The alarm sounds. It's still dark and really early. I mean really, really early.
Try 3 a.m. early. Instant reflexes almost make me slap the snooze button. Not today though. I'm excited to be getting up at this hour. Today a couple of friends and I have an adventure planned that has been on the list for a long time. See, I live on the Eastern side of the Tahoe Basin at the bottom of the rugged Sierra Nevadas. Every day from my house, on my way to work and running around town I look up at these striking mountains. There are many lines that I have already accomplished and many more that I want to ride, but one stands out in particular. No matter where you are in the Carson Valley it can be seen. In fact, most of the time this peak has snow on it year round. Standing at 10,600' it is a giant compared to the rest of the peaks in this area. On a good snow year, rumor has it there is 4,600' of rideable vert. The longest run in Tahoe. As for the terrain options this one has it all bowls, chutes, faces, steep descents, gullies, and plenty of glades. It has even been compared to some of the monsters down South in the Eastern Sierras. So what's the name? Job's Peak...
The longest run in Tahoe is also one of the toughest to get to
Sounds to good to be true to have all this amazing terrain at your fingertips right? I bet your thinking it gets tracked out really quickly right? Wrong! This one isn't an everyday backcountry run. To summit Job's you will need a group of adventurers, who are in really good shape and have all day (or better yet can camp for multiple days). There are only two ways in. One from South Lake Tahoe and the other from Minden-Gardnerville in the Carson Valley. It's either a choice of distance or a climb. From Luther Pass you gain 3,200' of elevation over 7 miles, while Carson Valley ascends 5,800' over 5.5 miles.
The journey begins in darkness...
After eating a hearty breakfast, taking a shower and putting the final odds & ends in my pack my buddies pulled up. It was 4 a.m. sharp, right on time. We loaded up my things and were off. After 35 minutes we arrived at the trail head in the Carson Valley. Remember the adventure part...well this is where that begins. Normally, when you arrive to your backcountry trail head the sun is up, you strap on the skis and start skinning. Not this time. Today the journey started with bushwhacking through sage brush for about a half mile in the dark. Looking on the maps there seemed to be a trail that led to Job's Canyon then follow that to the top. Pretty simple.
The unfortunate thing for us was that the trail disappeared roughly a quarter mile in.
The going was tough up the canyon. Boulders, logs and lack of light made it difficult, so we opted to go for higher ground. The thinking was if we could get to the snow line it would make the traverse easier. This was good in theory, and only in theory. The pitch started off pretty steep, but before long we were using hands and feet to shimmy up the slope. After about and hour of that the sun started to rise. It was time to take a few minutes to catch our breath, have some water and grab a snack.
Change of plans... follow the animals to the top
Once, we regrouped and rested there was a small change in plans. We found a pretty significant game trail that cut along the side of the hill while still gaining elevation. It had to be easier than our prior plan so we gave it a go. Now we were moving at a pretty good pace and covering some ground. The sun was fully up now and it was evident that the temperature was going to hit 70 degrees as forecasted. Travel continued on steady and another hour & a half had passed. Patches of snow became more and more common. The game trail came to an end at a thicket of Manzanita bushes and granite boulders the size of small cars.
The ridge was in site and looked like we would be able climb to the top in about an hour or so.
I am not ashamed to admit that we were wrong. Very wrong. Initially, we followed each other but then we began to find our own paths. Climbing in this section began with picking our way through the brush up the hill and quickly changed to climbing through it while holding on for dear life. Our packs weighed probably 50-70 lbs. with food, gear and snowboards/ skis strapped on. The incline increased significantly. It felt like if you got off balance a little bit the weight of your pack would pull you off the mountain and send you tumbling to the bottom. Did I mention the granite boulders. Where the Manzanita let up snow and boulder took it's place. The first victim was Zack "The Z Man" Holm. I heard a scuffle and looked over. He went down. Luckily it wasn't a big fall, but he came up with a pretty good gash.
After a quick duct tape job we were back in action.
Upward and onward to the top! It wasn't quick moving, but we were all in it and continued to move forward. Then it was my turn to succumb to Job's Peak. I assumed my footing was good for a second, but the combination of snow and rock didn't hold. Grabbing whatever I could to stop my fall resulted in tearing all the skin off my knuckles. It looked worse than it was and after a few minutes of creative duct taping we were mobile again. Another hour passed and we still hadn't made it to the top. We had almost made it to snow though. Before we got there Stephan (the finest specimen Germany ever made) became another victim of Job's Peak justice. He went down in a patch of Manzanita and ended up with a duct tape job too.
Finally, at the edge of the snow and in an area we felt safe it was time for one last break before skinning.
Everyone's spirits were still high and the scenery was beautiful. During that time we were looking around and taking it all in. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something disconcerting. Evidence of a prior avalanche. It wasn't super fresh, but it was within the last week. This wasn't a point where we needed to turn around immediately, but simply a field observation that hinted clues about the snow pack.
Finishing up, we strapped on the skis and started to skin.
Now we were making some time and not killing ourselves. It was a tricky steep side hill, but manageable. The temperature continued to rise as we traversed. Zack was laying down a clean skin track horizontally across the hill. As I followed, every once in a while the snow would give way and slide below me. Stephan brought up the rear and was having the same experience. The snow was really loose and wet. We didn't talk much about it, but the mental notes were definitely being made. Another half mile and we had made it to the base of our goal.
As I stated in the beginning there are many options to ride at Job's. You have your choice of the North Chutes, Fay Canyon or Exit Couloir. Let's be real though.
The reason for all this effort up Job's Peak is to ride Jaws Couloir.
It's the most popular line and drops North off the summit. Immediately, your faced with a sketchy rollover that quickly exceeds a steepness of over 45 degrees. Jaws then chokes down into a narrow crux. This is probably the spot where caution is needed the most. If there's a lot of snow you should have plenty of room. Shallower snowpack means a tighter squeeze. Make sure to have a look on your way up to determine the best route. Click here to see our Route. Standing at the bottom looking up it's as good as you read about.
Choose your line or choose your life... a tough decision was made
We were all amped to climb the last quarter mile and pick our line. There was one problem though. As we regrouped and discussed the run, snow quality came into the conversation. This late in the day and in this time of year the snow changes rapidly due to varying temperatures. Today there was no mistaking this was the case. Stephan said it first, but we all agreed. With the snow conditions and the signs we noticed on the way up, the avalanche danger was too high. It wasn't worth risking injury or our lives no matter how much effort we put in to getting here. As a group we pulled the plug.
It was a tough decision, but it was the right one. For a consolation prize we did get a quick run down a gentle sloped through some trees to the dirt. On our descent, we chose to go the recommended route down Job's Canyon. Normally, going down doesn't take as much effort but it just wasn't our day. If it were covered in snow this would be the line. No snow below 8000' meant another hour or two bouldering down the canyon with our heavy packs. Sometimes it doesn't go your way. We still had fun and found the adventure we were looking for. Next, time we will know exactly when and where to go.