Saturday 18 February 2012

Tahoe's worst season ever == Australia in a reasonably good year

Two day ski trip in Tahoe!  The locals I talked to said it was the worst season...ever.  But the snow was actually still pretty decent.  They'd just had a good dump a couple of days before we arrived so while there were some rocks showing through, it was definitely still ski-able.

We skied at Heavenly and picked up rentals at California lodge, which is in the bizarre situation of only having double black diamond runs off the first lift, so beginners need to travel further to find something that won't be fatal (our ski instructor had a disturbing apocryphal story about a beginner falling on Gunbarrel on an icy day and having most of the skin flayed off him by the time he hit the bottom...).  I had half an hour to kill so the first runs I did were two laps down East Bowl: fairly committing for the first runs of the season, but it worked out OK.

I took a lesson, during which we spent most of our time working on handling moguls on the ungroomed Ellie's, which was perfect for me since I'm still pretty ordinary in moguls.  The weather was warm and gave us some amazing views from the top of the runs.  Identifying runs and skiing areas by what state they were in was somewhat of a novelty.  There were plenty of signs saying 'to Nevada' and 'to California'.

Lake Tahoe from the top of East Bowl

Lake Tahoe on the left, Nevada desert plateau on the right, mountains in the middle.  Amazing!

We stayed in Harrah's, the Nevada side of town is easily identified by where the casinos spring up, which was notable only because the hotel rooms had two completely separate bathrooms in each room(?!).  The next day was XC skiing in hope valley.  We got some lessons and headed out for a loop around the valley.  The weather was amazingly warm - I was wearing my raincoat with a T-shirt underneath and was still too hot.

According to our guide, the spindly little trees would be under snow in a normal season - i.e. there would be six more feet of snow

The hope valley yurt where we picked up our gear and had lessons

Sunday 5 February 2012

I <3 Joshua Tree

For our trip to Joshua Tree we used airbnb for the first time and stayed in a fantastic house. The view at sunrise was just one of the perks.

The scenery in the park is stunning: giant piles of climbable rock are everywhere and the Mojave desert landscape is thickly dotted with Joshua Trees.

I hired a climbing guide, Steve, who is a Joshua Tree and Yosemite legend, to get me onto some of Joshua Tree's 7,000 documented climbs. Being a weekday in the middle of winter the park was really quiet, and we had our pick of climbs, but it happened that a group was working its way up Dappled Mare, which was one we wanted.

Climber on Dappled Mare

Instead we did The Swift beside it, which was a great climb.  The weather was amazing: warm with no wind.

Steve leading the first pitch of The Swift in his 5.10's without a belay :)
View of the Lost Horse Wall from the top of the first pitch of The Swift
We also did Toe Jam as a jamming and smearing warm up, then Mike's Books, where we spotted a couple of coyotes cruising through the parking lot.

To finish the day we did Walk on The Wild Side - an uber classic smear fest up the front of a giant piece of granite called saddle rock.  It was a new style of climbing for me: relying solely on your soles for multiple pitches where your only hand 'holds' are tiny little quartz crystals.  There was a significant distance between bolts: I was glad Steve was leading.  We added a pitch to reach the top and had a couple of big abseils off the back.  Great climb.

Friday 3 February 2012

Palm Springs: desert to snow in 20 minutes

Palm springs has an amazing aerial tramway that takes you from the desert floor at 805 m (2,643 ft) to the mountain station in Mt. San Jacinto State Park/Wilderness at 2,596 m (8,516 ft) in about 10 minutes. The $480,000 tram car has a rotating floor so you don't get stuck with the same view and is surprisingly smooth and virtually sway-free due to an impressive counterweight system, which you can see at the mountain station.

The day I went up it was about 20°C on the valley floor and about 1°C at the top, with patches of snow and ice on the ground.

Sadly we had a sick child on our hands when we got to palm springs and decided it was a bad idea to take her through the pressure changes and cold involved in a visit to the top. So Em took one for the team and stayed in the carpark with E while I dashed to the top, did a quick walk and took some photos. I'd love to come back and do an overnight trip into the wilderness - there were a few people coming back with overnight packs and crampons. There are a bunch of campgrounds available.

From the top you get amazing views of the desert and the impressive array of wind turbines, which look particularly cool at night with aircraft warning lights blinking in time.