Associated trip report: A ski day and sunny weather coincided, so I just had to go. I have been wanting to get up Silver Peak in the winter, and was inspired by Lowell's recent trip. I decided to take an alternate route which I had scouted a couple of years ago, from Twin Lakes up through forest to the south ridge of Silver Peak.
A not-early start and bad traffic led me to start skiing at 10am. I had decided to take my wide waxless skis (Catamounts), hoping they would be a good compromise for the flat approach and steeper forest skiing on the route. The cross-country ski trail from Hyak up Cold Creek had been groomed and was pretty fast. When I got to the first hairpin, I left the road to follow the route of the summer trail to Twin Lakes, and found a nice skin track going my way (had to put on skins here). The snow was 8-10" on top of a crust, somewhat icy from tree drip in places, but generally just cold, loose, and dense. The skin track kept going where I wanted: around the north side of the big Twin, snow-bridge crossings of the several creeks, then on the south side of the little Twin before starting to climb toward the SW.
The Twin Lakes don't get any sun this time of year, and around them surface hoar had grown to about half an inch deep and the underlying snow was "dry", presumably from several nights of TG changes. The first 1200' of skinning (3000' to 4200') was mostly in similar snow, consisting mainly of shady north-facing slopes. Along the way, skin tracks branched off to the left, undoubtedly heading to some of the many top secret stashes in the area. As the slope became more gentle in the area of the two tiny tarns to the NW of Tinkham Peak (4300'), sun effects on the snow became more evident: more widespread icyness from tree drip, breakable crust from sunshine, and even some sun-softened corn-like surfaces. From the tarns I skinned NW toward the south ridge of Silver Peak, stopping at 4800' to have lunch in the warm sun and listen to the strong east wind roaring through the trees up on the ridge.
Aften getting all bundled up I skinned up to the ridge. The wind became very strong and had swept away most loose snow, leaving a smooth and mostly unbreakable crust. With relatively narrow skins, I began to have trouble skinning, so I took shelter behind some krumholtz, loaded the skis onto my pack, and headed back into the wind. It soon became apparent both that the wind was too strong to make this worthwhile, and that there wouldn't be any point in taking skis to the top anyway, so I stashed them at a saddle at the base of the final 300' of the south ridge.
Maybe hypothermia was setting in or something, for then I made a bad decision: I started traversing climber's left of the rock-studded ridge, hoping that the little trough there would have some drifted-in snow for kicking steps. After about 20 hard won steps, each requiring many kicks to establish in the hard frozen snow, I began to realize that this was not a place I wanted to be. The slope below me wasn't steep in absolute terms, but for the conditions, and without an ice axe, it was steep enough to cause me concern, and it became clear that my "snow-filled trough" would be nothing of the sort. In the winter, I rarely carry an ice axe because I'm just out for the skiing, so I decided to turn back. Traversing down my steps proved to be harder than coming up them (of course), so I decided to traverse up to the rocks right on the ridge, and come down them. When I got there, though, I found that it was generally easy to kick steps into voids around the rocks, so I stashed my poles and started up. The wind was very strong and I resorted to all fours in several places.
On top, there was some blown-in snow for steps, so I got as close as I dared to the cornice and took some photos of the great 360 degree view, buffetted by strong blasts of wind off the cornice. Going back down the ridge was easier than I expected as I could now plunge my heels into the snow. I put my skis on where I had stashed them, traversed around the east side of the bump in my way (easy looking entrance to the SE bowl of Silver Peak there), and chattered down the first few hundred feet of boilerplate. After a section with some breakable crust, I was able to get over to shady aspects and find nice skiing in the dense dry snow. There was another section of bad breakable crust just below the two tarns, then many glades holding more good turns down to the lakes. Returning past the big Twin, the route has a little climb, but I was able to make it without having to put on skins. The cross-country trail was now really fast, and the first half, back to the crossing of Mill Creek, was mostly just gliding, with a little double-poling and skating. Past Mill Creek, the trail mostly climbs gently, and this part felt quite a bit longer than it was. My legs (and shoulders) are more tired today than after our 6000 vf day a month ago.