Note: This trip report is part of the TetonAT Trip Report Contest. Kevin is now in the running to win a FREE pair of Black Diamond skis based on viewer response and the TetonAT panel of judges! Good luck Kevin!!
Bill Stanley skiing with ‘the pig’ on his back.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” With John Muir’s words resonating in our minds, Bill Stanley and I set out from South Lake in early May 2004. Roughly following the John Muir trail, we climbed and skied nine peaks in nine days. I was incredibly fortunate to accompany Bill on his last of many great ski tours in the high Sierra. Tragically, five months later, Bill was killed in an automobile accident. Looking back, the tour was a piece of heaven where Bill’s spirit and love of the mountains still resides.
A high-pressure system settled in over the Sierra, forecasting at least a week of clear blue skies. We topped off our energy reserves by fueling up at a greasy diner Saturday morning in Bishop. Anne, Bill’s wife, accompanied us to Bishop Pass above South Lake before saying good-bye. She picked us up nine days later at Onion Valley. Making our first turns on the south side of the pass, the perfect corn snow foretold our good fortune for the entire trip. The conditions were amazing; sunny and warm with hero snow that skied well even with our heavy loads. The first day proved to be long and arduous, carrying full packs while climbing over three passes. Bean burritos satiated the hunger before turning in under a beautiful starry sky and waxing gibbous moon.
Kevin enjoys the early morning sunshine.
I became interested in a multi-day ski traverse in the Sierra during my first visit to ski the Sierra backcountry in March the previous year. My wife and I were heading to the Sierras and called up Bill and Anne in Bishop, who were friends of friends. They welcomed us into their home as though we’d known them forever. Bill’s enthusiasm for climbing and skiing in the mountains was infectious. We poured over maps at night picking out the next day’s objective. A day of ski touring in the mountains followed by an evening of finger picking music was enough to make us all smile from ear to ear. By the end of the week, we knew we’d found some great new friends and mountain playmates. One evening after an amazing day tour over Contact Pass, staring up in awe at Temple Crag, Bill showed slides of a few past trans-Sierra ski tours he had completed. His stories about past tours combined with his amazing photos piqued my interest.
Kevin boots Mount Carter with the Sierra playground behind.
Just over a year later, Bill and I were in the heart of the Sierra having the time of our lives on a tour of our own. “After ten years spent in the heart of it…it still seems to me above all others the Range of Light, the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain-chains I have ever seen,” Muir wrote referring to the magical Sierra. I grew to appreciate this phrase more and more over the course of our journey through Kings Canyon. The sunrises and sunsets glowed like none I’ve witnessed. Following in Muir’s footsteps along our route was like going through a history book. After summitting and skiing perfect corn slopes on Mount Sill, Vennacher Needle, Crater Mountain, and others, we set camp at the base of another jaw dropping line on Cedric Wright. That evening I couldn’t take my eyes off the slopes and surrounding rocks that turned from golden to orange to red as the sun went down.
Bill enjoys his love for skiing.
Cedric Wright was a photographer and good friend of Ansel Adams. Adams met Wright in Yosemite Valley and the two became lifelong friends. Adams, following in the footsteps of Muir, knew deep inside that the landscapes and scenery of the Kings Canyon region had to be preserved. His lobbying efforts and photographic genius helped create Kings Canyon National Park. He sent his book, Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail, showcasing the beauty of Kings Canyon to the Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes. Ickes was so moved by Adams’ book that it ended up on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s desk. The works of Muir and Adams have always inspired me, creating a deep sense of meaning as I skied through the heart of their lands.
The next morning brought a glow to the slopes on Cedric Wright and to our faces. We were like kids in a candy store, giddy as we strapped on our crampons that morning to ascend the slope to the summit. Perfect corn skiing had us high-fiving and yelling with pleasure as we descended back into base camp. After routinely re-packing the packs (pigs, as they became known to us), we headed off. The intense Sierra sun took a toll on us as we skinned past Stocking Lake. We found a trickling falls to catch some snowmelt to quench our thirsts. On the way toward Baxter Pass, a welcomed wind picked up. A few minor lenticular clouds started brewing off in the distance. A new view came on the other side of Baxter Pass. Bill shared stories of past tours when he’d see familiar peaks in the distance. This was his fourth major tour in the high Sierra. After living in Bishop for only three years, Bill racked up countless ascents and ski descents in the high country. Backcountry skiing was his passion and he loved sharing that with others.
Bill with another Sierra harvest.
We left our packs and skis at the pass and summitted the rocky south side of Mt. Baxter. Climbing down the pass was a chore, as this was the first one we descended in rock rather than beautiful corn snow. The affects of six hard days in a row started to take notice. The wind continued to pick up, telling us to nestle camp in with a few gnarled Bristlecone Pine trees for protection. The next day we moved camp three hours down valley into the Rae Lakes basin and had our first bit of rest. We lounged all afternoon, basking in the warm afternoon sun.
Kevin 3’rd classes up Mount Cotter.
After the much needed rest, we were ready for another big day. Ascending the slopes of Mt. Cotter brought out the history books once again. Richard Cotter accompanied Clarence King as a packer for the California State Geological Survey. The Survey spent years climbing the peaks, mapping the Sierra Nevada, and having a grand time. Clarence King recounts his attempt with Cotter to summit the highest point in the lower 48 states in Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, one of the finest tales of mountaineering written. After lassoing horns and climbing an improbable face, the two realized they were on the wrong summit. They had climbed Mt. Tyndall instead of Mt. Whitney. It wasn’t until his fourth attempt at climbing the mountain that King summitted Whitney.
An enjoyable third class scramble on impeccable Sierra granite landed us on the summit of Mt. Cotter. Mt. Clarence King stood proudly in the distance. Another perfectly smooth, buttery corn slope on Mt. Cotter led to more high-fives. One more summit, another cold, clear night out under the stars, and one last climb over Kearsarge Pass brought us back to civilization in Onion Valley. The tour could not have been any better. Like Wright and Adams, along with Cotter and King, Bill and I grew and deepened our friendship in the heart of the Sierra. I will never forget the times we shared, the peaks we climbed, and the corn we skied on this journey. It made an entry in my personal history book as a trip of a lifetime with an amazing friend. Bill was a great man with a huge heart and intense love for the mountains. His ashes and spirit live on in the Sierra high country and in the hearts of his family and friends.