I knew the warm weather would soften up the snow, but had no idea just how much
Left Southfork at 6:30. Put microspikes on after the wilderness boundary sign when I fell on ice. Once I passed the Dry?Dollar Lake junction sign, the snowshoes were essential. Even so, going up the XC ski route on the right hand side of Xmas tree hill was not pleasant -- I broke through the icy crust up to my knee or higher more often than I like.
Skirted around the morraine and started heading up towards the Jepson bowl and the Big Draw. I stayed to the left to try to see how far the snow went up. It looked pretty good, so I headed up. About halfway up before it got really steep, I switched to crampons and ice-axe. The good news -- I sunk in really well and felt secure. The bad news -- sinking in that much while climbing is work. The snow ran out about 10 vertical feet before the saddle to the west of Jepson. Scrambled up and enjoyed the rest provided by removing my crampons.
Followed the ridge up and joined the main trail at the Vivian/Sky High trail junction sign. Made it to the summit at 12:45 PM and celebrated by eating lunch and taking a picture of my St. Patrick's day bandana and sipping some Oban single malt scotch. After 45 minutes, no one else had shown up and I headed down. Ran into four guys who'd come up from Vivian -- they looked absolutely traumatized -- they'd fallen repeatedly in the soft, slippery snow. This was their first time on San G and they wanted to go down a different way. I told them how to avoid the high traverse by staying on the west side of the ridge.
I headed over the ridge on the east side of the north chutes and started hiking down -- there was no snow for the first 250 vertical feet. I wasn't comfortable glissading and continued to down climb, switching from crampons to snowshoes. I was sinking in mid-calf with snowshoes and hadn't even reached the morraine field yet. Bad omen. Sure enough, once I reached the flat area at the bottom of the snow climb, I was dropping in up to my crotch. I considered myself lucky to only sink in up to my knee. I slowly made my way back over towards the XC ski route. This was harder than climbing.
I didn't experience any sort of relief until I rejoined the trail in Southfork meadows. Finally, I could walk like a normal human being. Got back to my car at 5:50 -- the hardest 11:40 minute snow climb I've ever experienced on old greyback. Made me wish that summer would come early and melt the darn lousy snow. Had a fabulous meal at the Oaks before heading home. From the number of cars still parked at the TH when I returned, I suspect it was a long, miserable day for many folks.
Miles of smiles,