TR: Ski Tour from Virginia Lakes to Return Creek, and Return.

Discussion about winter adventure sports in the Sierra Nevada mountains including but not limited to; winter backpacking and camping, mountaineering, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc.
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Harlen
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TR: Ski Tour from Virginia Lakes to Return Creek, and Return.

Post by Harlen » Wed Jan 08, 2020 1:59 am

Gazelle and I skied in and out of the Eastern Sierra via Virginia Lakes.  Skied in on Friday-1/3, and back out Sunday- 1/5.  A beautiful and popular area, but we didn't see another soul till the last mile on the day out, when we met two nice skiers with their dogs.  That's half the beauty of extending our backpacking season into the winter-- you have it all to yourselves!  It was very nice of Kristine/Gazelle to agree to this mini HST meetup, and also kind of her to wait for me at the base of the steep slopes that she skis down happily, while I just try to survive upright.  The weather was better than we expected, though the snow surface was a challenging mix of wind-board and sastrugi on the sunny and windswept sides, and soft crust above a dense old powdery mix in some of the gullies and northern slopes.  We suffered a bit of cold and windy weather in the nights and mornings, but most of the howling nighttime winds were coursing ~500 feet above us.   This changed our prospective itinerary of rambling up the series of peaks that rise above Summit Lake, to a more sedate ski tour across the Summit Lake Pass, and up the brilliant Return Creek Valley.  This was more of me and Bearzy's sort of trip than Kristine's usual mountaineering MO, but I hope we all enjoyed the trip.  I tried to sell Gazelle on my passion for gazing up at mountains, instead of off the tops of them, but I think she missed the summits.  We both felt that the greatest challenge was the cold, fireless camping.  We retreated to our respective tents around 5 PM, which was about dark, and then spent 14 long hours before dawn!  I had books and Bearzy under my quilt-bag to occupy the time, and Kristine had her maps, books, and an amazing, hanging stove setup, for in-the-tent cooking-- what is it called Kristine?  

Our original plan to climb peaks above Virginia Lakes Basin would have kept us all legal on Forest Service land, but the tour to Return Creek / Virginia Canyon did take us briefly into the dog-forbidden YNP land (in and back out, ~3miles each way).  I knew there would be no disturbance to other people, and no direct disturbance to wildlife, so I reluctantly went briefly into the Park with Bearzy.  I have thus opened myself to some critique (sorry Russ) and abuse, and I'll just have to take it.  I do try to balance my crimes with occasional good works.

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Here's a look at the route to the real pass-- the crossing of the 11,000' ridge between V. Lakes and Summit Lake, which separates the waters of Virginia Creek and Green Cr.  This crossing involves the only route challenges, as the true east-west divide at Summit Lake Pass is level to the east, and gentle forest on the west side.  The circle on the right shows where a  very shallow wind-slab broke away.  Our route in red avoided avalanche slopes, which were not currently active anyway; the harder part is the descent to the west.


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Final climb to the ridge, with the crags of Peak 11,524 in the near distance.


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View west from the top of the ridge, with the 12,000' peaks-- Virginia Peak near, and Whorl Mountain one valley over.


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Bearzy on the ridgetop, with Virginia Lakes, and the north end of Mono Basin beyond.


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Kristine made a ski descent from here on the ridgetop, while me and Bearzy used the rocky slope and pieces of the summer trail, seen in the photo below. In this photo, K. is skiing back up the ridge, using her ski crampons and full skins, while I have chosen to boot up the trail. My half-skins were a mistake this time with the icy conditions.

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Traveling northwest from the ridge.  The red lines note the only two significant steep slopes, which only one of us looked forward to.  Gazelle choose to ski the steeper, icier face below the blue line, while I wallowed down the gully-- red line.  Our camp is shown in the green circle, 1/4 mi. east of frozen Summit Lake.


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Peak 11,568.


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Sunset on Dunderberg and Peak 11,568 from our campsite.


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Summit Lake Pass, with a snow depth of only 30."   West are trails to Matterhorn Canyon-- about 13 mi. away; and to Tuolumne Meadows-- 19.7 mi.  (I skied and snowshoed that route to the ski hut a few years ago.)


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Bearzy on the pass, with Stanton Peak, Stanton Pass, and Virginia Peak in the distance.


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The one steep slope down from the ridge.  No avie risk on this day, but we might have taken an unpleasant, icy slide.
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Last edited by Harlen on Sun Jan 12, 2020 3:27 pm, edited 7 times in total.








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Harlen
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Part 2- TR: Ski Tour from Virginia Lakes to Return Creek, and Return.

