Getting up the ridge was hard. Getting down it wasn’t that hard, but most of them fell a lot.
Here is the story of a band of eight, who skied through snowy wilderness to make lentils in a recently condemned, then renovated, ski hut in the Tahoe National Forest.
Arrival at Claire Tappan (Sunday)
It started out with everyone converging on the Claire Tappan Lodge, which was a gorgeous and rustic old place, Sunday night. The expert skiers, Jesse and Alex, had arrived Saturday so they’d have time to Ski Mt. Tallac before the main retreat trip. Aileen, Ashli, and Nate all arrived early afternoon, with Andrew and Anna late afternoon. Those seven shared a three-stacked high bunk room. The eighth, Jason, wandered in that night around 10:30pm, encountered a man in a bath robe who seemed to know a thing or two about the lodge, and was bundled off to the Men’s dorm.
That night, the food and communal gear was split among people, with Jesse taking a lot of weight, and the other strong skier Alex toting a crazy carpet sled behind him. The rest were novice snow adventurers.
Starting Off to Peter Grubb Hut (Monday)
On Monday morning, they ate breakfast, packed sack lunches with sandwiches, chips, cookies, and fruit, and rented equipment, all from the lodge. They were headed to ski/snow-shoe to the Peter Grubb Hut, to stay overnight Monday and Tuesday, and then come out on Wednesday morning.
They’d drove up to Snopark near the Boreal Inn, Snopark being a chunk of road that you can get permitted to leave you car in while you ski off overnight some place. First they dropped their gear off at the trailhead, then dumped their cars and hiked back to the Trailhead to get their gear and go.
At the trailhead, there was a group of little kids in snowshoes, about to start out on a hike with some outdoor school supervisory adults, and a couple other people headed up the nordic ski trail, which parallels the Pacific Crest Trail briefly, then converges with it along a ridgeline.
Andrew left his sleeping pad in his and Anna’s car, but Anna noticed. The group took off after he fetched that, the day was sunny with Tahoe blue skies, and no rain or snow in sight. They were using 2 pairs of backcountry skis with skins, 5 pairs of backcountry nordic skis, and one pair of snowshoes.
The first part of the skiing along the trail is easy enough, even for beginners. It’s slightly uphill, with wavy terrain. The next segment of getting up the ridge was simple work for expert skiers Jesse and Alex, as well as for Jason on snowshoes, but some of the others hiked up the saddle onto the ridge with skis in hand. Once up on the saddle, that’s about halfway to the Petter Grubb Hut, and the group had ascended 700 feet, and gone 1.2 miles in about 2 hours.
The rest of the trip follows the ridge line, then descends on the other side about 200 feet. It’ about 1.2 miles more to Peter Grubb Hut, once up on the ridge, and the ridge is also part of the Pacific Crest Trail, which you hop on briefly, before hopping off to descend to the Hut. The trip overall took 3 hours over 2.5 miles. They got into the cabin just after 2pm, and most devoured the lunches they had packed at the Claire Tappan Lodge, while Jesse split firewood and made 8 cups of coffee via his aeropress.
At Peter Grubb Hut
The hut and both of its outhouses were buried in snow, but had been dug out and made passable by previous intrepid explorers. For the main house, you could enter via the 2nd floor, into the sleeping loft. There was also a snow tunnel bored out to get into the first floor entrance.
The group entered initially via the 2nd floor, spread out their mats and sleeping bags on the floor, and transported the rest of the food and utensils and such down the skinny ladder to the first floor. The first floor could be lit by 4 lightbulbs running on a small solar panel over the front door, hung very vertically such that it didn’t accumulate snow. The lights were on hour timers, but could be rewound, and they had plenty of light the whole trip.
Alex made a fire in the wood stove. They hung the food in wooden boxes suspended from the ceiling to foil mice. After lunch, Jesse and Alex set off to ski up Andesite Peak, sticking skins back onto their backcountry skis for the initial uphill, and adorning themselves with avalanche beacons so they could find each other under heaps of snow. Of the rest of the group, some hung out in the cabin recuperating from the day’s ski, and others skied a bit in the hills and meadow surround the cabin. Someone pointed out that Truckee, a nearby town, used to have a roaring business selling ice to San Francisco in the early 20th century.
Dinner/Night at the Hut
For dinner, Andrew, Anna, and others prepared lentil soup for dinner, some in a vegetarian way, the other mixed with chicken bouillon and summer sausage. Both varieties got mixed with dehydrated vegetables, a mixed grain rice, and half the onion they brought for various meals. Cooking was easy, combining the propane 2-burner stove in the hut, along with the hot surface of the wood stove (which also provided heat to warm feet, dry gear, and cook meals).
They made too many lentils, and overall began to determine that Andrew and Anna had packed 10-20,000 more calories than the group really needed. The only-half-devoured soup pans were thus stored in the cubic regions that had been carved out of the ice tunnel leading to the front door, which served as freezers, to be reheated for future lunch and dinners.
