The real beauty of high-altitude â€œAdventure Skating,â€ I’ve found, is how fleeting the positive experiences can sometimes be, and that when things go â€œright,â€ it is truly an exceptional way of combining the feeling of gliding over snow while going to places that are remote and starkly beautiful. That being said, it is sometimes only with failure that we can really and truly appreciate those successful trips, and remember that the conditions don’t always align properly for those who try. But as Yoda said (to paraphrase), there is no try, there is only do.
There are basically 3 necessary elements of successful backcountry skating, given that the snow has already corned up and is spring-like and consolidated. You need a decent amount of coverage on the ground, so you’re not taking off your skis and walking half the time. You need a nice, hard freeze so you’re not punching through constantly, especially when skiing through tree-ed areas. And finally, what we experienced yesterday in the negative, you need a nice, smooth surface in order to cover the ground necessary for a successful trip.
It was the latter that caused us the problems up at Tioga Pass on Saturday, attempting a high-altitude long distance loop trip we’ve been planning for awhile. We tried it 2 years ago, and were defeated on the basis of a night that didn’t get nearly cold enough, and after falling into a small tarn in the dark at 4:30 am and punching through the snowpack constantly, realized that it wasn’t going to happen that day. This Saturday, it was obvious from the start that the trip was doomed due to significant sun-cup conditions in the meadows and open spaces, even at 10,000 ft./3,000 meters. We got a great freeze (especially for June 4th), and the snow was definitely adequate coverage, but after fighting tooth and nail for every stride through the uneven surface, it was pretty clear that we weren’t going to be able to cover the necessary ground to make the trip work. I guess that June is just getting a little too late for successful backcountry skating.
We continued on, skiing the proposed loop backwards for â€œreconnaissance purposes.â€ After a couple of hours of struggling through some of the most beautiful terrain you could ask to ski, we turned around, waiting for that next day where the combination of factors making for a successful trip aligned better for our purposes. Still, the worst day skating is still better than the best day of working, and being on the east-side of the Sierra Nevada is ALWAYS enjoyable, no matter what, and the failure just gave us better appreciation for our successful trips.
Mark Nadell (aka Captain Nordic)