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Sugarbowl to Squaw on the Sierra Crest

Trip Date: 2.15.20

The Sugar bowl to Squaw valley tour is a classic tour in north lake tahoe. It takes you along a beatiful part of the sierra crest with sweeping views and solitude, despite staring and ending at two of the most popular ski resorts in the area. Sarah and I have had this tour on our bucket list for a couple years now. We had always thought that it would be a awesome hut trip in the winter or a good chance to practice some snow camping skills in the spring given that its over 10 miles of rolling terrain. Given the lack of fresh snow in Feburary 2020, we were looking for an adventure that would be fun even with less than stellar conditions, so we set our sights on making the long traverse in one day.

Since this was going to be quite a long tour for us we decided that it would be prudent to bring out beta-light tent, one sleeping bag, one sleeping pad, and a stove in case we got benighted. We packed up Friday night and left San Francisco at 4:00am on Saturday morning. After a quick shot up 80, we pulled into the Sugarbowl overflow parking lot at just about 7:15am after getting turned away from parking on Donner Pass road. We walked 100ft up the road to the PCT and put our skis on and started skinning. Sugarbowl usually charges for an uphill ticket unless you're going to continue on the PCT as we were, but we didn't see anyone until we got to the top of Mt. Judah. From there we could see the first half of the portion of the crest we'd be on with Tinker Knob looking quite far way. When we got to the top of Mt Lincoln, we got to take our skins off for the first time and enjoy some wind-packed snow for a bit.

Looking back at Mt. Lincoln

Now we were on the crest proper and the wind was blowing pretty hard from the west. There were large cornices and a lot of sastrugi on the surface, which made sense given that there hadn't been any snow for two weeks. After some more rolling hills we came to Anderson peak and saw some trail runners coming the towards us. We stopped and talked to them for a bit and they said they had come from Squaw Valley. They seemed to be moving a bit faster since all they had was micro spikes and hiking poles. They said that we would probably get some good corn on the back of Tinker knob. We felt good about our progress after seeing them since we thought there's no way we're that far since they had come from the other direction. Within a few minutes we realized that we still had a long ways to ago, never under estimate the fitness of people you meet in the mountains.

Windy
Guess which way the wind blows

About 10 minutes later we spotted the Benson hut, it was nestled right in some trees on the side of Anderson peak. Needing some respite from the wind we went inside and had lunch. At night the hut is reservation only, but during the day anyone can go inside. There wasn't much in there, some logs and stools to sit on, some bare bunks, and whatever cooking utensils other's had left behind, though still better than sleeping in the snow.

Benson Hut

We looked at the map and figure that we had come about 4-5 miles since we left the car, but had maybe 10 miles to go. We had thought that the total mileage would be 11 miles, but looking at the map we realized that was just the mileage on the crest itself. None the less we headed out and continued on our journey. The rest of the journey along the crest was pretty uneventful, the sun had finally come out so it was a lot more pleasant to be hiking.

Enjoying some sun

Eventually we came to Tinker Knob which was about 2/3 of the way to Squaw and the high point of the tour. This was the first significant downhill section, which was much appreciated by then. It was a nice south facing slope, which had corned up just in time for our arrival. As fun as it was we had to put the skins back on not too long after and begin the hike up to the crest and Squaw Valley's backside.

After the descent

We got a little lost and probably did a little more up and down than we had to. It was about 4:15 pm at this point and there was quite a lot of globing going on, which made this section particularly slow going. Finally we made it to a decision point looking down into squaw. Either we go down into Shirley Canyon or continue Squaw. Given the bad snow coverage hat winter we opted for not boulder hopping in the dark and hoped we'd make it through Squaw unnoticed.

After not long we made it to the ski area and headed down into the back side of squaw. It was a lot later than we realized and we saw that the lifts had stopped running and there were only a few mountain operations people cleaning up for the day. Thinking that we were allowed to skin up, we started up to the main area so we ski down the mountain back to the parking lot.

After not long a squaw employee showed up and asked what the hell we were doing on the mountain. We said we just needed to get back to the parking lot and he said to go back the way we way came. After a little back and forth he said to just keep skinning up. Not five minutes after that, ski patrol showed up and said that they would be making us take a ride on their snowmobiles up to the top of the ridge.

After we got up to the top, they gave us a bit of a talking to saying we were trespassing and that they were thinking about charging people for 'rescues' like that one. After we apologized they let us ski down the mountain with a patroller doing the final sweep behind us. It was pretty fun to get to ski down squaw all by our selves.

After we got down we met up with our friend, Cathy, who was kind enough to give as a ride back to Sugarbowl to pick up our car.

Sunset in the parking lot

GPS Track

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