Had to get one last hike in, this time with a friend from Los Angeles who wasn't acclimated to the altitude. So an easy trek was planned, up Highway 88 past Kirkwood to the Castle Trail at the high-point of the highway before it begins its downward thrust.
It turned out to be a beauty of a sortie -- about 4 miles round trip, not much elevation change but a beautiful valley of vast expanses of bare stone and forest with a single lake blue in the distance. The masses of conglomerate rock towers along the canyon-side trail created fantastic shapes rivaling Bryce Canyon in Utah.
This is an easy trek, great for visitors who haven't got their lungs working right. The end point is a magnificent view of the valley far below and off in the distance Pyramid Peak.
There's plenty of hiking around Kirkwood ski resort, particularly out by Chair 4 in the back bowl. For a few more weeks you'll be able to hike from the chair base up a canyon along a trail that leads to the highest pass the 49ers used going west. The trail was cut by the Mormon Battalion on its way back to Salt Lake City after the Mexican-American War. There's a steel monument at the pass and a fine view of Silver Lake.
With both Boreal and Mammoth Mountain up and running, other Sierra Nevada resorts making snow furiously, it's obvious snowsport season is upon us.
Not all of us, however. In this writer's case, it's going to be well into December before he can grab skis and head for the hills. I got that message Tuesday from Dr. Michael Edmunds of the Tahoe Fracture Clinic whom I had visited with a right knee that was talking to me on hikes, more going uphill than down.
I figured the discomfort and clicking sounds were the result of a spill I took three years ago while leading some visiting Europeans around the Sierra. It was on an easy blue run at Sugar Bowl when my cap started to take off; I reached up to grab it and at the same time I hit an unseen mogul. The resulting lawn sale was spectacular.
In the process of falling, one ski whirled about and sliced through my ski pants and the flesh covering the knee cap -- right to the bone. Didn't even feel it until someone noticed blood on my pants. The Truckee Hospital people sewed the knee up, checked X-rays and found nothing amiss.
About a year later I started hearing clicks while hiking but I ignored them. This summer the clicks continued more loudly so I figured best to see a medic before ski season set in.
The good news is that the water on the knee is the result of the wear-and-tear of the cartilage at the knee joint. The bad news is that arthroscopic surgery will be required to smooth out the bone irritating the pad between tibia and fibia. That means I'll be off the snow until at least the middle of December. But Edmunds said with the use of a specially made brace I'll be able to ski and hike again -- not the moguls, of course, nor Mt. Tallac. Well, moguls aren't all that hot anyway and I've been up Tallac.
If I had sought help when the knee first started clicking, Edmunds said, I could have probably saved the cartilage. But what's a little clicking to an active senior? A message, that's what, dummy.
This season Kirkwood joins Mammoth and Squaw as a top-ranking Sierra resort in Skiing Magazine, Freeskier and TRANSWORLD Snowboarding. As always Kirkwood also scored high for the on-mountain experience in Ski Magazine.
While Kirkwood has always done well in categories such as snow, terrain, challenge and steeps, the recent addition of village facilities along with a concerted effort to improve terrain features in its three parks has clearly elevated the resort's prominence overall.
"We're only going to get better and better," commented resort president, Tim Cohee. "With the addition of added amenities such as the Village Ice Rink, a Recreation Center with pool, spa and exercise room, a superpipe, added terrain features in the parks, a snowskate park, and renewed commitment to families, we expect that our national ratings will be even higher next year."
-- Skiing Magazine -- No. 14 overall in nation; No. 4 in nation for powder (No.1 in California); No. 9 in nation for steeps (No. 2 in California)
-- Freeskier Magazine -- No. 11 overall in nation
-- TRANSWORLD Snowboarding -- No. 17 overall in nation (No. 2 in Tahoe); No. 2 in nation for snow (No. 1 in California); No. 7 in nation for terrain (No. 1 in Tahoe); No. 6 in nation for "vibe" (No. 1 in Tahoe); No. 10 terrain park in nation (No. 1 in Tahoe)
-- Ski Magazine -- No. 10 in nation for terrain (No. 1 in California); No. 1 in California for snow; No. 2 in Tahoe for challenge and weather; No. 3 in Tahoe for grooming.
Nor bad for the little resort which isn't so little anymore.
And meanwhile, Boreal continues to run its Claim Jumper lift 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., adult tickets $22, kids 5-12 $10 and seniors free.
Sam Bauman is the Nevada Appeal Diversions Editor.