We woke on our last day to perfect weather and a stunning sunrise on the Minarets, Ritter and Banner. We had breaky, broke camp, packed and were off skinning by seven, north up to the col between Nydiver and Garnet Lakes under the imposing massif of Mt Banner.
We had some nice turns in good snow down to Lake Garnet, tarnished only on my part by a lost edge followed by a forty-pound-pack-plowed-face-plant.
We got into a good stride on the traverse east along the never-ending stretch of Garnet with a healthy tempo that might have been tempered somewhat if we'd known about the length of the day. Howie though was good natured enough not to spoil our fun, but a sail or kite would have been good if we'd had any sort of tailwind.
The descent down the gorge from Garnet was a little technical: the sunny south faces hadn't corned up yet and had a breakable crust that made skiing with a full pack dicey - and so we stuck to the shade amongst the trees on the other side which permitted few straight lines.
Eventually we bottomed out and started the very long ascent east up towards San Joaquin Mountain, which is essentially the peak from which the Positives stem - the Positives being several cirques or ridges south of the Negatives.
This is all magnificent and easily accessible BC (unless you've approached it from the west this time like us, in which case it is a bitch) with a recent article in Backcountry Magazine extolling its virtues, as well as the proposal of turning June Mountain into a BC mecca.
It sure was nice to finish on a Positive, especially after a climb that caused both JP and I to tear up and have the odd little cry in private. The last chutes and gullies had the finest little stashes of powder yet, which made the skin back up to lift-access at June at least tolerable. JP was so spannered that he couldn't even remember how to ride a chairlift.
For me, the Ritter Range has been one of the Great Ski-Tours. It is on par with the High Route, and is certainly wilder and more beautiful. Compared with LHR, we did not see another soul. Whilst there was neither the security or warmth of a refuge (nor a beer or roesti), these mountains are far more intriguing, particularly in the way they plunge so spectacularly from the same lofty heights as the Alps, down into the utter otherworldly barrenness of the Nevada desert.
In Howie Schwartz, JP and I have made a new friend. He is as conservative a guide as the terrain demands, and yet is as one with this part of the world as is possible to allow for some amazing skiing and the conquering of some astonishing lines.
I used to think France the most beautiful country on the planet, however this construct has been seriously challenged by this trip.
Howie has a little boy the same age as mine and I like to think that they will someday be skiing in these parts together.
I know I'll be back.