the daily dub

March 28th, 2010

Round Top: Trip Report

Posted by rdub in Trip Reports

On Friday, Robert and I drove up to Carson Pass for a little climbing adventure.  And adventure we had!

The drive up was the start of the adventure to come.  We had been anticipating this trip for at least a month, and excitement was high. But, much to our dismay, on a perfectly sunny and warm day, about 30 miles from the pass there was chain control!  So, we had to turn back from the Ranger Station, and go pick up chains at the exorbitant Sierra Foothills price of $80 in order to continue on our trip.  I’ll admit, there we a few spots where they were necessary, but most of the road was okay to drive… Frustrating.

Once we got the chains on, we were off! We reached the Carson Pass Trailhead just before noon. A little gearing up and we hit the trail.  Hiking in winter after a recent storm is both freeing, and hard work. The trail was only broken for about half the hike, and the rest allowed us to blaze our own trail.  In about 2 hours we had made 2 miles of progress in the snow. After reaching tree line, we found a good spot to make camp.

We dropped our packs, and started to dig in.  We had planned on making a snow cave, so didn’t bother with a tent.  Luckily we had bivy sacks, as we would end up needing them later.  We took turns digging out the cave, and building up a kitchen area with snow blocks.  I definitely need practice with building snow caves – it’s not easy work.

We both ended up sweating, and soaked, and the sun had set while we were digging.  At about 8:30pm, we decided to call the cave a loss: it was no where near large enough, and it was starting to get cold. Our spirits sunk, as we anticipated the cold night ahead.  We started building a backup shelter: a small wall against the wind. We found out over night that the wall we built up was no match for the 20-40 mph winds that would hit later that night.

The night was sleepless, wet, and cold. My watch thermometer read 17.5 degrees F, at only 9pm.  It only gets colder from there. Our flags (which we intended to use to mark the snow cave) flapped all night long in the intense wind, as snow blew into every seam of our bivy sacks, iced up, and blocked our air paths.  At least 15 times, I would drift off into sleep, have some wild dreams, and wake up gasping for air.  I’d sit up, knock the ice off the mesh of my bivy sack, and lay back down (on about a half-inch of freshly wind blow snow). It was a cold and miserable affair.

By morning, we were literally buried under 6 inches of snow transported by the wind, which didn’t stop blowing until around noon. It was good thing the snow cave hadn’t worked out, because the entrance tunnel was buried under about 3 feet of snow.  I’m not sure what we would have done in the morning, or if we could have made it out without destroying the cave.

With so much wind transport, we decided that wind slabs were a major avalanche concern, and scope out the route.  A closer inspection via monocular showed obvious wind slab formations on the slopes leading to the entrance to Crescent Moon Couloir.  The wind was an easterly, and given that the couloir has a Northern exposure, it had appeared to have loaded the entire couloir with “fresh” snow, just waiting to go.

We kept arguing with ourselves: “maybe if we finish the cave, and look again tomorrow?”  But our avalanche research told us that wind slabs don’t go away overnight.  Checking the avalanche advisory today agrees that the route still wouldn’t have been 100% safe, so it’s good we bailed.

Rather than suffer through another night of high-wind hell, we packed up camp and headed out.  Leaving was a much faster process than hiking in – our hike out only took about an hour. Maybe it was the promise of In N Out Burger, but something drove me on to the trailhead.

In hindsight, checking the forecast would have been helpful, as the overnight lows on Friday night were 10 degrees colder than they would be on Saturday night.  Staying home one extra day could have made our trip much more enjoyable.

Live and learn.

The trip wasn’t a complete loss, as we both honed our back country skills, trusted our instincts, and decided to make a day trip out of the climb in the future.  We’ll be back, Round Top.

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