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backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Discussion about winter adventure sports in the Sierra Nevada mountains including but not limited to; winter backpacking and camping, mountaineering, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc.
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backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby bladeguy4543 » Tue Dec 09, 2014 12:37 am

Looking for advice on a 2-to-3 day backpacking route to be done at the end of december. I'm an experienced backpacker, but don't have any experience snow camping, most of my backpacking has been during the summer in the sierras or in the mojave desert (multi day, 20+ mile trips with multiple 2000ft+ gain summits. I've done trips around Echo Lake (lake of the woods off hwy 50 to be exact) and would like to return to the area, but I'm wondering if snow-covered terrain there would be too challenging/remote for a first-time snow camper.

If so, could you recommend a route around the area that is scenic with mountain and lake views, primarily staying on a trail?



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Re: backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby Fly Guy Dave » Tue Dec 09, 2014 8:26 am

I've done some snow camping and backpacking in the Carson Pass area, along the PCT, going north and south. Good views and relatively easy terrain. It is harder to backpack when walking in snow and with snowshoes on, plus you will need plenty of time to make a shelter if you are digging a snow cave or building an igloo. Plus, you have to melt a lot of snow for your water, which takes even more time and plenty of fuel, so don't skimp on that for weight. My point being: you might spend less time hiking than you think. I could go on, but to address your original question, I think the Carson Pass area will suit your needs just fine as a first time snow camper.
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Re: backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Dec 09, 2014 5:14 pm

Winter camping is less forgiving than summer. You need to test your equipment first, in a safe location. I would do a couple trips not even a half mile from the car, or even at the car, to make sure everything works well before venturing farther. Temperatures can vary a lot. Snow camping in below freezing conditions is different than at freezing. Stormy conditions are a lot different then clear skies. The thing is, if your equipment fails, or you screw up and are several miles from your car, and if it snows two feet, you could be in real danger. Little things quickly turn into big problems. I would also never do my first snow backpacking alone. There is some safety in a larger group.

A lot depends on your level of experience with snow. Are you a skier? Have you done cross-country skiing? Have you done a lot of hunting in snowy conditions? Did you grow up in snow country? Believe it or not, growing up and playing in snow every winter is valuable experience. Have you previously lived in snow country? Worked outdoors? If you have all of those experiences, then backpacking is simply spending the night out and cooking and getting some specialized gear so you are not carrying 80 pounds. If not, then you have a lot to learn about simply being in snow.
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Re: backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby tim » Wed Dec 10, 2014 12:52 am

Have you consider going to a hut for 2 nights instead? We went to Pear Lake last April in a blizzard. It was pretty challenging compared to the same trip without snow, but really beautiful. It was great just to be able to dry out and warm up by the fire. If you want to try snow camping, doing it near a hut that you can access in an emergency might be a good option.
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Re: backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby AlmostThere » Wed Dec 10, 2014 10:04 am

People have gotten into dire straits when just going to the Pear hut or to Ostrander- don't go alone, preferably go with someone with winter experience. Just a few miles in can be a bigger deal than it sounds when temps are below 20 and you have not brought the right gear. In just a couple feet of snow, travel slows to half your regular hiking speed, or less. Batteries in Gps units die quicker unless you remember cold can sap them of juice. Winter carries a host of dangers that can start as a minor nuisance and quickly become a Big Deal. An experienced friend can loan gear and the two of you can keep an eye on each other.


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Re: backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby Tom_H » Fri Dec 12, 2014 11:10 am

As always, WanderingDaisy and AlmostThere have given some very good advice. Snow camping is strenuous and it can be great fun. Nevertheless, innumerable things can go wrong and be life threatening.

I agree with testing all the equipment close to the car for a trial run. You need to have appropriate winter gear-sleeping bag, clothing, boots, gaiters, snowshoes, nordic backcountry skis. Already having experience snowshoeing is good, nordic skiing even moreso. Carrying a heavy pack on skis involves a learning curve. Even as an instructor, I would never have dreampt going snow camping solo. There are too many opportunities for hypothermia and frostbite in situations where you cannot think clearly enough to help yourself. I had several occasions where others saved my life and I saved the lives of others in these kinds of conditions. Backcountry winter camping is best done in a small group where at least half the group has previous experience and can teach/assist those who are new. Even the new people should have previous summer experience. As far as a route, following a trail is usually not possible when it's under snow. You have to navigate and make sure you stay in the general vicinity. One way to make the skiing and snowshoeing easier is taking high elevation forest service roads. This can give you a more stable surface with less postholing as well as a wide enough pathway that you can usually stay "on trail."

