Weekend adventures: Tamarack Peak ski and Eagle Lake Buttress traverse (attempt)

Another saturday, another early morning drive to Tahoe. This time it was an even longer drive to Nevada, to get some beginner backcountry skiing experience on Tamarack Peak.

Thanks to Marusa for guiding us on this half-day tour, it was a lot of fun! Snow conditions were good and the way up was well tracked. I managed to fall a couple of times on the icy parts of the skin-track, until I learned to trust my heels and keep looking up. This was also a great trip to nail the kick-turns and switching my risers with the poles.

Mt. Rose Ski Area from Tamarack Peak
Mt. Rose Ski Area from Tamarack Peak: Mt. Rose Ski Area from Tamarack Peak

We went up the ridge to the summit for incredible views! I haven’t seen much of Tahoe from the North Shore. If anything, this view is even more spectacular because the tallest and most snow-covered mountains are now framing the lake.

There was plenty of company on Tamarack that day, the five in our group, and at least 7 other skiers while we were up there.

From here we skied down the Hourglass Bowl. I have not yet figured out how to do the slight hopping required to ski in powder.

Skiing down Tamarack
Skiing down Tamarack: Author skiing down the hourglass.

Then we went up another ridge to take the shortest way to the car. This was a steeper ski down and I took a few tumbles. The bottom half was great though!

The short run on the way to the car.
The short run on the way to the car.: The short run to get to the car after skiing the Hourglass Bowl.

From here I headed to Mellow Mountain Hostel. Nevada has finally cleared the pullouts on their side of the lake, so that you can walk down to the various coves along the North Shore. Another skiing friend showed up in the evening after having done a stupendous 52000ft at Heavenly! We hogged our way through Baja Fresh and their mango salsa.

Lake Tahoe from the NE shore
Lake Tahoe from the NE shore: The lake was beautiful on Saturday.

On Sunday I kept my head down and worked a lot so I could have more fun on Monday. Blue Dog Pizza has great food, especially when they make a mistake on your order and give you a larger pizza. Score! I hogged some of that down, had more of it for dinner, a couple more slices for lunch the next day and finally threw the remaining away because I couldn’t take it any more.

I spent some time at the lake that evening after all the weekend tourists had left, observing the Cross Couloir on Tallac, before being chased off by some ladybug-like insects (shudder).

Monday morning I caught up with the rest of the Sierra Mountaineering Club group to try an Eagle Lake Buttress traverse. The only internet trip report I’ve found on this is very recent, so I was hoping to have similar conditions.

Eagle Lake Buttress
Eagle Lake Buttress: ELB seen from Eagle Lakes Trailhead.

Unfortunately the snow was much warmer so that getting up the gullies was a reasonable amount of postholing. Still, I was glad we did not carry snowshoes. The route is mostly class 4-5 rock and not having those ungainly things is a blessing when you are struggling with mountaineering boots. In hindsight, I also wish I had left the crampons behind. The approach is on the two snow-covered ramps on the left, and we took the steeper one. From there it is some short talus hopping to the base of the buttress.

Approach gullies from Eagle Lake
Approach gullies from Eagle Lake: Gullies to gain the ridge from Eagle Lake.

The way up to the base of the buttress is straight-forward, and a snowy white Desolation Wilderness envelopes you the whole time. I had my scariest moment of the day on the approach, when my foot collapsed through some snow over talus and I fell forward onto another sharp boulder. Fortunately it avoided my teeth by a few inches, and I only had to cope with a bruised but unbroken rib.

Looking into Desolation Wilderness
Looking into Desolation Wilderness: Looking deeper into Desolation Wilderness. Jacks, Dicks and the minor peaks of the Crystal Range.
The base of the buttress
The base of the buttress: Base of Eagle Lake Buttress. Several class 4 or easy 5th options exist on the left side to get to the notch.

We gained the notch around noon. There we set up a short fixed line to navigate a large mantle with a snowy base. By the time this was done it was pretty clear that we were not going to make it across the entire ridge. 9 people add up when you start using gear. Don’t let that dissuade you though, the entire traverse is quality rock and even a short section is better than no climbing ;)

After that part we stayed on the ridge the whole time, and made it approximately half way to Phipps Pass.

Looking south on the ridge
Looking south on the ridge: Looking South towards Mt. Tallac.
Lake Tahoe and Maggies Peak
Lake Tahoe and Maggies Peak: Lake Tahoe and Maggies Peak.

We set up another line a bit before the sharp headwall that blocks the way. This was needed because the snow was starting to melt while we were climbing. Plus there aren’t the greatest holds for the feet in mountaineering boots.

The team on the ridge
The team on the ridge: The team on the ridge with Phipps Peak in the background. Desolation Wilderness, California.

The headwall is some spicy climbing without a rope, requiring ascending a series of granite blocks to an airy perch. We had lunch here, then tracked the ridge for a little while longer, until we stopped at another notch around 2:45pm to descend to the western bowl. Here some of us downclimbed a class 4 section, while others rappelled. Then it was easy terrain with occasional painful postholing. We stuck to climber’s left and maintained elevation to gain the ridge again near the base of the buttress. From here it was reversing the route to Eagle Lake. Easier said than done. Several people sunk to their chest on the ramps. Waide even had to do a sort of crevasse extraction to get out, requiring a harness and an ice-axe belay assist.

Back to the car, Forni Road In-n-Out burger, Sacramento, Bay Bridge, Home to start the week on a Tuesday!

Overall, Eagle Lake Buttress is a great ridge traverse, and also excellent practice for harder and longer traverses like Matthes Crest or the North Ridge of Conness.

We had a 30m ~8mil rope, and a few cams for the entire group. I would love to repeat this later in the year with approach shoes, a similar rack and a smaller group to finish the entire traverse in a day.