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early season backpacking... snow essentials

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 6:49 am
by Sierra_Summits
I was debating going out in a couple of weeks and wanted to get into the higher country. maybe above 9,500 - 10,000ft i have never camped in the sierras with so much snow and was wondering besides snowshoes what else would make the experience more enjoyable? I would be bringing my rei quarter dome tent 1 person. Are snow stakes necessary? Any other gear to modify? Thanks for any input.


Re: early season backpacking... snow essentials

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 7:38 am
by oldranger
My early season experience suggests that snowshoes are largely extra weight this time of year. But it is important to travel early on s and e facing slopes with a little extra margin on n and west slopes to avoid postholing. Also look for open s. facing campsites and you are likely to find some snow free camp opportunities. Also make sure your off trail navigation skills are up to the challenge when trails are under snow.

Re: early season backpacking... snow essentials

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 7:54 am
by AlmostThere
Depends on how long you intend to be out there. Roads are still closed...snowline is at 7500-8000 feet but above 9000 it gets to 6 - 20 feet deep. You might have to hike up to the elevation you want. The satellite shots suggest that the Kings River and San Joaquin drainages are melting out rapidly and other areas less so. I'd suppose that it would be about as cold at night as it ever is this time of year... the snow might cause cooler breezes.

I'd take microspikes and trekking poles, gaiters if intending to move in the afternoon. Neoprene socks for water crossings, which are the real risk -- high water, very dangerous. I see people with snowshoes in trip reports but the times I've taken them in May-June they end up being useless, the snow gets consolidated.

Re: early season backpacking... snow essentials

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 9:48 am
by Hobbes
Since you've been to the Barrett lakes and have camped on top of Agassiz, I think you will be fine.

You could take shoes just in case you find yourself hiking in the afternoon, but as others have pointed out, it will mostly just be an add'l weight carry.

As for camping, these snow stakes @ REI work great and are pretty inexpensive:

I take four of these and four MSR hedgehogs. That way, I can mix/match depending on conditions. That is, 100% snow I use the snow stakes as primaries for the tent and MSRs as secondaries for fly/guy. Mixed/bald spots, reverse the set-up and pile rocks on top of the snow stakes laying flat.

One thing you should note is that the snow is already degraded. That is, while it's deep, it's very rough and uneven on the surface. This really slows down hiking speed and is murder on your ankles. I hiked up to Whitney last week, and my legs got super tired; it's taken almost a week to recover. BTW, didn't make it, turned around @ TC due to weather (looking for an excuse, and the cold blasting wind that ripped off my hat and almost strangled me with the draw cord was all I needed).

All that being said, I highly encourage anyone who can get out there to do so. I'm going to hike from Piute to Mammoth in a few weeks, hopefully completing my full JMT section hike in alpine conditions over the last few years.

Re: early season backpacking... snow essentials

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 12:05 pm
by Sierra_Summits
Thanks for the help out! I was thinking of bringing snowshoes but after hearing from you all I might go the waterproof boots and high gaiters style. Also, Hobbes I have heard that bear creek on the JMT can be really tough to cross even in a normal year of runoff. just a heads up.

Re: early season backpacking... snow essentials

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 1:26 pm
by Hobbes
Sierra_Summits wrote:I have heard that bear creek on the JMT can be really tough to cross even in a normal year of runoff. just a heads up.
Yes, I've been back there later in the year during a normal year, and it's been ok. However, my plan for this hike is to make it to Bear creek around 6-7pm after a 16 mile day on D2. This entails heading over Selden in the afternoon, which should be a full on post-holing slog. The reason, of course, is to be in position to get across Bear sometime between 6-8am the next morning when the water should be at its peak ebb.

I've mentioned this on other threads, but alpine conditions aren't just about the difficulty of travel. Rather, it's making the necessary - often times uncomfortable - adjustments to be where you need to be at the right place at the right time. It's a lot of work and hardship - hey, this is supposed to be fun - but the payoff & reward are truly spectacular conditions.

Re: early season backpacking... snow essentials

Posted: Tue Jun 06, 2017 10:04 am
by SSSdave
Camping in snow requires serious water wetness management of gear. Things to dry off wet skin, gear, tent floors Plastic bags to put wet items into to keep the insides of tent, pack, and sleeping bag dry. You especially do not want to wake up in mornings with frozen boots that had gotten wet the previous day. May take hours before a person can even fit their feet into. Temps will dip icy low overnight. Do not site camp in hollows or canyon bottoms but rather on sides of slopes. Get a couple of those robust Walmart plastic shopping bags for your boots at night beside your sleeping bag. Before dawn shove them down into your sleeping bag. Extra set of gloves. Whole books written about this stuff. Good to get some easy short trip experience as you are doing.


Re: early season backpacking... snow essentials

Posted: Tue Jun 06, 2017 2:20 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Low temperatures at 10,000 feet are forecast to be just at freezing or slightly above. I do not think you have to worry boots so frozen you cannot get your foot inside, this time of the year. Just put them in the tent, no need to sleep with them. Your feet will always get wet, even if you wear gaiters. Take three pair of wool socks and roate them. Wring them out at night and dry them on your pack as you go along. You could also take an extra pair of light weight insoles and rotate them. Boots are preferred to fabric trail shoes. A really agressive boot lug sole will be very useful in kicking and staying in steps. A trick is to kick step, pause a moment to set the boot, and then transfer your weight very smoothly. This prevents a lot of post-holeing.

Be sure you have a sleeping pad rated at about R5. You may find plenty of dry spots to set up on. Top of flat rocks work, as do tree well melt-outs that become fairly large on south facing slopes. I just add one of those blue foam pads to my summer sleeping pad which is R2-3.

Navigation can be a problem, if you want to basically follow a trail. Although I am not a fan of GPS, this is one case where I would take one.

All day on snow, in June, can burn you to a crisp. Be sure to have a good shade hat, and high quality sun screen being sure to put it under your chin and nose and all sides of your ears- light reflected off snow will burn those areas. Glacier goggles or wrap around sunglasses are essential. You may want to put some burn salve in your first aid kit. If I get burned, I will sometimes put some snow in a small platypus and wrap it in a hankerchief, and place it on the burn at the end of the day.

If crossing a swift rocky stream, wading shoes often do not cut it. Your hiking shoes will be wet anyway so just keep them on. Be very conservative- retreat if needed. Absolutely take trekking poles. They are very useful in testing snow in front of you for weak spots and for stream crossings. Numb feet when crossing a wide stream will often make you really clumsy because you cannot feel your feet. Trekking poles help keep balance.

Take an ice axe if you plan to be on any steep snow. This assumes you have trained in how to use it. Microcpikes are OK for low angle hard snow, but crampons may be needed for hard steep snow. Microspikes may even be uesful to cross wet slippery logs- I have done this with crampons.

Take extra gas since the water will be really cold and take more gas to boil. If possible gather water early and set it on a dark stuff sack to solar warm.

Snow changes hourly. Timing of travel is everything. Plan on shorter days than you would for the same trip without snow. As for low flows in streams, that depends on how close you are to the primarly melt area/elevation. If downstream a ways, peak flows will lag, as will lowest flows. In that case, the water may be lower around 9-10 AM rather than 6AM. If temperatures are warm at night, there will be less of a variation in stream levels. In the past, my snow trips in the Sierra, I could travel without falling through until about noon. Early mornings can be icy so microspikes will allow you to travel earlier, thus get in more miles before the snow gets soft.

IF you take a smart phone and can get receptions, you could get daily temperature forecasts, which would be good for planning your days.