During drought winters, here in Lake Tahoe, we are left with only the highest snow covered peaks to hike and ski. Some of these backcountry ski locations get so frequented by the frothing masses of skiers that the parking along the road completely fills in. The primary lines get tracked nearly to the point of moguls and the skin tracks can be slick like an ice rink. We know these lines. We have lapped them countless times while yearning for the rest of our basin to get covered up with snow. During those bleak, dry years we longingly look across the Lake dreaming about the seldom skied lines that only fill during the coldest and the biggest of winters, planning for that future when everything just lines up.
Well this year is our time to get out after it once again. Our snow pack has grown with each progressive storm; while not yet record breaking, the base is deeper than other years by this point. The last few week’s storms brought blinding snowfall rates, cold temperatures and deeper accumulation of drier, lower water content snow than we are used to here in California. As a result, we have snow down to lake level and good coverage on all aspects. Sounds like the perfect opportunity to seek out some of those ‘seldom skied’ lines around the Basin.
The Bear Scratch off of Herlan Peak is certainly that. It’s just like they say: You gotta make hay when the sun shines.
We toured up from the East shore of Lake Tahoe headed for the top of the Bear Scratch Couloir off of Herlan Peak. This is a unique Tahoe summit by the somewhat rarity of good skiing to be found here. It takes cold temps due to the easterly aspect and lot’s of late day sun, as well as snow all the way down to the Lake. Typically skiers will park at the scenic pull out on the lake side of the highway south of Incline Village. With construction underway we were looking for an alternative parking location and found just what we needed at Sand Harbor. We walked back up the road and headed into the woods and up the obvious peak. We trended to some slightly less steep trees on the more northerly aspect of the peak. Had time not been an issue this area would have made for a perfectly spaced pitch for tree skiing, but alas we had bigger objectives in mind.
Part of what can keep the Bear Scratch just so pristine is a little spiciness getting in from the top. When descending to the couloir from the summit here is typically some rocky down climbing to get to ski-able snow- and that is just what we found. Easy, straight forward skis on back down climbing into the couloir, then blower cold preserved turns all the way back to the car. It really doesn’t get any better than this!
On the up track we ran into the only other skier we saw out in the area, Bob Wright from Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue. With the slightly elevated avalanche advisory, we all decided to stick together; seemed like the ‘Search and Rescue’ guy would be a good addition to the group.