Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Holiday Recap Pt. II

Trip Report - Winter Fun in the Southern Sierra
Lake Isabella / Kern River Valley / Greenhorn Mts, Wofford Heights, CA
January 1 - 5, 2008

After a couple days at work between Christmas and New Year's, Amber and I headed south to meet some Santa Barbara friends for a sort of ski trip with other stuff mixed in. We stayed at a rental lake house near Lake Isabella, in the Kern River Valley. A short drive away is the small ski resort Alta Sierra (formerly Shirley Meadows). We spent the next few days playing up in the Greenhorn Mountains and also in the Kern River Valley.

View to the east across Lake Isabella

Friday most of us seized upon Alta Sierra's 'Friday Special' which was a comprehensive learn-to-ski or learn-to-snowboard package for only $60. The trip was a bit of a belated birthday celebration for Traves, who was dying to try snowboarding. Keely and Traves signed up for snowboard lessons, while Mike, Amber, and I took a downhill skiing class. The place is tiny, and only has two short lifts, but as newbies of one sort or another it didn't matter much and the price meant we really got our money's worth.

Amber and I did cross-country several times last season, and I had skied a few times as a teenage, but it was good to get fresh bearings on the downhill skis. Amber soon got comfortable on the easy-turning downhill skis and went to work learning to make big esses all the way down the slope. Mike, having never been on skis at all, struggled a little more. I marveled both last year with Amber, and this year with Mike, at how difficult it is to communicate the motions of skiing. Something that seems so natural once you get it, is in reality, awkward, counter-intuitive, and difficult to communicate. But although he tumbled several times, Mike was getting it as the day went along, and was really a trooper. He would get a lot out of this YouTube Learn to Ski playlist we found before the trip.

Snowboarding seems terrifying to me, and Amber has had a bad experience with it before, but Keely and Traves took to it pretty well! By the end of the day, Keely was boarding good distances in a very controlled manner before stopping. Traves had a different approach, he would go as fast as possible and then bail. What seemed terrifying to me was very enjoyable to him, as he would howl with delight after each crash. All in all, everyone had a good time on the mountain that day.

Driving into Kernville

The next day we took it a little easier, flopping around much of the morning, then several of the guys went hiking in the afternoon. We searched for some hot springs, which turned out to be a bit of a bust, and searched for snowshoe rentals, which turned out to be a bit of a bust... The redeeming factor that day was braving the black ice for a delicious dinner at the Kern River Brewing Company, which came highly recommended. Also we were able to recon some of the climbing areas in case we should return some day. Oh, and the champagne, don't forget the champagne.

Surface Hoar

Rime on trees (notice how it coats the windward side)

Though we couldn't find snowshoes for a hike, we did go and have a good time in the snow on Sunday. Amber and I loaded up all the snow junk we could muster and everyone else suited up as well as possible. We hiked around to find a good hill for which Keely had the foresight to get some sleds. When we arrived that morning there was good-sized hoar frost crystals on top of the snow, and the trees were covered in what looked like rime. I dug a test pit and Amber, Keely and I did our best to work through a snow assessment.

Finding the right place to play

Keely enjoying a sled ride

Then the real fun began... We divided into two teams, and spent hours building two huge snow-forts. We stockpiled snowballs then had a breif snowball fight that completely exhausted us. In the afternoon, the sun disappeared and it got pretty chilly, but everyone was doing well. Some snowboarders were screwing around nearby as well. Finally we truged back up to the car, and headed back down to the cabin to unwind.

Traves and Brett build their fort

Our snow fort has deadly spikes!

All-in-all I really enjoyed the trip. The propane tank went out one night and left us without heat for a little while, but he lady who ran the place came and fixed it first thing the next morning. The house had a nice view, and was a good deal since the area sees more visitors in summer, due to the lake. There is also a lot of rock climbing in the area, which we scoped out a bit. Since the valley stays snow-free, it would be fun to return in winter and do some climbing, as the weather was really good for it. Another reason I love California: each season brings so many different options!

Photo Gallery:
Lake Isabella / Shirley Meadows

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