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4 season tent for Sierra winter use

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4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby fishmonger » Thu Dec 02, 2010 10:18 am

I'm planning a snow shoe trip along the JMT in early 2012 - getting my gear together over this winter to get some testing in and make final adjustments

A 4-season tent is going to be one of the first major items I need to add to my gear closet - we're looking at April weather between 8,000 and 12,000 feet and 3+ weeks out there in the snow. I'm leaning towards a 2 person tent for solo use, 3-person for 2 people. I like space, especially when you're looking at winter bags, lots of gear, etc - it's got to be bombproof pretty much.

Online research has brought me to this shortlist - anyone have any experience with these or similar tents, or at least can share some experiences camping in the deep backcountry around that time of year?

TNF Mountain 25
Hilleberg Nallo 2 or Nallo 2 GT
Big Agnes String Ridge 2
Mountain Hardwear Trango 2
Mountain Hardwear EV 3
REI Mountain 2



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Re: 4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby copeg » Fri Dec 03, 2010 7:47 am

The TNF mountain 25 looks about as bombproof as it gets..never used one myself but have heard from those who have that it can stand up to some real pounding. Trade-offs are weight. I have the smaller of the Hilleberg (not the Nallo) and love it. Well made and can really stand up to wind. I knew someone who had the Nallo and they loved it as well. Never been in a real heavy snow storm so I cannot comment on how it would handle (my guess is it would require a bit more snow maintenance than the TNF). The Bibler I-Tent may not be as spacious, but have heard this is also a great quality and bombproof tent. Good luck with the tough choice
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Re: 4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby paul » Sat Dec 04, 2010 2:43 pm

I do backcountry ski trips at that time of year in the Sierra, and what I use is floorless shelters. Currently a slightly modified MSR Twin Peaks. You can see some photos in action here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/26480813@N ... 482039844/
A lot of people do the same thing for spring backcountry skiing. there are a number of pyramid-style shelters out there that have room for three and weigh under three pounds with groundsheet and stakes, maybe as low as two pounds. You can use your ski poles or avalanche probes for poles, they are much lighter than a real tent, they handle the weather well when set up right and in the right spot, and I like the floorless aspect a lot. when you set up in foul weather, you get the roof up, then crawl in with your pack, brush off, then roll out the groundsheet and get out your gear. packing up in bad weather, you get fully loaded, boots on, everything in the friendly confines, then head out into the maelstrom and all you have to do is roll up the shelter and strap it on your pack and you are away. I wouldn't take a real tent except for deep winter, and April is not that.
You can get plenty of snow in April, mostly early April. The usual corn snow window ( which is the great ski touring window) is the last week or two of April and the first week or two of May. If you are snowshoeing, I'd push that even later, as you don't have to worry so much about bare spots and snow quality as a skier does. If I were looking to snowshoe the JMT - an ambitious goal - and had to plan the timing months ahead rather than waiting to see what that particular year is like - I'd aim to start the last week of April.
The real gnarly thing you'll have to deal with is stream crossings. At that time of year they can be deadly. You need to be prepared to detour substantially to find a safe place to cross, and you need to have a tested strategy for crossing deep, cold, fast-moving water.
I'm curious what you're planning to do for resupply?
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Re: 4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby fishmonger » Mon Dec 06, 2010 12:56 pm

paul wrote:I do backcountry ski trips at that time of year in the Sierra, and what I use is floorless shelters. Currently a slightly modified MSR Twin Peaks.


I sure like the idea - and you have the photos to back it up. Very efficient, given all the other weight one has to deal with. RIght now, that's probably what I would do if I had to go next month.

paul wrote: I wouldn't take a real tent except for deep winter, and April is not that.


what is the difference in April? Potential snow loads or temps?


paul wrote:You can get plenty of snow in April, mostly early April. The usual corn snow window ( which is the great ski touring window) is the last week or two of April and the first week or two of May. If you are snowshoeing, I'd push that even later,


I'm still in the fence between ski touring and snow shoes - even though I am not really able to do the downhills people usually do the ski thing for, I expect the travel on ski with skins to be potentially a lot less effort than snow shoeing. If I have to go later to have better snow for the nsow shoes, I'd be looking at those dangerous stream crossings I'd rather not deal with. I've seen what that can look like in a report from last spring - here's a photo White Forkabove Woods Creek, a mostly slow trickle year round, but not here in early June 2010. I really would like to be there before this type of melt kicks in.

paul wrote:as you don't have to worry so much about bare spots and snow quality as a skier does. If I were looking to snowshoe the JMT - an ambitious goal - and had to plan the timing months ahead rather than waiting to see what that particular year is like - I'd aim to start the last week of April.


I should be somewhat flexible with my dates - I doubt I'll have to nail down the exact window until about a week or two before I head out west.


paul wrote:The real gnarly thing you'll have to deal with is stream crossings. At that time of year they can be deadly.
You need to be prepared to detour substantially to find a safe place to cross,
and you need to have a tested strategy for crossing deep, cold, fast-moving water.
I'm curious what you're planning to do for resupply?



