Jenna and Greg love the mountains through and through. Originally from just outside Mt. Shasta City, after many years of travel Jenna landed in California’s Sierra Nevadas while Greg hails from Vermont, but has called Kirkwood, California home for more than a decade. You’ll find them ski partrolling, guiding, and mountain biking depending on the time of the year and it’s in their backyard that they thought up the Sierra Route — the path of most resistance.
Needless to say, this sounds like an adventure. Can you tell us about the Sierra Route to help set the scene?
This route started in a part of Sequoia National Park called Mineral King. This is the Southwest corner of the range. It ended at a high trailhead on the East side of the Sierra called Onion Valley, near the small town of Independence, CA. Overall the numbers (50 miles, and 25,000 feet of vertical) are not staggering, but the low snow, high elevation, remoteness, and lack of much information made it one of our more committing undertakings.
Describe why it’s been dubbed the “path of Most Resistance”?
There is a standard Sierra High Route which traverses the range West to East, and links a beautiful high path of least resistance to ski across. We were looking for something different. On the map, there is a beautiful high, white crest that runs continuously SW to NE and ends near the standard High Route finish. This is the Great Western Divide – even the name sounds like the ultimate adventure. We hoped to traverse the Sierra on skis staying as close as we could to this spine, at a base elevation of 11,000 feet or so, and often above. A unique crux about this trip is that Mineral King sits over 20 miles behind a locked gate all winter long. As a result, few if any people get in there till Memorial Day. There is no information about skiing in this zone, or winter travel at all. Through some friends, we were able to arrange a shuttle through the locked gate into MK. We were dropped off, and our new friends drove away and locked the gate 20 miles down the road as they went. Our car was stashed on the other side of the largest mountain range in the lower 48, and we immediately began to feel the scope and the commitment of the trip.
What was your motivation to take on this particular route?
This Sierra Route was appealing because it was partially new, there was very little information about these areas, and its remoteness requires one to put in several days to even scratch the surface in the winter. On our entire trip, we didn’t see a single person until the last two hours of the seventh and final day. We spent many days on the Eastern Sierra Crest looking west at the seemingly endless granite peaks. In a range as busy as the Sierra, these peaks seem unknown and untouchable to most. Another motivation was to explore lots of new areas for future trips.
What was your ski setup, how heavy were your packs and did you bring any luxury items?
We were both touring on medium width touring skis with tech bindings. We also brought additional ski mountaineering equipment including crampons, ice axe, whippet (a ski pole with an ax on the handle), and a short rope. We were carrying eight days’ worth of food, and we tried hard to keep our pack weights down. Our packs were around 40 lbs each when we started, not including the weight of our skis and boots. Our only really luxury item was a little bit of whiskey which really helped a couple nights when we were forced into our tents early for snow on a couple of the evenings.
In retrospect if you could have swapped out one piece of gear for another what would it have been?
Well we ended up not needing the rope, but felt good to have it anyways. We also could have carried less fuel.
How did your individual strengths and weaknesses play into your adventure?
We’re both good eaters so that helped us take some weight off our backs and keep the energy up. Jenna has strong navigation and mapping skills, which helped us plan and mostly stick to the route that we created essentially on the computer having not seen any of these zones before.
We both don’t mind a little suffering, which this trip had plenty of. Jenna is physically and mentally very strong as well, and throughout the trip, her pack was essentially the same weight as mine.
Perhaps a weakness of both of ours is that we tend to come up with ambitious ideas, and on this trip there were some days where we may have been a little over exuberant with how much we could get done in a day.
I guess it helps that we like each other too…
How did you prepare for the “what if” situations? i.e. bad weather, avalanche, broken equipment, injury, etc. Or if you rather did you have any moments out there were things just got silly and/or comical?
We carried more first aid and repair equipment than we would on most of our adventures, recognizing that we were largely reliant on self-rescue. We had no cell service for most of the trip, so we brought along an emergency personal locator beacon as well. Beyond that, we had to change our mindset and realize that we may not be able to ski and act the same way that we do when we are closer to help. The best rescue is the one that doesn’t need to happen in the first place.
What did your nutrition for this human power adventure look like?
Regarding food, were looking for calorie dense, simple, quality foods and a low relative weight. We also had to consider prep time as we needed to carry just the right amount of fuel. We brought a full array of UnTapped products – plain and coffee infused syrup packets, waffles, and drink mix. We love UnTapped for its pure, simple, great tasting, and easy to metabolize ingredients. Besides some cheese, nuts, and candy, UnTapped products fueled us every day between breakfast and dinner for the entire trip.
Any adventures in the pipeline you are already dreaming up?
We’ve somewhat reluctantly accepted the end of the ski season. Nothing of this scale planned for a while but while were waiting for inspiration to hit, we’ll be running the mountains, riding the trails, and swimming the beautiful rivers here in Northern California.