That old saying about the third time being a charm rang true this weekend. Twice before we’ve attempted to ski Freel Peak, and twice before we’ve been stymied.
Yes it’s been a weird season here, but March’s robust snowfall encouraged us to try Freel one last time. Route finding, time constraints and high winds were the limitations in the past, and with two of the three not a concern, we decided to go for it. I had very low expectations about the quality of the snow, but as we’ve had little in the way of big backcountry days here, I figured it would be one of the last big days of the season.
Getting to Freel is always a bit of a slog, no matter how you go. At 10,886 feet, it’s the highest mountain in the Lake Tahoe region, though it doesn’t directly overlook the lake like Mt. Tallac. As such, it requires an approach. N suggested a different route than we’ve taken in the past, which ended up saving us time on the traverse and energy on the ascent to Star Lake. This meant that we both felt fine by the time we hit the ridge just under Freel (and above Star Lake), which has historically been our turnaround point.
We gained the ridge, which had more snow than I had seen from afar, and saw a wide and not so steep bowl on the backside of Freel. It looked totally different than I had envisioned, primarily because my experiences with Freel were either seeing it from the Tahoe Rim Trail or from further away at Heavenly or at lake level. The side that I’ve seen is the more forbidding front side, which has some interesting looking chutes, but appears to be pretty steep and wind-hammered. The backside, where we skied, is a gentler, wide open bowl.
Winds had picked up by the time we approached the summit, so we opted to stop at a protected rock outcropping at 10,600’ and then do a high traverse into the bowl and ski from there. After savoring the views, naturally!
Snow conditions on the descent were variable, and included windboard snow at upper elevations, ‘warming’ winter powder above 8200’ and then gluelike “snow” the rest of the way down. We had a few chuckles over our need to pole downhill in a few places, and my power wedge moves in the super sticky snow. Suffice to say not many photos were taken during that part of the descent.
Actually getting to Freel was the day’s objective, which we did. That was what made the day so awesome. Knowing what we know now, our next goal is to do this trip in much better snow conditions. After all, that could be an awfully long powder run if timed right.