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High Country

Northstar-at-Tahoe Ski Resort

Northstar-at-Tahoe Ski Resort Links:

January 31st, 1999

7.0 miles
1000 vertical feet
Total Time: 3:00

Rating: 5/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

Lan and I snowshoed at Northstar-at-Tahoe.

We were originally going to snowshoe at Royal Gorge. Unfortunately, westbound I-80 was closed on the Reno side of Donner Summit, leaving us stuck for an indefinite amount of time while they cleared some accidents. We decided to head to Northstar.

The previous day had been perfect conditions -- clear blue sky, a bit windy, but not enough to chill us. This day, however, was different. A storm had been predicted to come in overnight and be finished by morning. Unfortunately, the storm took its sweet time coming. It finally started dumping snow in the morning, and it was still snowing when we started at 1pm.

This was my first time snowshoeing with my own equipment -- new Atlas 1022 snowshoes and new trekking poles. My first mistake was not having everything ready. I took a few minutes as I laced up one of the shoes and prepared my trekking poles. I even put a snowshoe on the wrong foot at first. It's not good to be fumbling with your equipment with your gloves off in freezing temperatures.

Eventually, I got everything ready and we headed up the Fall Line trail. The trail is part of the Northstar Cross-Country, Telemark, and Snowshoe Center. It shares facilities with the downhill area. In fact, we had to take the gondola ride up to the start of the trail.

While others were zipping down the mountain on skis and snowboards, we were hoofing it up along an almost empty trail. We saw two or three x-country skiers the whole time, and no other snowshoers.

The first problem that became very apparent was that I kept hitting the backs of my snowshoes against each other. I walk with a slight angle to my feet (okay, like a duck), and this was a problem. I had to slightly adjust my foot placement to make it not happen. The other problem was that I kept kicking snow up at my calves. As we sank at least 3-4 inches into fresh powder, snow seeped up onto my shoe platforms, and then was thrown up at the back of my leg as I lifted each foot. Lan had a similar problem with her Redfeather snowshoes, but seemingly to a lesser degree.

I find snow hanging on trees irresistible -- I just have to knock some of it off. Early on the trail, I was gleefully doing this with my trekking pole when I suddenly realized the cup was missing from the end of one of them. Lan laughed at me as I retraced my steps and discovered that I must have lost it while whacking the tree. I scooped through piles of snow on the ground before she finally found it -- lodged inside the tree.

We continued underneath the Echo Triple Chair lift, along the flat Sawmill Flat trail. Soon we came to an intersection and turned right up the Roundabout trail. The rest of the trail (up to the halfway point) was up, up, up. I'd hate to cross-country ski this trail. But we were snowshoeing, so we could enjoy the scenery. Some trees slumped forward under the weight of the snow on their shoulders. They looked like they were praying or at least stooping over the trail, looking at us. The snow continued to fall, but lightly, and we could see patches of blue sky here and there. Another section of trees reminded me of the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.

Snow Hoodoos

We continued on up the High Country trail. Breaking trail in fresh powder can be tough work. I sometimes slipped behind and walked over Lan's tracks. It was interesting to see on the way back. Most of the way there were our two parallel tracks. But in this one section, there was just one. It was if I could tread so lightly as to not make a dent in the snow. =)

The trail was never very steep, but it was constantly on the rise. The High Country trail is supposed to be a loop. But soon we found ourselves face to face with the top of the Vista Express Quad Chair lift, and no loop in sight. We slogged past the "Do Not Enter" signs (facing the opposite direction) and tried to find the rest of the trail, but to no avail. I suspect that the grooming machine operator decided no one was going to use the trail today, and didn't finish the loop. Either that or the map is simply wrong.

We went back to the trail and started the descent. Along the way I had fleeting glances of Lake Tahoe through the trees. It was nice to see, but not nearly as nice as the view from the Tahoe trail, further along the cross-country trails (I'd skied out there the previous day).

The skies started to clear up even more. At times it looked completely blue directly above us, and yet the snow still fell on us. Unfortunately for us, it landed on our hiking boots and never left. As we were descending we started to notice that our boots weren't as waterproof as we would like. The snow had melted into liquid and had permeated our boots, soaking our socks and chilling our feet. Gaiters and more waterproofing are a must next time.

Before we knew it, we were back at the downhill area, back to civilization. As Lan walked to the cross-country center to return her rental snowshoes, I stood by a bench and started to put my gear away. Some of the snow that had landed on my snowshoes had turned to ice. Some of my snowshoe buckles were encrusted in ice, requiring a fair amount of force to open. Eventually I had them off, though, and we headed back down the gondola, back to the car to warm our feet.

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