Mt. Tyndall 14,018’
Location: Shepards Pass – Sierra Crest
Elevation Change 7500’
On March 24, 2004, I skied one of my biggest day ski tours with John. We had skied 3 days on this east side excursion. We day skied Mt. Starr aka Pointless Peak, and Birch Mountain as well. I don’t know how I pulled those others off after Tyndall, I almost didn’t make it back from this one. I think we did about 30 miles of travel to Climb Tyndall, including our side trip to a different sub peak on the return called Superbowl.
John knew what we were in for. He was trying to decide if we were ready the night before from a little family park in Independence, CA. We were hanging out at dusk, looking towards the mountains from a swing set along Highway US-395. We could see the peak from there. Before dark we even walked up the dry trail for an hour to see how it felt. That should have been my warning, John has a few more gears than I do. I was super confident we should go for it without knowing anything about the distance. I don’t think we had the guidebook on us or a map. That worked in our favor; ignorance is bliss. The journey to ski Tyndall involves reaching Shepard’s Pass on the Sierra Crest which usually takes 2 or even 3 days to reach for Trans Sierra ski tourers. Our packs were of course not overnight packs, but our ski gear was heavy. I had 4 buckle tele boots and no free pivot on my bindings. I had Karhu Jak BC skis which I absolutely loved, and thought would never be improved. They were lightweight but didn’t hold an edge. I’m sure John had Fritcihi bindings and Volkl alpine skis which he always skied.
There was no snow in sight, and we started marching around 4:30am in ski boots. Big mistake for me in lack of efficiency on the trail, and foot pain on the late afternoon return. My boots were just a little too tight to walk downhill in. When we hit the dirt at 3pm on the way back my toes hurt so much I had to walk in my liners. And strapping those older boots to your skis would make our backpacks ridiculously heavy for me. It wasn’t my first-time hauling skis with boots on my back, but wearing only liners was a new challenge.
Skinning up the peak wasn’t too difficult, we were great at skinning by this time no matter how firm the snow is or what vegetation gets in our way. I don’t think we had ski crampons just yet, so we had plenty of practice in our first 10 years of skinning crust without them. John was WAY out in front, but I could see where we were going, and I could see him as a little dot. At some point after this day, my other friend John coined a nickname for him “spec”. I’m not a nickname person and forgot about it. But that’s exactly what John was that day and on a few other days during our bigger ski tours. He was a little spec up in the distance for me to try and catch up to. It worked, I caught him at Shepard’s Pass and we continued to the summit. I was so beat near the summit that I eventually just stopped where the ski descent would begin. He offered to go slow and wait for me to walk to the actual summit together, but I didn’t want to slow us down. I wanted to make it back to the car before dark. I think my call was right. I was pretty close to whatever rock formed the ACTUAL summit in my mind, who cares. Now I care about these things more, but I also know when it’s time to just turn around. I still had to tele down maybe 5000’ of crusty snow and then walk a trail in ski boots for a few more hours.
I don’t remember what the snow was like as I sit here writing this 18 years later, it wasn’t good and it wasn’t terrible. The Tyndall NE slope was about 2000’ and 35 degrees. Then we skinned over and uphill to the top of a run called Superbowl that we had read about in Moynier’s Guidebook claiming 5000’ of descending. That was some pretty good corn snow that dropped us thousands of feet into the drainage. Maybe 2/3 of that was on snow. But when we hit the trail I had to take the toe crunching tele boots off and walk in my liners.
I duct taped my liners around my ankles to keep them from falling off and tried walking as fast as that would allow me on the dirt trail. John was up ahead out of sight, and I got a little delirious. I’m sure I wasn’t drinking water or eating snow or food. I made a wrong turn and started post holing in my liners down the wrong drainage in isothermal waist deep snow. It didn’t take long for me to realize this wasn’t the way. By the time I climbed back up the gully onto the trail, John had backtracked to find me. I think I spoke first, which was something to the effect of “why aren’t you waiting for me”. He barked back at how he’s not my guide. This spot was right where the snow becomes dirt, so that can be a moment of confusion. But I was out of my mind tired and probably didn’t look around much. I just charged downhill in the wrong direction.
That was the last day we skied together. Oh well, I wasn’t really in the same speed category as John. I just had the same enthusiasm for the peaks we had been skiing. I’ve been in that position many times myself, where I think a little tough talk can wake up my partner to pay more attention or go faster. It doesn’t work but you can’t help it. The fear is that if you slow down, your partner will slow down. That does in fact happen sometimes with beginners who don’t recognize the pace required to get back before dark. I haven’t tried to team up with ski partners since this day who will make me work to keep up. Either that or I have better gear. It’s both. You need partners to push you, and you need partners who give you a little cushy day. I have both for rock climbing.
I lost my ability to make rational decisions on Mt. Shasta one time near the top and just couldn’t decide which way to go. Different scenario, I was leading a big group of employees under a lot of stress. The van broke down at the trailhead, I couldn’t get cell reception and needed to reach the summit for the phone to work, or even ski down the other side to organize a rescue. We were the first skiers to hit Brewer Creek Trailhead that year by bashing over some snow patches. The oil filter got knocked off. By the time I reached the top I had made many stressful phone calls and achieved a rescue plan from my cell phone. Brooks was the only one left with me and we summited in icy cold windy conditions. Right at the top, his ski popped off TWICE and miraculously I caught it being below him on the descent. I had to walk back up the icy slope twice and we adjusted the Fritchi bindings better. At that point I was mentally spent. I pointed us towards the Hotlum glacier and told him to “follow my track around these crevasses exactly”. After a 10-minute debate, he convinced me our route was NOT in that direction, and to come back over to the east side. I had been up there many times and I know the Hotlum Wintun ski descent doesn’t cross glaciated terrain. Funny shit. Great stories. Blah blah blah. Watch your partners for extreme stress, which can lead them to get lost or do stupid stuff.