My introduction to serious deep winter splitboarding, I’m guessing, was far from the norm. It had snowed seven feet in seven days, and winds continued to whip the ridges of West Lake Tahoe while light flakes fell from the sky. The lake itself was lit by the remnants of sunrise.
Sure, I had been on a few jaunts around the Baker sidecountry in the spring, casual loops that ended with a lukewarm Rainier in the parking lot. But this time I’d be climbing a mountain with Jeremy Jones and the week’s Deeper crew—Forrest Shearer, Seth Lightcap, Chris Edmands and his fiancé, Bethanie—all experienced backcountry travelers to say the least. It was the culmination of a couple days that included inbounds hot laps in the short, steep pitches of Sugar Bowl, a sidecountry run to Donner Lake featuring a jaunt through abandoned train tunnels and multiple cliff and pillow options, and, now a five a.m. wakeup and three-thousand foot skin to the top of the simply named 9269, which rose to a rocky crux directly from the shores of Lake Tahoe.
Five minutes in we encountered a downhill pitch, and attempting to enter pizza-pie mode I kicked up my freeheels and face planted next to a stream bed—thankfully, it would be the only downhill pitch in ski mode. As we wound through the underbrush, the grade grew consistently steeper into spacious, mossy old growth pine and fir, before finally topping out on a crag that provided 360 degree options including open flanks, tight trees, and big, square boulders into impossibly deep landings. Gusts deposited further snow over our chosen north ridge and falling snow obscured the certainly magnificent views out over the lake. But it was what lay below that would be the reward of this climb.
A half dozen turns into widely spaced old growth and the mountain closed in, rolling over into a simple choice of left chute or right chute. Jones and Shearer were long gone to the right, leaving no real clue as to what lay below, just Jeremy’s earlier mention of “critical chutes” half way down. Lightcap had a mishap with slough and a tree well to the left. Edmands pointed to a wave at the entrance to the right, making my decision a little easier. I dropped, slashed, and gained speed as snow moved everywhere; deep, stable snow. A few more peeks into the white room and a small rock provided a good exit into a boulder-strewn runout where Jones and Shearer waited safely in the trees to the right. We had descended 1,200 vertical feet in a couple minutes, a third of the three-hour leg burner climb.
“That was all about face shot management,” said Jones, grinning wide. He turned and began looking for a suitable route back to the top.
Look for more from our recent trip to Tahoe to visit Jeremy Jones in an upcoming issue of frequency TSJ.
Photos 1 and 3: Colin Wiseman
Photos 2 and 4: Seth Lightcap