As for the crossings - I won't even think about crossing anything I woulnd't do in summer - another reason to head out earlier and possibly on ski instead of snow shoes. Got no problem with the detours either, although I know very well that in some places that could be miles, or not possible at all.

As for travel in general - right now I'm reconsidering the approach and am thinking of a snow shoe and ski hybrid setup, as I am not the downhill skier you need to be to tackle anything that would have me slide down faster than fast walking speed (especially with a big pack). However, you can move faster on ski with skins than snow shoes where the terrain is "typical" for the Muir Trail. Having ski and snow shoes, I could pick and choose what works best for the terrain. The weight of the gear increases, but I'd be able to choose the mode of travel based on skill and conditions. Ski would buy me more speed than slow me down due to weight I think, especially in the earlier part of the season (early April start - although even that may be too late for some of the lower water crossings - this is an interesting read http://sfbay.wr.usgs.gov/hydroclimate/pulse.html ).

Resupply - depends on direction and how many volunteers I can find to meet me at various locations. If none, I need to get creative before the hike. Worst case one resupply around MTR or VVR would be sufficient, although not desireable. Packing things into bear lockers at various locations before the main hike may also get me some first hand condition check and let me do last minute gear adjustments. At Mammoth I'd definitely resupply at the post office, so that covers the northern half. Still too early to plan this in detail not knowing if I will be alone or not. Time is not that critical - I can do this over 4 weeks if that's what it takes.
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Re: 4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby fishmonger » Mon Dec 06, 2010 1:01 pm

copeg wrote:The Bibler I-Tent may not be as spacious, but have heard this is also a great quality and bombproof tent. Good luck with the tough choice


forgot the Bibler in my initial list - at first I wasn't so interested in it due to its single wall construction, but now that I suddenly feel an MSR tarp tent could do, the Bibler looks like the "heavy duty" option. A 9 pound TNF tent just seems insane compared to some of these lighter options.
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Re: 4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby oldranger » Mon Dec 06, 2010 2:32 pm

FM

Are you sure those locations are available for resupply in the early spring? Also if legal the bear lockers are likely to be buried under several feet of snow. When working for the NPS I skied into Charlotte Lake in the middle of may of a big snow year and we could just barely recognize the cabin roofline and it was 10 ft down to the door!

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Re: 4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Dec 06, 2010 3:25 pm

Neither MTR nor VVR are open until snow's gone. There may be staff wintering there, but the store won't be open and they won't be providing the usual resupply storage services. And using bear lockers as resupply points is frowned upon - many have signs in them that you are not to leave things in them, not to use them for resupply points, etc. Not sure if rangers patrol them and remove things left behind as they do in spring/summer, but as mentioned, they will be buried in snow anyway for quite a while.
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Re: 4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby fishmonger » Mon Dec 06, 2010 4:41 pm

I know VVR and MTR won't be open. That doesn't mean you can't work something out with them (I've been a repeat customer since 1988 at both locations...). Snow on bear box? I got a shovel. I figure it's better to use those than to leave bear canisters in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, you gotta find them first. I know pretty well where some of them are, but in any case it's a big hike into the backcountry before you even start your trip. I prefer the Kearsarge, Florence Lake or VVR and Mammoth resupply with outside help, but I need to look at all options in case I cannot work out such a support plan.
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Re: 4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby paul » Wed Dec 08, 2010 9:22 pm

fishmonger wrote:what is the difference in April? Potential snow loads or temps?


It's a combination of snow quantities, temperatures, and sunshine. In deep winter - which I see as lasting into March in the Sierra - you may have multi-day storms that drop up to several feet of snow, and during one of those it's almost impossible to stay really dry if you are moving, and in those conditions condensation in the tent is a big deal, so a double wall tent, or a breatheable single wall like a Bibler will keep you and your stuff drier and be worth the weight. And you don't get much chance to dry things out with the short daylight hours.
In late April, you might get snow, but it's usually a day or less, and when it stops you get warm sunny days with longer daylight hours to dry things out if anything gets wet. I get condensation in my single-wall coated nylon shelters, but it's not a big deal in the usual spring weather.
The skis/snowshoes question is a tough one. Taking both is a lot of extra weight. On skis you'll move faster - lots faster on the flats, a little faster on the uphills, and way faster on the downhills. I am not a very good skier, but I get pretty well out there with some basic skills and being willing to walk down if it gets too steep for me to handle. But if you have little or no experience skiing with a pack, doing the JMT is not the place to learn. At that time of year, on a lot of days if you get up early you can often cover some good miles without either snowshoes or skis, since there's usually a good crust on the snow which softens up by around 10:00 or so (depending on exposure of the slope to the sun). So if you snowshoe and are willing to get up early and be on the move at first light, you can go faster than you will on snowshoes later in the day.
I don't know how much experience you have snowshoeing with a big pack, but you need to have enough to be able to realistically estimate how far you can go in a day.
You also need to have excellent off-trail navigational skills. As familiar as you are are with the JMT (and I know from your posts that you are very familiar with it), it's a whole different deal with 4 to 8 feet of snow covering everything. Things do not look the same, and with no trail to follow you need to know what you are doing navigationally. Because you are out there on your own. You probably won't see anyone the whole way, unless maybe around Muir pass/Evolution Basin ( some folks ski in there just about every year) or down by Tyndall Creek where the Classic Sierra High Route goes through.

