Day 11: Cache at 16,000ft

Today started our a little rocky. Jay woke up feeling better, so the decided to head out early to cache gear a at around 16,200ft. Unfortunately, they had a false start. They left fairly early, and it was extremely cold. They turned back to the tent feeling defeated.

Thankfully, the rallied! After some rest, some food, and warming up a bit (as much as you can warm up in negative temperatures) they set out to cache gear in the warmer afternoon weather.

To do this, they had to travel up the steep and dangerous Headwall, gaining about 2,000 feet over 1 mile. This area is so steep that the park services puts in “fixed lines” for climbers to use as the go up. These are ropes that are attached to the wall with ice and snow screws. Climbers then attach themselves to the rope for protection using gear they brought with them. The park regularly has to go adjust these as the season goes on, because the screws will start to pull out as layers of snow/ice melt.

After caching gear, they then descended back to 14,200 foot camp. They will likely take another rest day before moving to High Camp at 17,200 feet. Once you reach High Camp, ideally you summit and then descend as quickly as possible. This is because the stress on your body is much higher, and the weather at the high levels can be much colder and more unpredictable.

This shows 14,000 Camp and High Camp. The little “message” square in between them is where they cached gear, after the steep wall.
2018 photo looking down the Headwall. You can see the camp off to the right.
2018 photo of the Bergschrund* at the base of the headwall, the bottom of the fixed lines.
*A bergschrund is a crevasse that forms where moving glacier ice separates from the stagnant ice or fin above.

Echo Peak Descent

I’ve been looking at Echo Peak with a longing to ski it since I first moved to Tahoe. Every winter I see it staring at me as soon as I leave my home. For the last couple winters I had assumed Echo was too much for me, but this morning I got the chance to find out first hand.

This was my first time skiing with Michael and Scott, both of whom I met through a mutual friend, they are all on the local Search and Rescue team. We decided to do a weekday morning ascent since this was the time Michael and Scott had available and the conditions looked good. I wasn’t going to pass this up just because I didn’t want to take a half day of work!

Starting the skin up Echo

We got started skinning up the standard approach from the end of Wintoon Drive at about 10am in beautiful sunny weather with great snow conditions.

The climb was straightforward with only a few steep sections. By 11:45 we were already traversing the upper part of the mountain to gain the summit ridge.

Approaching the Echo Peak summit ridge

With the steepest part of the climb finished, we soon reached the summit (11:53 AM – less than 2 hours after we’d started out!)

We hung out on top for about 20 minutes, the weather and views were top-notch!

Required summit selfie from Echo Peak

As we took our skins off at the summit I was a little nervous about how steep the upper part of the descent would be. I still consider myself a relative beginner when it comes to backcountry skiing, but I’m definitely gaining confidence with every trip out.

We followed the ridge back the way we had come and continued on a little farther until we found what looked like the descent we had been aiming for on the east face just south of the ascent ridge. Both Micheal and Scott commented about how steep the entrance looked but once I saw it I knew it was well within my abilities.

Amazing powder on the upper part of Echo

The snow up top was amazing! The powder was perfect and the snow was still basically untracked. This was hands dow the best descent of my life! After skiing the upper part of the mountain, we traversed skier’s left to drop into the lower pitch before the long (barely downhill) runout back to Scott’s truck.

Distance: 4.2 miles
Duration: 2 hours, 45 minutes, and 21 seconds
Average Speed: 1.5 mph
Minimum Elevation: 6604 feet
Maximum Elevation: 8893 feet
Total climb: 2304 feet
Total descent: 2336 feet