Post by Harlen » Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:18 am

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Heading down from Summit Lake Pass to Virginia Canyon and Return Creek.


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The fleet Gazelle, pulling far ahead per usual. The only reason I could keep close was the fact that she was suffering from a serious URI.


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Note the difference between Nov. and Jan. in Virginia Canyon.... does anyone have a green summer photo of this scene?


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On the way back, we traversed up through the thin forest Bear is pointing toward. Summit Lake is under the mountain on the left, Shepherd Crest to the right.


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Looking back down at upper V. Canyon.


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Back at Summit Lake, with Dunderberg Peak in the distance, looking pretty thin for ski descents.


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Our water source, and the view down Green Creek, which would make a nice circular trip.


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K. skinning up to the ridge.


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Bear shot ahead of us on the rocks.


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Picking through the rocks on the ridgetop, all downhill from here- Oh no!


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Sastrugi.



It was beautiful out there, and so quiet except for the howling night winds. We saw very few animals this trip-- just 2 Clark's Nutcrackers, and one small flock of finches. We did see a set of old bear tracks on the way down to Virginia Canyon.

With a good tent, and enough feathers, it's still nice and warm at night. Happy New Year in the Mountains!
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Last edited by Harlen on Thu Jan 09, 2020 8:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: TR: Ski Tour from Virginia Lakes to Return Creek, and Return.

Post by austex » Wed Jan 08, 2020 5:17 am

Thanks Harlen. Looks like a great time and weather except for the winds.Long nights in the tent can be trying. Now I know know what Sastrugi is... *L* I bet Bearzy gets all in a tizzy when you start culling your gear for a trip? What a great Sierra companion!

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Re: TR: Ski Tour from Virginia Lakes to Return Creek, and Return.

Post by bobby49 » Wed Jan 08, 2020 10:42 am

Does Bearzy use telemark gear?

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Re: TR: Ski Tour from Virginia Lakes to Return Creek, and Return.

Post by bobby49 » Wed Jan 08, 2020 12:38 pm

That was a silly question. Bearzy probably can't find telemark boots that fit.

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Harlen
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Re: TR: Ski Tour from Virginia Lakes to Return Creek, and Return.

Post by Harlen » Wed Jan 08, 2020 5:14 pm

austex writes
I bet Bearzy gets all in a tizzy when you start culling your gear for a trip? What a great Sierra companion!
That was "Bear" 1 austex. That dog would lie on the backpacking gear, and not leave it. Sad thing about that was that sometimes the pack was for long foreign travels. :(

bobby49 wrote:
Does Bearzy use telemark gear?
Bearzy is just so darn happy to get to go-- he'd use, or wear anything! That said, he is also very grateful when I shoulder his backpack. But, as you know from your dogs, it's not all fun and games on the trail when the snow is soft and deep. I've also seen Bear suffer from blowing snow during a ground blizzard. It all gets overshadowed by the romping fun he has!


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Re: TR: Ski Tour from Virginia Lakes to Return Creek, and Return.

Post by wsp_scott » Wed Jan 08, 2020 7:22 pm

I'd love to see the Sierra in the winter, until then, I love your winter trip reports, please keep them coming
My trip reports: backpackandbeer.blogspot.com

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bobby49
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Re: TR: Ski Tour from Virginia Lakes to Return Creek, and Return.

Post by bobby49 » Wed Jan 08, 2020 7:34 pm

Harlen wrote:
Wed Jan 08, 2020 5:14 pm
I've also seen Bear suffer from blowing snow during a ground blizzard.
Doesn't Bearzy have dog goggles, Doggles? Even the old mountain guide Dave Beck used to fix his dog up with Vuarnet sunglasses.

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Re: TR: Ski Tour from Virginia Lakes to Return Creek, and Return.

Post by torpified » Wed Jan 08, 2020 7:41 pm

This is so awesome, thanks! I'm afraid I have yet another question about Bear: How does he manage not to posthole? Is he some sort of elf? Or does weighing less and distributing his weight across 4 paws make a huge difference to his threshold?

Whenever my dog sees snow, he plops down to luxuriate in it. And he see snow A LOT -- we live in Michigan. If I tried a winter trip with him, I'd be lucky to make it more than 400 meters from the TH.

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gary c.
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Re: TR: Ski Tour from Virginia Lakes to Return Creek, and Return.

Post by gary c. » Wed Jan 08, 2020 8:20 pm

I don't think I'll ever be ready for that kind of winter travel but I sure enjoy your reports and pictures. Thanks for taking us along.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
-- Lionel Terray

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