Notes On Snow
Snow is a useful thing – you can use it to scrub dishes, scrub counters, wash your hands, melt to make drinking water, or moderate your speed as you ski down a mountain. And at the Peter Grubb Hut that day in March, snow was piled up 20 feet deep as far as the eye can see, and due for another foot or so one the next 2 days.
As they slept, snored, and farted through the first night in their sleeping bags in the loft, the snow built up another foot. Many of the grouped recounted Ashli’s admonition that dehydrated vegetables and beans was going to be a farty party. Most opted not to visit the 2nd story outhouse, mostly buried in snow, after they zipped up their bags for the night.
Tuesday Breakfast and Skiing
On Tuesday morning, outside was pristine powder everywhere, with the group’s tracks into the hut totally wiped out. They had a breakfast of aeropressed coffee, plus oatmeal with raisins, sliced walnuts, and brown sugar. Except Ashli didn’t eat gluten, so she had hard-boiled eggs with Frank’s Hot Sauce poured on them. It turned out there was a lot of ways to make your food spicy on the trip, from Frank’s, to cajun spice brought by Nate, to chili garlic sauce brought by Anna and Andrew.
After breakfast, Alex and Jesse went up Castle Peak. Nate, Andrew, and Anna skied around the hut surroundings. Ashli stayed in except to look around a bit, Aileen used a sled she found in the cabin, and Jason took more pictures pounding around on snowshoes. The sky was no longer clear, and the snow had begun to lightly fall. They all congregated back at the hut around lunchtime, and had sandwiches of cheese, avocado, bread, and meat, along with various snacks from the abundant food supply.
The afternoon outside was similar to the morning. Alex and Jesse headed up the third peak that was near the Hut, but didn’t go all the way up because of heavy clouds, snow, and wind. The rest skied, snowshoed, and sledded in the area of the Hut. They also hung out around the cabin, played bananagrams, chatted, and split firewood.
Andrew and Anna had the most experience skiing, among the novice section of the group, since they had lived in Truckee for a couple of years. But Nate ended up being the best of the non-experts by the end of Tuesday, perhaps due to his natural athleticism and strength.
Tuesday at the Hut
For dinner, they re-heated the lentil soups and combined that with cartons of refried back beans they heated, along with tortillas, cheddar cheese, and the various spicy sauces and spices. They did cleanup that night to facilitate a quick exit in the morning, which included Nathan splitting wood, Jason sweeping the unsweepable floor, Andrew scrubbing pans, etc.
They played more bananagrams that evening, with custom rules to require 3+, 4+, and 5+ words on games, also changing the rules to make you draw more tiles when there is a peel. Most or all people looked at stars that night. Alex also did some fancy photography with long exposures and flashes to capture the stars and surrounding snow.
They still hadn’t used all the lentils, and also hadn’t used two other cartons of black beans, nor a sack of quinoa. More farting commenced through that sleeping night.
Andrew, Nate, Jason, and Jesse sat in front of the fire Tuesday around 9pm. Alex was messing with his gear downstairs, Ashli, Aileen, and Anna were either in bed or getting ready for bed. The fireplace group tried to decide how early we needed to leave to make it out in time to drive Nate to Reno to catch his 2pm flight back to Oklahoma, It was decided an 8am start time would be sufficient.
It snowed an inch or two that night.
Wednesday – Journey Home
They had a cold breakfast, used the outhouse some more, and Jason burned the bucket of despoiled toilet paper that we’d been building up since arrival.
The group set off that morning at about 8:09am, headed up to the ridge, then down the saddle, then down the trail out to the freeway. The group’s spirit was high, though there was some anxiety about whether they’d all master the trip, or if Jesse and Alex would have to mastermind some sort of rescue for one or more people. A recent entry in the Hut’s logbook certainly mentioned folks who had to be escorted out to make their way. Since they had Gaia GPS, they knew the way home, but whether the skiers could all get their skis up and down the steepest part of the ridge was in question.
It went mostly well, with a few struggles. Anna was having a hard time getting up the ridge coming back, so Jesse came back to help with the ascent. At the bottom of the saddle, Andrew couldn’t get his left ski binding to click into the metal bar at the front of his ski boots, and was thinking frustrated thoughts about the impossibility of potholing out of here. But Alex helped him figure out how to scrape the ice out of the ski bindings, and it was smooth sailing from there.
Aileen hadn’t skied since she was a kid, and struggled the first day coming in, but was much more confident on the way out. Ashli got through all the skiing fine, especially given she had only the barest amount of ski experience, on flat roads in Wisconsin. Jason pounded through the powder with snowshoes, which also aided in tripod-assisted photography. Nate skied every part of the journey, including down the saddle where half the group walked down. Piece of cake for Jesse and Alex.
Everyone made it out in fine form, got their cars dug out, and hit the schedule.
Nate was the earliest flight at 2pm, and he got there on time driving with Jesse and Jason. Aileen and Ashli valiantly returned all the rental gear. Anna and Andrew put chains on the front wheel of their car, to get traction out if the snowy snopark.
Some said it was surreal to leave behind the wintery wilderness for the real world.