If you don't know what telemark is, first read this.

Rock Creek

April 29-30, 2000
After two years of practicing our tele turns and accumulating snow camping equipment, we were finally ready for our first tour in the Sierra Nevada. La Nina was active during the 1999/2000 resulting in below average snow levels. By the end of April, the only skiiable snow was north of Mammoth, and we decided to head out to Rock Creek. The snow coverage was excellent, but the snow was melting fast. Even the lakes by the side of the road had significantly less ice on Sunday when we were heading out than on Saturday morning as we were heading in. Still, we were able to ski from the road where we left our cars.

We picked Ruby Lake, at 11000' elevation as our destination. Though the climb was gentle (the trailhead was already at 10000' feet), we were not well acclimated to the altitude and struggled with the climb. We encountered a short patch of melted snow where we had to carry our skis, but that was enough to make us want to avoid it on the way back. We reached the lake by early afternoon, just as the famed Sierra spring corn was reaching perfection. Unfortunately, by the time we set up camp, rested, and were finally in shape the hit the slopes, the snow had passed its prime. We climbed the slope just above our camp, and you could feel the snow hardening up and getting crusty with every step. Some of us still managed to get a few decent turns in, while others (incl. yours truly) managed some decent face plants. Our first backcountry descent was much too short!
Campsite at Ruby Lake - look closely and you can see 
the tracks on the right above and below the saddle.
First backcountry descent!

The first and most important thing to remember about spring skiing in the Sierras is that it is extremely hot. The light beats down at you mercilessly both from above and below, like an oven. As soon as the sun disappears behind the mountains, the second most important thing to know is that it gets cold. The effect is quick and surprising, as if someone just flipped the switch. However, does not get dark for a long time. Try keeping yourself occupied and warm after an exhausting day while waiting for the night to fall. More often than now, we are inside the sleeping bags long before it is officially dark.

By the time we were ready to head out to play in the snow, our neighbors at the lake - another group of skiiers - was already gone. We followed their melting tracks, keeping an eye out for unstable snow. Not being terribly ambitious, we set a minor peak, 12401 (as in feet), as our goal. The drudgery of the relentless climb was made bearable by the serenity of the snow covered landscape. In college I've met people who experienced snow first as adults. What struck them most about it was how quiet it was. In the mountains snow muffles life, smoothes jagged rock, makes everything pristine. At least that's what you try to concentrate on while climbing... The climb is never its own reward, the reward is the views. We could see from here to eternity, or at least to the next higher range. And everywhere you looked you could see tracks, lots of happy ski tracks.

Boy, did we have fun going down. A climb of a couple of hours translated into a good 20 min of turns. The snow was perfect, if slightly wet in places. We followed one drop after another, straight down to the lake, then skate skiied its blue perimeter back to our campsite. Our tracks looked happy too, though mine were still a bit jagged on edges.

After breaking camp, we decided to follow a different route back to avoid the melted strip. It seemed easy enough - we could see the trail about 800' below us. The only thing separating us from it was the forested slope. Armed with a topo map we began to pick our way through the trees and the rocks on our skis. With 40 lbs packs. On our first winter outing. I nearly gave up hope of making it out alive, much less before sunset, after falling into a few badly places tree wells. Follow this procedure to extract yourself from the tree well: 1)  take your pack off; 2) get up out of the tree well; 3) put your pack back on; 4) repeat as necessary, and ski if you have any energy left. The image on the left shows us side slipping down a particularly rocky stretch.
It was worse than it looks.... Honest

We were rewarded by a long. gentle ski back to the car. We saw two or three campsites along the way, their inhabitants gone, presumably to play in the snow.

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