It's a big undertaking, but if you are properly prepared, it could be incredible.
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Re: 4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby fishmonger » Fri Dec 10, 2010 9:09 am

Great info on the snow. Given I am taking another year to get ready for this, I will have some homework to cover. Time-wise, I am quite sure I am not going before early April, mostly because of daylight issues, avalanches, etc - all that seems to taper off in April. Much later isn't going to be good either, as the water levels rise with the temps.

I used to ski with heavy gear (military gear actually, heavy weapon tripods or other junk that hurts real bad when you fall), but that was a long time ago. I'll get back to the ski hill this winter to do some basic refresher to see how I am doing. Unless I totally don't feel comfortable with it any longer, I am pretty sure that this will be my mode of transportation, for the speed mostly. The weight of the snow shoes on top of the ski gear isn't going to be a huge deal if I can get my tent weight down from 9 pounds (north face ve25) to 3 pounds (MSR Twin Sisters). The Bibler is pretty heavy for a single hiker, but may be a compromise between full winter and tarp shelter.

The real added weight is the ski gear but that pays off with the moving speed I'd gain over shoeing the whole trail. It also allows me to go earlier and hit a window of likely lower water levels.

Walking on frozen snow would be perfect - love that in the summer and it really gets you places fast. Not sure how I can get out of a tent at low temps before sunrise, though :unibrow:

Regarding route finding - I have years of GPS tracks I can load with the 24k garmin maps and about 15 Muir Trail visits behind me, so I know the lay of the land and most bends in summer conditions. Northbound not so much, so for reasons of finding my route I should head south. For heading up frozen solid snow on the south flanks and down still pretty solid snow on the north slopes of passes, I should head the other way, though. I've only done northbound once and for less than half the trail, so that's going to be a challenge. Still, for 95% of the trail, I doubt I'll even have to check the GPS.

The only orienteering-related things I am worried about are running off trail while sliding downhill and finding myself on the edge of a cliff I didn't see coming, or having to detour some known areas due to potential avalanches. Stuff like the trail above Lower Palisade Lake will be snowed in and dangerous - can I do the frozen lake itself in April? Those are pretty much the kind of things I am uncertain about. As long as I have food and water, I don't really care how long this will take me (therefore resupply is probably the key issue to sort out).

I guess if there was no risk and it was easy, everyone would be doing it. I am not going in with a must succeed attitude - nothing to be won by getting hurt out there. I've got enough outdoor experience to know when to stay put and wait things out and when to call it a day and get out. I've aborted many hikes over harmless things like June snow, so I know I won't be up there going for some pointless glory. When things get difficult, I know I will be off to explore the nearest exit route and to re-assess the trip at the Alabama Cafe over a big piece of pie.
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Re: 4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby paul » Fri Dec 10, 2010 9:56 pm

Since you're planning for 2012, I think a great idea for you would be to take a week-long trip in the Sierra this coming spring to get a feel for what it's like and test-drive your gear on the ground.
As a resupply option, there are guide services in Bishop that would gladly bring you a resupply to Kearsarge and probably a few other passes. Not cheap - the guide fees are probably $3-400 a day - but if you can afford it it's a possibility.
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Re: 4 season tent for Sierra winter use

Postby fishmonger » Wed Dec 15, 2010 11:18 am

paul wrote:Since you're planning for 2012, I think a great idea for you would be to take a week-long trip in the Sierra this coming spring to get a feel for what it's like and test-drive your gear on the ground.
As a resupply option, there are guide services in Bishop that would gladly bring you a resupply to Kearsarge and probably a few other passes. Not cheap - the guide fees are probably $3-400 a day - but if you can afford it it's a possibility.



good point about the trial trip - I'm in the process of getting gear together. Not sure if I can get enough of it sorted by April 2011, but there's a good chance I will be ready for some on site testing. Thing is, I am 2000 miles away, and just getting out there and getting home, plus some time for acclimation and a full week is gone before I can do anything of substance.

Packers - doubt they come up to the top of any major pass in April - you can't even get them to go up Taboose in summer, and Kearsarge is something you just hike down and meet somebody at the snow line. I plan on getting a sat phone for the 2012 trip, so coordinating such road end drops would not be difficult. Just not a really good option at places like Taboose, where you will lose more than a full day by heading off trail and down to the trailhead (although with coordinated shuttle food drops, I could leave most of my gear at higher elevation and just go grab the supplies and head back up).

question on touring ski bindings: any reason not to get Dynafit (much lighter than the other designs)? Durability is the one worry I have, but they are significanlty lighter than the Fritchi and Marker designs. Planning on mostly walking the trail on ski, weight matters more than anything else, except durability which I don't want to risk.

ski length? I am looking for floatation on snow while in walk/ascent mode. Downhill is totally unimportant. Will I get enough floatation on a short ski (170cm) - I am 6'2" and with full pack that's going to be a lot of weight for short boards. Will I need ski crampons, or can I assume that when I should need them in April, I should just take the ski off and put step-ins on the boots?
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