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Home/2006 photos/Benson Hut ski trip [11]

Backcountry skiing is not always a sunny romp I had signed up for a Sierra Club Hut earlier in the fall, and at the time I decided on the Benson Hut because I was a little tired of Ludlow which we had visited a few times in the past few years and I thought it would be interesting to re-visit the hut that was my first hut experience back in 1999. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't really cooperating. Before departing San Francisco we had made the decision not to do the Sugar Bowl to Squaw Valley traverse as the avalanche conditions were threatening (and in the prior trip in 1999 we definitely experienced some frights and in years prior skiers had been killed doing this traverse). So, we departed Sugar Bowl in nice conditions with fresh snow. It actually would have been a peak day to be downhill skiing, but alas, it was not to be. Instead we had to suffer the quick-witted downhillers letting us know we were 'heading the wrong way' on our way up the slopes... We then suffered the torments of cutting tracks through knee-deep powder across the back-side of the mountain as we continued our ascent of the mountain. We finally approached the ridgeline that would take us out to the Benson Hut but it was already late in the afternoon. We considered backing out of the trip as it was already pretty late in the day. But, the weather was clear, and there was a group that we could see ahead of us breaking a trail so we decided to press on. The ski across the ridge wasn't too bad and in short order we were catching up to the group ahead of us. There was one slightly sketchy spot crossing some rocks on a steeper slope but other than that we kept on and eventually made it to the final slope leading up to the hut. We reached the hut in the late afternoon and settled in for the night. The weather turned overnight though and throughout the course of the night the wind picked up and started to howl. By morning the wind was whipping and we decided to just head back to the cars rather directly. The ski out was completely different than the previous day. The wind was wild - the average wind speed was over 60 miles per hour and gusts were over 100 mph. It was a harrowing several hours trying to get back across the ridgeline which has been blown completely free of loose snow. It was a crisp, thick ice field for several miles. Finally, after a few re-groupings and rest stops, we made it back to the summit of Sugar Bowl and skied back down to the cars.