I’m back in Jackson now, but with some more time off from my day job last week and cloudy, rainy days predicted here in the Tetons, I decided to head back to the Eastern Sierra with the Kitty. It was Kitty’s birthday, so I figured it would be a great way celebrate it by skiing under the warm California sun.
We managed the 13 hour drive from Jackson to Bishop battling the usual headwind and arrived in time to meet up with some friends for dinner down in Lone Pine. I had thought about skiing Mount Whitney the next day, but we were too late to get permits, so we decided on University Peak instead. I have already skied Whitney (back in 2000) and I have never skied in the Kearsarge zone before, so University Peak seemed like a great objective.
After following the Onion Valley Road up to about 9,200′, we were able to skin right from the trailhead and soon found ourselves staring at the pinnacles, spires and granite faces that line the eastern flank of the peak. I think we missed the most efficient route up to Matlock Lakes and the base of the North Face Route, but it didn’t set us too far back time-wise. To switch things up, we opted to transition right to bootpacking from the lake and began the 3,000′ climb to the 13,632′ summit of University.
We quickly gained elevation in perfect snow conditions for bootpacking and soon found ourselves on the western ridge of the mountain. Some of the guidebooks show the North Face route continuing a bit more to the climber’s left near the top, but this section didn’t look skiable, so we opted for the line that lead to the right instead and stashed our skis and poles for the remaining scramble to the summit. It looked like there were a few ways to the top, but the path of least resistance pulled us around to the southeastern side of the mountain. Views of the peaks to the south and the Sierra interior were fantastic and it looked as though one could spend multiple lifetimes tagging the lines in the distance.
The wind was ripping, so after some pictures at the summit, we downclimbed our route back to our stashed gear and wished we had our ice axes in a couple spots where we had to cross some slightly exposed snow patches that could do some damage if we lost our footing. I carried both our skis down a little bit further to a spot where we were more comfortable starting from and we prepped up to begin the descent.
The snow was great and transitioned from edgeable chalk to nice windbuffed powder as we made our way down the North Face route. Linking turns as we descended, it didn’t take long before we were back at the lake and enjoying the view of our tracks from below. As we got lower, the transition to corn snow was instantaneous and we skied though classic Sierra landscape back to the car where we were greeted by sightseers asking…”How’d you get your skis up there?” Comments like this seem to be standard fare no matter where you are skiing this time of year.
The sunset was awesome and glowed red as we recharged with dinner and then drove up the road to Glacier Lodge and the trailhead to the Palisades area. I have never skied in that zone before, so I was very excited about the day to come and see some of the big 14′ers I’ve read about over the years.