Conditions Report : Sugar Bowl to Palisades Traverse - March 25, 2022
A lunch spot with a view! The top of Tinkers Knob has a nice rock seat that provided a perfect spot for a quick lunch with a beautiful view. Looking West you can see Mt. Snow above Royal Gorge.
The Sugar Bowl to Palisades traverse is THE classic Truckee and North Lake Tahoe ski traverse. Generally, the route follows the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and summits some of the tallest peaks in the area. The route is visible from Truckee which adds to the allure of the adventure.
There are many options to tackle this iconic Tahoe ski traverse, but the options are wide open if you have fitness and creativity! Blackbird's traverse on Friday explored some of the less standard options and added some great turns to this incredible route.
With low snow since December and above average temps, we were a little worried about the snow conditions. Getting creative saved the day in this department as well and once we were out in the field, our optimism and planning paid off! A light freeze overnight coupled with consistent wind, cloud cover and a fresh wax from Tahoe Sports Hub made for surprisingly good ski conditions.
At 6:00AM the group assembled. Since there was no snow to descend to Olympic Valley, we met at the Pole Creek to stage a shuttle vehicle. Even with our crew's healthy sense of adventure, walking down a couple thousand vertical feet of dirt and manzanita wasn't very appealing. Some people are so averse to type 2 fun!
A picturesque transition spot. Andrew pauses beneath the cliff features near Anderson Peak on the Sierra Crest prior to putting skins back on for another ascent.
After staging the first vehicle, we parked at the Summit Haus and began touring to the top of Mt Judah via the Wildflower ridge. Arriving at the summit, we saw the damage the week of high temperatures had wreaked on our snow coverage. Unsurprisingly, much of the Pacific Crest ridgeline was down to dirt (not great conditions for a ski tour) so we went to plan B, which was added a lot more vertical descent and ascent, but also provided a lot more skiing! First, we descended into Cold Stream Canyon via the South Face of Judah Peak. From there it was a short ski back up to the crest before dropping back into the South Fork of Cold Stream Canyon under Anderson Peak.
The traverse consisted of descending into a drainage, traversing south, ascending the south side of the drainage, traversing south, dropping into the next drainage and repeating. Our variation added a lot of vertical gain, vertical loss and mileage to the standard traverse, but it also added some great turns!
The Standard route is around 2,000 vertical feet of gain over 10 miles. We ended up with 5,000 vertical feet of gain over 15 miles. Add in 6,000 ft of downhill skiing since the Car on Donner Summit was higher than the car at the Pole Creek trailhead.
The route we took was a resounding success! Here's a quick recap our route:
Ascended Judah from Summit Haus and skied it's South Face.
Ascended the Anderson Ridge just north of the Benson Hut and descended a a North tilting feature with colder snow.
Ascended Tinkers Knob, following some bear tracks all the way to the summit (roughly he halfway point)! and descended into the Deep Creek Drainage.
Ascended Billy's Peak area before one last long descent to the car.
We elected to ski past the Bradley Hut and head out to the car along the Pole Creek Road.
After crossing Pole Creek, we had one last climb. Short in stature. but mighty in nature, we overcame the last hurdle of the traverse and descended a final, low angle descent to the car.
All things considered, it was a terrific ski and adventure. Even with the high temps and low snow we were able to keep the skis on for the entire way excepting one 50ft long stretch of road near the end of our exit in Pole Creek. There was a small amount of shuffling over pine needles but the photo below was the worst of it. It just made for a better adventure.
Keeping the adventure alive! As the snow dwindled in spots on our exit we did some walking over pine needles.
It was a wonderful day in the mountains and we were happy to get it in when we did! The snow is melting fast and this may have been the last opportunity for this traverse this season without significantly upping the level of "adventure". We're still holding out for one more big storm this season!