You’ll never see Deadwood Peak from a car, and unless you’ve spent a lot of time in the Tahoe backcountry, you probably don’t even know that it exists. There are no trip reports, no maps, no guides to skiing Deadwood… until now.  First Internet Descent.

South of Carson Pass, Roundtop peak calls your attention, with jutting cliffs and steep snowfields. But ski up to Roundtop, and across the Summit City drainage, Deadwood peak will call to you.  Big, sprawling, untouched, and steep. The massive Northeast Cirque offers a wall of technical lines (and even some water ice); the north rib offers steep technical bowls, and the northwest bowls offer intriguing mellower lines.  This is the story of backing off from the Northeast Cirque, and skiing those mellower lines.

Leaving Carson Pass at around 9AM on Feb 21st, Bennett, Ben Pope and I set off for the quick skin up to Winnemucca Lake. Weeks without snow had melted out more of the terrain around the lake than when Bennett had been there for scoping it out the previous week, and the remaining snow was wind-blasted and icy… we would often wish that we had brought ski crampons during the day.

From the looker’s left edge of the Round Top ridgeline above Winemucca Lake, we scoped out the options on Deadwood.  The Northeast Cirque was steep, with no clear passage from our perspective- steep cliffs, ice bulges, and the prospect of a 2000-foot boot pack. The bowls off the North Ridge stared straight at us, but it was difficult to judge their angle or how steep the transitions between the bowls would be.

So instead, we settled on the most certain, but most mellow line- working from the summit through the northwest bowls. To approach it, we packed up and dropped into the unknown.  The feeling of those first turns down from the ridgeline into the Summit City drainage was unbelievable- dropping into a basin without tracks, to a mountain which we knew no details about, to attempt a line that we weren’t sure would go.  All my trips have been to the well-worn skintracks, to peaks which are listed in guidebooks and websites.  I knew a few people had ventured out to ski Deadwood Peak, but that’s all that I knew- that somehow, somewhere, it would go.

Alternating between windboard and softening corn, we dropped the 2000′ to the Summit City creek, and after a bit of scouting we found a snowbridge. It was now about 11:00, and we were itching to get up to the summit- with a target turnaround of 2PM and 2500′ of unknown territory, we had to make mileage.

The bowl was gorgeous, but firm- windboard at best, ice at worst, but well-consolidated enough that avalanche danger was minimal.  As the snow got firmer and our switchbacks got tighter at the headwall, we switched to booting, and popped up onto the sun of the ridge.  A mile of horizontal and and 800′ of vertical to go to the summit, with about 40 minutes until our turnaround time.  Piushing the pace, we skinned along the mellow bowls and snowfields of the ridge, eventually running into ice and rocks just below the summit. Skis off, packs off, and with ten minutes until turnaround time, we sprinted up the little headwall to gain the summit ridge.

Summit ridgeline with some cornicing
Icy snow and rocks led us to drop our packs and boot up to the summit, then sprint back down to get back before sunset. Ski crampons could have made life easier.

It was magical- Sonora Pass visible to the south, the Mokelumne river basin just to our south and east, and miles of untouched terrain opening up before us.  Oddly, there were footprints on the ridgeline- coyote footprints, passing right over the summit.  No idea why they were there, but that’s as close as we got to seeing another animal on Deadwood peak.

The summit offered a moment of reflection on the chance to ski an unknown peak and to check off a big stretch goal that had been on my mind since I’d first seen Deadwood Peak from the PCT in 2012.

The clock broke our reverie, and the long trip back home began- linking chalky turns and pockets of powder as we worked back down the ridge, dropping into the heavier snow near the creek, and then beginning the long, hot skin back up to the Roundtop ridgeline. The sun was getting low as we regained the ridgeline, and dropping towards Lake Winemucca the snow was cold and firm on our long way back to the cars.

I’ll be back- from the summit it looked like there were a few good continuous lines down the Northeast Cirque!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *