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Summer Skiing on the 4th of July | UNITED STATES, CALIFORNIA | 07/24/2009, by BrennanLagasse
North Peak was on the agenda for Jeff, Jeremy and I to finish out a great season in the Sierra. Although the Peaks' three couloirs can be skied at any point in the winter, access is brutal. Several miles on the approach deter many from making this winter slog, and because the trailhead is so high, the road to Saddlebag Lake lies hidden under several feet of snow usually well into June. But if you're patient and wait for the road to clear, and the boat taxi to run-yes I did say boat taxi-then your approach to North Peak becomes much more manageable.
While July 4th is always a good time to get out of Tahoe, due to the rampant onslaught of firework junkies and professional booze hounds, North Peak is known for its ability to deliver high quality skiing well beyond the 4th. We figured there'd be a few other takers, and with our female counterparts busy in other festivities for the weekend coupled with 3 dogs to feed, we decided to just have a big old 4th of July day mission on our own.
We awoke to the annoying sound of an alarm clock at 2:45 am, and even though it was ridiculously early, the excitement of waking up so early in July for a day of backcountry skiing trumped the general grogginess the three of us shared. Of course I still fell asleep on our three hour drive south, but gained consciousness just as we started cruising up Tioga Pass. The sun was slowly showing itself on the day, and as we started gearing up in the parking lot, the day developed into a morning of ridiculousness as we got ready to catch the first boat taxi across Saddlebag Lake at 7 am. The boat taxi is a first-come first-serve sorta thing, for 11 bucks round trip, and shaves three miles roundtrip off your hiking time. It's also a novel way for summer access to the terrain of North Peak and nearby Mt. Conness, which are currently holding great turns for adventurous backcountry riders if anyone's jonesing.
To our surprise, only one other skier was on the boat with us at 7, and his plans did not include skiing the steep couloirs of North Peak. Amazingly, we were the only group up there on this 4th of July. Disembarking from our boat ride, the mosquito's swarmed and we geared up and lathered the SPF so we could head on our way. The Peak was sitting right in front of us, with a somewhat gentle approach on flat terrain that brings you up to some rock slabs, and then to the base of the couloirs. The morning was still and the wilderness setting sublime. The only thing that shook my mind out of the daze only a tranquil approach hike can do was noticing the exorbitant amount of organic sunscreen Jeff had applied to his face, as well as the whippet protector that adorned his nose. Apparently organic sunscreen is really thick and doesn't blend in all that easy. At least we had a 4th of July clown to entertain anyone we came across, and thus the holiday spirit was in full effect.
That is until we found ourselves scrambling up rock slabs, which really weren't all that intense, although pulling boldering moves with skis and boots on your back in hiking shoes is never as easy as it looks-especially when you have to downclimb on your way back to a boat ride you're sure to miss. But at that moment we weren't too concerned with the rock moves that we just threw down, because only a few short strides away laid the three 45+degree couloirs of North Peak. Our objective was to ski the main couloir that leads to the summit, and as we switched into climbing mode adorning crampons, ice axes, and whippets, it quickly became clear we were in for a real summer holiday treat. The couloir was frozen, and even though it was July, topping out around 11:30 am still meant we had to wait almost an hour for the sun to warm or line.
Thankfully it did, and the harvest was on-steep skiing with real deal fresh mountain corn of the 4th of July. We may have missed a few bbq's and whole lot of excess drinking, but we sure found a way to celebrate our freedom high atop the North Peak couloir. We even made it back to Tahoe for a few brews and fireworks of our own, but our central adventure for the day still provided the greatest holiday entertainment as we got to feast on the best summer corn out there; the kind you earn your turns for.