Ebbett’s Pass, CA, Report: Good Skiing and a Worthwhile Adventure on Hiram Peak

Guest Author | | Trip ReportTrip Report
Snow coverage on Hiram Peak in Ebbett’s Pass from above Highland Lake around 1130 am. Credit: Blackbird Mountain Guides

Report from December 4th, 2021, and written by Sarah Newsome with Blackbird Mountain Guides

  • Objective: Hiram Peak North and Northeast Face via Highland Lakes Road
  • When: December 4, 2021
  • Vertical: 1200 feet of skiable snow
  • Snow Surfaces: Facets, Breakable Crust, Melt Freeze

It’s rare to get to Mt Hiram with such ease in December.  With Highland Lake Road open and mostly clear of snow, we were able to drive to Tryon Meadow in a Honda Element. A lifted truck might get you another 3/4 mile to Highland Lake. We walked a few hundred feet to snow and started skinning.

Splitboard guide Sarah Newsome skinning up the grippy, spring snow surface. Snow coverage is shallow below 9000ft on Ebbetts Pass. Credit: Blackbird Mountain Guides

We skinned mostly over snow, with short burnt-out sections, taking our skis off to walk to the SE side of Highland Lake. We were able to skin from the SE side of Highland Lake to about 9400 ft, then had to put our skis on our back to climb the rocky ridgeline to the summit. A classic scoured and rocky Sierra ridgeline, the east ridge provided an option to boot up without having to transition to and from skins on our second lap.

A look back at the first ski and snowboard lap on the northeast aspect of Hiram Peak in the backcountry of Ebbett’s Pass. Conditions were better than expected in the Eastern Sierra Backcountry on December 4, 2021. Credit: Blackbird Mountain Guides

The turns on the Northeast aspect of Hiram Peak were a mix of cold facets and a deteriorating breakable crust. The crust wasn’t enough to turn us away from taking another lap after we finished our first and Hiram Peak received enough snow in the first few storms in October of this year that coverage was good.

Even with soft, faceted snow, the snowpack was deep enough to prevent most encounters with rocks. I didn’t hit a rock on my first run and got away with a light “love tap” on the second.

Blackbird Mountain Guides Evan Haines and Mark Speicher eyeing the Ebbetts Pass backcountry near the top of their line on Hiram Peak. Credit: Blackbird Mountain Guides

As expected, the snow was variable.  We saw sun-affected surfaces, breakable and supportable crust, wind effect, and facets. Below 9000ft the snow was more spring-like: supportable, melt-freeze snow with scattered dirt patches that were mostly avoidable.

The biggest hazard of the day was a weak breakable crust.  Faceting was in the process of breaking this crust down and it was weak enough that it was manageable to ski.  The true north side was faceted but much shallower and rockier. Truly early season adventure skiing!

The North face of Hiram Peak. Shallow, cold snow up top and breakable crust below. Credit: Blackbird Mountain Guides

While the conditions were by no means “all-time”, Hiram Peak was certainly a worthwhile adventure.  The skiing was better than expected, and better than the majority of the Sierra right now.  Easy access and decent turns made this a great objective.  It was fun to use this season’s meager early-season snowpack to our advantage to score some fun backcountry skiing and explore a peak that’s usually much more difficult to reach!

As low pressure moves into California this week, the backcountry will see loading on the weak, persistent facets that made the skiing good. This could lead to long-lasting avalanche problems and should be considered a red flag for skiing high, north-facing terrain with significant new snow on it.  Avoid consequential terrain where this faceting exists with new snow on top until there is evidence that it can support the new load.

Looking back at Hiram Peak in the Sierra backcountry. Credit: Blackbird Mountain Guides

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One thought on “Ebbett’s Pass, CA, Report: Good Skiing and a Worthwhile Adventure on Hiram Peak

  1. If you had a snowmobile you could be out here all winter tearing it up.

    Too bad enviro groups like the Sierra Club and Winter Wildlands are trying to kick snowmobiles out of this area in the Sierra’s. This is one of the very few riding places still open to snowmobile access. There’s millions of acres of closed protected wilderness already in the Sierra’s. I’m always confused on why these enviro groups are trying to kick other users out of these few remaining open areas.

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