Mount Lola (#6) and English Mountain (#7)
Day 5, Mount Lola and English Mountain
My alarm went off at 4am, jarringly starting my day in my frigid van. Despite the chilly temps, I was energetic and ready to get going -- there was more pow to ski and peaks to climb! I had spent the night in a tiny town called Sierraville, and as I cooked breakfast, parodies of Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” played in my head…
“Wasting’ away again out in Sierraville,
Looking for some big mountains to climb!
The night is cold, but I will go and be bold…
And you know, it’s skiing time!”
Today I was heading to Mount Lola and English Mountain -- both fairly mellow hikes in the summer, but guarded by a long road that is closed in winter, and lots of deep pow to slog through. Fortunately, I had been able to find a gentleman named Luke to give me a ride out to English, the further of the two peaks, in the afternoon. Lola would still be a 15 mile walk, and I had to be done by 1pm in order to meet my sled ride in time.
I pulled on frozen boots and started gliding out the snowy, moonlit road. The moon, while only a half, was bright enough that I didn’t need my headlamp. The snowy forest was perfectly quiet and peaceful. The groomed road miles slid swiftly by, but as I left the road and started up Lola, that changed quickly. Deep, soft snow made progresss slow and tedious. I began to doubt whether I would be able to make it to the summit and back in time to catch my ride.
Just as I was debating cutting my losses and heading back to the road, I came across a set of snowmobile tracks pointed in the right direction. Generally, I’m not a fan of sleds in the backcountry. They’re loud, and they track up the good snow. Today, however, I was immensely grateful for their capabilities. Sled tracks just happen to form perfect skin tracks, with a packed, grippy stripe of snow in the middle and tracks along each edge perfect for planting your poles in.
Following the tracks, I made much quicker work of the remaining miles, and in no time I was enjoying the sunny summit spectacle. A fun, albeit short run off the summit (complete with cornice drop!) led to a long glide back down my skin track to the main road.
I arrived at the planned pick-up spot about an hour ahead of schedule, planted my skis upright near the road, then wandered up the sunny hill to find a spot to nap and dry my gear.
Just as I was snoozing off in the warm mid-day sun, two snowmobiles zoomed by going very fast. With a sinking feeling, I wondered if Luke, my ride, had just blown right by me. Turns out he had, but fortunately he realized his mistake and returned after only a few anxious minutes.
I strapped my skis to the back of the “snow pony”, jumped on, and we were off! I’d been on the back of a snowmobile a couple of times before, but never moving nearly this quickly. It was exhilarating and a little terrifying. Once I got used to the floaty, unbalanced feeling, I was able to settle in and enjoy the ride. In no time at all, we were 15 miles down the road, at the base of the east face of English mountain. I checked my topo, and confidently told Luke that I would be back in that spot in exactly 2 hours. He glanced at the summit dubiously, and informed me that he had plenty of warm clothes and could hang out later into the night. But I had already made the claim, and a challenge is a challenge.
2,000 vertical feet on firm snow is no problem, but in the powder it was an all-out charge. I relished the exertion and sustained cardio. I made the 2,000 foot climb in 90 minutes, but found a short, rocky summit scramble to contend with. I tried to take a direct route, but found myself in slushy, loose 4th class terrain. Not the best place to be in ski boots. I backtracked, looped around, and was on the summit in 1:40. I snapped a couple photos and a short summit video, then boogied back down to where I had left my skis. I thought I had the sub-2 hour send in the bag, but had to spend a few extra minutes clearing ice off my skis, boots, and bindings to ensure a secure descent. Once I got clipped in through, it was a fast and fun powder run straight back down to the waiting sled in just over 2 hours. It was definitely the best skiing I’ve had in months, with steep, fast turns and some fun pillows to jump for good measure. Ski mountaineering isn’t ALWAYS terrible snow! We loaded up, and zipped off into the sunset and back to the trailhead. Another wonderful and successful day!
Dan's original notes
Nathan was moving pre-dawn on another cold morning, skiing up the road toward Mount Lola. It took him less than 5 hours to cover the 9.25 miles to the summit. He skied down to the road where he met Luke Salmon, who had agreed to give him a ride on his snowmobile out to the base of English Mountain. We figured that it was fair game for motorized assistance along roads that were available in the summer.
After a quick 1h40m jaunt to the top of English, Nathan was back at the base in under 30 minutes and he and Luke headed back to the van at Little Truckee Summit. It was a relatively long day for a pair of peaks that would just take a few hours in the summer.