Parks Peak


Our climb turns into a ski tour, but it's still a great day.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

It was my brother's annual birthday outing, so I wanted to make it interesting. Other birthdays with Tom:

The weather looked pretty unstable for the weekend, and through agreement we decided to go Saturday. Shorter drive. Sawtooths? I suggested a long-time goal of trying the north face of Parks Peak. When I invited Bob and Ralph, they took the bait but both wanted to ski it per the "Eye Candy" link I had supplied. I had climbed Parks in 2008, but wanted to try this more technical route.

I had envisioned something simpler, but after a 4am departure (some birthday!) and a road-clearing session into Yellowbelly Lake (good thing there were five of us; it took some serious muscle to move all those trees), we were loaded like camels and heading up the trail with winter gear, skis, axes, crampons, ice screws, and other assorted impedimenta.

Loaded like camels

It was not as cold as predicted (NOAA had said something about 20° in Stanley). But it was cold enough to snow. So it did.

Crossing the creek required care on the wet logs slicked with fresh snow. But no one fell in, so sadly, this was my most exciting shot.

Creek crossing

We made it most of the way to Farley Lake with minimum postholing, so were still not yet on skis. However, the skis worked really well to knock fresh snow off the tree limbs and down the neck of your shirt.

[Note: Bob reports that after arriving home, he was harboring a tick, so perhaps the skis help in collecting those little bastards as well?]

Post holing

When we got to Farley, we could finally see our mountain. The fog/clouds were moving in and out, so I had to shoot this quickly.

If you look at the bigger version, you can see that the snow is discontinuous at the bottom of the gully. Worse, below the gully is a broad fan of fresh chunder. I had imagined that the snow was settled by now, but we saw fresh avy debris everywhere. Yikes!

North chute of Parks Peak

So make the most of it, eh?

At this point we switched to skis and ditched our hiking footwear (I didn't say hiking boots because a couple of the fellas were in running shoes to this point). Taking all that weight off my back gave me a new lease on life.

We had our eyes on a broad fan of snow to the west of our original route. It didn't get us to the summit, but at least it offered some turns.

Invisible skiers
We wandered about for quite some time trying to find a way across the creek. Waterfall

Look closely; these are not ski tracks.

I think it was a pair of otters. We saw more than a few slide tracks along the creek. But they didn't help us much because by their tracks, they seemed to be enjoying the water as much as the snow.

Otter tracks

Another picture that requires a close look. The dark spots near the trees on either side of the closer skier are open, running creek.

By the time we found this snow bridge, we were almost half way to Toxaway, well away and above the previously mentioned fan. Ralph and Chris were determined to get those turns, but Bob, Tom, and I opted to turn the whole affair into a ski tour by heading up into the basin that holds Lake 8723.


Getting up into the basin was a little tricky, and Ralph/Chris reported similar difficulties. The hillside had multiple streams cutting down it, and there were lots of cliffs, both big and small. These obstacles conspired to prevent one from taking the preferred line, so constant navigational readjustments were required. In addition, the new snow had fallen on an old, frozen crust, so if your skis were turned at all sideways to the slope, you would skitter and slide unintentionally.

In other words, it was a lot harder than it could have been.

Lodgepole slalom

We persevered up into the basin, where, in the lead, I had one of those moments for the life list. We had been following what we think were wolf tracks, so I was already a little keyed up. Just ahead on a small bump, I was surprised by a flurry of furry motion and color right in front of me. It was just a flash, but I thought it was a fox. This was perhaps 15 yards away and at eye level (we still had a bit to climb). I yelled in excitement (Tom, my ever-supportive brother, said it sounded like a baby squawking).

But about 2-3 seconds later I got an even bigger surprise. I wasn't sure the first flash was a fox, but the second one was definitely a wolverine. The shape and color was unmistakable. But I think the sight of me and the volume of my squawk scared him as much as he surprised me.

Over the years, I've seen tons of bears, several cougars, and quite a few wolves. But this was my first wolverine. And the coloring of the wolverine in this video makes me think I might have actually seen a pair.

We followed the big set of tracks for a bit, wondering if maybe we shouldn't actually be heading in the opposite direction. So the point of this picture is that you can see what I am convinced is his tracks leaving the valley in a hurry.
Ick-- humans.

Unfortunately, Bob and Tom only got to see the beast's tracks. But the view of the basin (below) still was worth the price of admission.

Lake 8723

We had reached our turn-around time, so we donned our helmets for the lodgepole slalom. We simply reversed our tracks to get back to the snow bridge across the creek and then to our shoes.

Shortly after, we got a good view of what Ralph and Chris had been up to. The picture didn't show their tracks too well, so I added a little red arrow to show their high point. Their last turns were right at the lake, well below what the picture shows. Ralph and Chris decided to avoid the pain of navigating back up through the cliffs to the snow bridge, instead rock-hopping across the inlet.

We were in radio contact, so agreed to shuttle their shoes down the trail to a rendezvous.

Ski tracks

Then, loaded like camels once again, we were headed down the trail into what looked like a pretty good storm. But it seemed warm enough to be rain..... dang.

But we made it back to the van without any additional precipitation, and when we hit the pavement the road remained dry. Dodged a bullet.

But as we neared Stanley again, it started snowing. Hard. Soon, the road was turning white. We locked the hubs and Bob guided Moby gently down the road, stopping occasionally to clear the ice off the windshield and wipers.

Valley storm over Yellowbelly

This decidedly non-May weather didn't cease when we got over Banner Creek. This shot is the top of Horseshoe Bend hill. We heard that Mountain Home got 2" of snow in town. And Bogus Basin got 16".

Sometimes you don't execute the plan. But if the plan doesn't execcute you, a day in the mountains with your buds is a good day.
Happy 51, Tom!

Ralph's trip report

Horseshoe Bend summit

Mr. Natural Home | 2010 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski