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The Fountain of Youth

Agelessness in the Sierra Nevada

In California’s Eldorado National Forest exists a paradise, one that lies between mountain ridges and miles away from civilization. It’s rumored the waters there offer eternal youth to those that ride it. Some have sought out the pond-skim and failed, but others have succeeded and been rewarded with some seriously fun summer snowboarding.

Our crew’s trek to the Fountain of Youth starts in South Lake Tahoe, where we carry our 50-something pound packs about 8 miles into Desolation Wilderness. The crew includes local Tahoe splitboard legends Justin Mullen and Chip Snyder, filmer Cedar Gately, good friend Clayton Green, and me. Our usual banter ensues, interrupted only by curious hikers we pass along the way: “Are you going snowboarding? For real? Any snow left up there? Are you guys serious?”

ABOVE TOP TO BOTTOM Chip Snyder taking it all in, standing above Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness. Photo: Sawyer Mahoney

Justin Mullen drops a fishing line knowing that camp is close. A nice reward after 8 miles of hiking. Photo: Sawyer Mahoney

We make it to a large alpine lake, which for this journey signals we have entered true Desolation in the Sierra Nevada. After a meal break and a dip in the refreshing water, we pack up and follow the shore deeper to another serene lake at about 8,100 feet. This is where we’ll stay for the next two nights. The boys brought fishing gear, and gorgeous brook trout with great coloring keep finding their ways to the ends of our hooks. We fish into the night which brings with it views of the Milky Way, and it all feels especially mesmerizing coupled with our anticipation of good times still to come tomorrow.

ABOVE TOP TO BOTTOM The trout boys stopping to admire the specimens living in the runoff pools above Lake Aloha. Photo: Sawyer Mahoney

This is camp. Doesn’t get much better than that. Photo: Sawyer Mahoney

Coffee grounds hit the filter soon after sunrise the following morning, and our senses start to awaken as our purified water begins to boil. The cool morning breeze quickly evaporates as the sun hits hard against the surrounding sea of granite rock. With caffeine boosting our energy levels we grab our gear and embrace the next two miles of scrambling, climbing over 1,000 feet in elevation. Cascading streams, lush vegetation and wildflowers surround us as we make our way to the top. The moment we hit snow we know it’s all worth it. The last 100 feet have us all salivating for a look at the emerald waters that lay on the opposite side of the ridge. We drop our packs at first sight of it.

Our first thoughts are along the lines of, “Is it even still possible?” General snowfall totals in Tahoe usually offer an easily manageable pond-skim that melts out beginning in July. But this year it went more quickly, more so than its founder, Chris Gallardo, had ever seen it melted out. A steep snowbank in our exit looks hairy, increasing the potential of falling into the mind-numbingly cold waters of the fountain.

ABOVE TOP TO BOTTOM Cedar Gately, going for it. He made it across on this go, but not before feeling the cold grasp of the Fountain of Youth on a prior attempt. Photo: Sawyer Mahoney

Sawyer Mahoney carving an “S” into the water. Only five more letters to go. Photo: Justin Mullen

Justin Mullen, clearly feeling youthful. Photo: Sawyer Mahoney

Cedar grabs his board, walks up, straps in and points it across. Clayton follows but almost completely submerges, and his reaction was a testament to the frigidness of the fountain. Each of us takes our turn, stoked that we were able to make it happen with the lower snow levels.

On our way out we enjoy a few rideable patches of snow before scrambling the rest of the way back to camp. Wet boots, sunburnt faces and smiles fill our circle as we chat about the trek. “It’s hard work getting out here,” Chip says. We all agree. We spend another night fishing, drinking beers, and taking back shots of Jameson. We have all we need for a good time, so that’s what we’ll have.

Like most trips this one is going by too quickly, but we’ll be back. The Fountain of Youth is a special place for those that have found it, the kind that beckons your return. While it’s still not clear whether its waters actually grant snowboarders agelessness, we can safely say that riding it does at least make you feel younger. If you’ve had the fortune to make to the fountain, good job. And if you’re among those still searching it, well, good luck.

ABOVE TOP TO BOTTOM The Fountain of Youth restores another crew of lucky visitors. Chip Snyder is hyped. Photo: Sawyer Mahoney

Desolation Wilderness never disappoints. Photo: Sawyer Mahoney


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