11, Mokelumne Peak
Mokelunme would be my last peak in the Tahoe area, and probably the most challenging. It is a long way from any roads, even more so in the winter. I had found a route starting at Tragedy Spring on Highway 88 that seemed fairly direct, but it had lots of ups and downs (and lots of flat, which, on skis, is arguably worse). I knew it would be well over 20 miles of mostly monotonous forest walking. Fortunately, I had gotten a lovely view of the very aesthetic, triangular peak from Round Top the afternoon before. The sight of the east face silhouetted in the afternoon glow, promising a wonderful ski descent, was more than enough to get me stoked to make the trek.
I set to work early the next morning, following a shallow ridge up and down over several minor summits. The short descents always posed a tough decision -- take the time to rip skins and transition to skiing, or awkwardly slide downhill with my heels free and skins catching on soft spots? This debate was a common theme throughout the day.
For much of the distance, I settled on “Nordic mode” -- heels free, but skins off. This allowed me to glide down gentle descents and hobble up lower angle climbs. Steep climbs were problematic. Occasionally I would get a glimpse of the peak, tantalizing in the morning sun but always looking far away.
Eventually, I made a long, traversing descent, followed by a long section of flat forest (which was annoyingly filled with big lumps of snow -- boulders, logs, etc.), and found myself at the base of the NE ridge.
Climbing the peak itself went very quickly compared to the approach, and before long I was on top.
After a short stay at the summit, I was ready to drop in on the steep, hanging snowfield of the E face. I took the first, exposed turn cautiously, but found the snow to be nice and soft, even a little over-cooked. I hopped through a set of quick turns down the steepness, then traversed out from above the cliffband below to a clean, fall-line shot down the rest of the face. It felt amazing to get a good run in nice conditions on a peak that certainly doesn’t get skied often.
The satisfaction of looking back up at my turns etched down the perfectly triangular face, straight from the summit made the hike out more than worth it. I reversed the tedious hike back to the highway, made a little easier this time by having tracks to follow. As I got to the last section, with two short climbs and descents left between me and the van, I glanced at my watch -- it read 9:35. I did some quick calculations, and realized that I could get back in under 10 hours, but it would be close. The adrenaline of a fun challenge boosted me through the last section, climbing as my heart rate skyrocketed, transitioning as fast as I could, ski-mo style, then pinning downhill at breakneck speed. I repeated that cycle up and over the last hill, finally careening to a stop at 9:57. An excellent, heart-pumping high note to end a great day!
View the activity here.