All that about safety being said, winter trips can be life defining experiences. The amount of physical exertion required can be enormous. The beauty, solitude, and silence are breathtaking. Winter trips always made me focus on what really matters in life. They always made me think about how little I really need to survive in the world and how much "stuff" we are attached to that is extranous. It always made me see how important trust in close friends is and made me more deeply appreciate little luxuries such as the hot shower I got at the end of the trip.

Backcountry winter camping requires a substantial amount of preparedness, but it also offers a highly rewarding opportunity to both commune with the natural world as well as introspect on what really matters in life.
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Re: backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby dave54 » Sat Dec 13, 2014 9:35 pm

x2 on a short hike close to your car.
That way something goes wrong or you decide to bail out it is a short hike.
Also go someplace you have hiked in the summer and know fairly well. You can see what it looks like in winter and learn how snow cover and leafless trees change appearances of familiar areas.

I never particularly liked solo winter trips. Too much tent time made me bored and lonely. Summer solo there is always enough to do in the evening/early morning to keep occupied and interested. Not so much winter.

And as I aged I became less tolerant of cold. In my youth I was a polar bear, cold did not bother me at all. With superannuation the cold starts bothering my joints.
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Re: backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby markskor » Sun Dec 14, 2014 9:28 am

Solo snow camping? Suggest waiting until snow is consolidated - like in the spring. Being a novice under winter snow conditions, even a few loose inches of Sierra Cement can sap energy amazingly fast...being overtired often leads to bad decision-making...silly mistakes.

Corn snow/ spring conditions...under crystal blue skies (sunscreen necessary!) is a different ballgame. The X-country miles here fly by...Suggest the Ostrander hut, Yosemite, in April.
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Re: backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby rlown » Sun Dec 14, 2014 9:10 pm

Agree completely with Fly Guy Dave:

I've done some snow camping and backpacking in the Carson Pass area, along the PCT, going north and south. Good views and relatively easy terrain. It is harder to backpack when walking in snow and with snowshoes on, plus you will need plenty of time to make a shelter if you are digging a snow cave or building an igloo. Plus, you have to melt a lot of snow for your water, which takes even more time and plenty of fuel, so don't skimp on that for weight. My point being: you might spend less time hiking than you think. I could go on, but to address your original question, I think the Carson Pass area will suit your needs just fine as a first time snow camper.
- See more at: viewtopic.php?f=5&t=12108&p=91182#p91182


My first winter solo was in that area in Nov 80? Frog, Winnemucca and the towards Round top lk. It's a great practice area. It's all downhill to get out to your vehicle. I was in a Bivvy sac. Found 2 who were lost. Took them to their car on the second day. A nice bonus.
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Re: backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby Packtofish » Tue Dec 30, 2014 10:09 pm

Dewey Point out of Badger Pass is a great first snow camp. It's heavily used in winter and the trail is easy to follow assuming you don't go during a major dump. Test your gear, go only with a superb weather forecast and go have fun.


Oh yeah.... and don't get lost, get wet, get hypothermic, and all the other stupid **** you should know about before going snow camping, especially solo.
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Re: backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby soygreen_82 » Mon Feb 22, 2016 3:58 pm

I know this is old... but can anyone comment on here where to Snow camp AT THE CAR? Generally speaking I find it very hard to identify locations for this. My friend and I will be heading up Friday and are still slightly in the dark about where we will actually be pitching tent. We are good on gear, but for our first snow camping outting in well over a decade, we wanted to be within 100 yards of where we park. Thanks

~rich
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Re: backcountry route for first-time snow camper

Postby Fly Guy Dave » Mon Feb 22, 2016 6:57 pm

It would be helpful to know where you are coming from. The LA Megaopolis? The Bay Area? Sacramento? If you could narrow down the area you're thinking of going, I think you might get a bit more help.

Cheers!

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