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Mammoth Lakes Basin and Avalanches?

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Mammoth Lakes Basin and Avalanches?

Postby Eigenguy » Tue Jan 26, 2016 7:35 pm

I've been snowshoeing Minaret Summit and up to Horseshoe Lake, but that has gotten old. I'd like to spend more time going places I went in the summer such as TJ Lake, Crystal Lake, Emerald Lake, (part of) Reds Meadow Valley etc.

I am very familiar with the Mammoth Lakes Basin... in the summer. I am new to snow and the mechanics of its movement and stability, so I know I need to be cautious but most of the answers I've gotten have been shrugs and opinions that it's not a big deal. I've looked into some of the resources that are posted, and though it is useful to be able to identify a hazard as I come to it, I'd like to learn how to "plan" routes that avoid these hazards if that's even possible.

Are avalanches something that I should be concerned about snowshoeing in the lakes basin backcountry, or on the Red's Meadow Road (between county line and Agnew Meadows), or Mammoth Pass? I am not planning on going to "big" mountains like the Crest, Duck Pass or the bowls behind the lakes.

EDIT: Also, should I be carrying avalanche gear in these areas?



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Re: Mammoth Lakes Basin and Avalanches?

Postby maverick » Tue Jan 26, 2016 7:53 pm

Have you read this thread: viewtopic.php?f=5&t=3640
Especially: http://esavalanche.org/advisory
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Re: Mammoth Lakes Basin and Avalanches?

Postby Eigenguy » Tue Jan 26, 2016 8:16 pm

maverick wrote:Have you read this thread: viewtopic.php?f=5&t=3640
Especially: http://esavalanche.org/advisory


Yes, it just isn't clear if it applies to steep mountains like the crest, or everywhere. But I think the answer is the latter. I think the books will be useful for me since I am completely new to this.

The ESA link is useful, I will have to learn the vocabulary they use as it assumes I know what they are talking about.
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Re: Mammoth Lakes Basin and Avalanches?

Postby SSSdave » Wed Jan 27, 2016 1:55 pm

Being able to tell where avalanches sometimes slide is not difficult. Being able to tell if such slopes are likely to slide when you are below them in winter requires training. Much easier when moving about mountain areas in winter to simply avoid any areas that sometimes slide. The signs of winter avalanches during summer are abundant. One just needs to look at steep slopes. For the most part the Mammoth Lakes Basin is safe except where the basin meets the surrounding heights.

There is a reason many timberline slopes below steep areas don't have any tall trees. Ditto for areas down in many of the larger Sierra canyons. Predictably one instead often finds small meadows in run-out zones below where snows slide as well as short brush on the steeper slopes. The brush or short tree heights are usually at or below the mean mid winter snow depths. Anything sticking out above the snow gets pruned back every few years. After big El Nino winters while summer backpacking one might come across areas where big conifers standing for hundreds of years have been mowed down. And if a trail crosses such areas, during early season one may end up climbing over and through such log debris. The wise thing to do is to look at topographic maps where one may be traveling and simply avoid traveling below steep slopes.
Last edited by SSSdave on Wed Jan 27, 2016 1:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mammoth Lakes Basin and Avalanches?

Postby maverick » Wed Jan 27, 2016 1:57 pm

You can call also call the Mammoth Visitor Center at (760) 924-5500 (between 8am-5pm), to get up to date info.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

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Re: Mammoth Lakes Basin and Avalanches?

Postby paul » Wed Jan 27, 2016 10:19 pm

FIrst of all you should not be carrying avalanche gear unless you have completed an avalanche course and are thoroughly versed in how to assess the snow conditions and in avalanche rescue techniques, because without the skills the gear is useless.
But rather than take the course you can simply be very conservative about where and when you go. Reading a few books on avalanches can give you some important information in that regard. What the books cannot do is help you assess the actual avalanche hazard on slopes that MIGHT slide, so you want to learn to identify slopes that can't slide (because they are low angle, have no steep slopes above or rollovers - you'll read about those - just below, and a few other minor factors), and stick to those. Frankly, that's the easy part, known as terrain avoidance, and the books are pretty useful in that regard. Especially for a snowshoer, since the kind of slopes that can slide are pretty steep on snowshoes and not much fun. But you can easily find yourself below a dangerous slope, or at the top of a rollover, unless you know what to look for.
So I'd get the books, study them, and check the avalanche forecast whenever you go out. Also you need to be able to look at a topo map and tell from how close together the lines are what the angle of the slope is. Not just "hey, that looks steep", but translating the spacing of lines to actual angle of the slope.
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Re: Mammoth Lakes Basin and Avalanches?

Postby Silky Smooth » Wed Jan 27, 2016 11:00 pm

Come on down to Bishop and head to Aspendell and the Sabrina basin. Lots of snowshown' to do, Sabrina, North Lake, Blue Lake, Lamarack(more ambitious). You can also head to Big Pine and go to Glacier Lodge, you can go to S. Fork or N. Fork. Head to S. Fork for 1st lake with not too much effort. Funny I was bored of my snow shoe hikes and was going to head up to your next of the woods. Reds sounds like it would be a fun trip, be nice to head to Thousand Island in the winter. I just dont have enough time.
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Re: Mammoth Lakes Basin and Avalanches?

Postby Eigenguy » Thu Jan 28, 2016 2:17 am

SSSdave wrote:The signs of winter avalanches during summer are abundant. One just needs to look at steep slopes. For the most part the Mammoth Lakes Basin is safe except where the basin meets the surrounding heights.

The wise thing to do is to look at topographic maps where one may be traveling and simply avoid traveling below steep slopes.


This is very helpful, thank you. I will go conservative this winter, and in the summer pay more attention to these signs. I did get the impression that the basin was relatively "safe" just not the areas behind the lakes (the bowls and below against the crest, the climb to Duck Pass etc.)

I meant to ask about topo maps. It's easy to tell where steep slopes are on the map. I was getting myself too worried about having to guesstimate the angle of a slope.

maverick wrote:You can call also call the Mammoth Visitor Center at (760) 924-5500 (between 8am-5pm), to get up to date info.


Will do. I read the ESAC bulletin and it looks like now is probably not the best time to take any chances in the backcountry. I am sure the visitor center will be able to parse the language better than I can, until I learn ;-).

paul wrote:FIrst of all you should not be carrying avalanche gear unless you have completed an avalanche course and are thoroughly versed in how to assess the snow conditions and in avalanche rescue techniques, because without the skills the gear is useless.
...
So I'd get the books, study them, and check the avalanche forecast whenever you go out. Also you need to be able to look at a topo map and tell from how close together the lines are what the angle of the slope is. Not just "hey, that looks steep", but translating the spacing of lines to actual angle of the slope.


Bad wording on my part. I was trying to imply training and gear. Yes, of course gear is useless without knowing how to use it. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people do just that so thanks for the reminder. There is a book called "Snow Sense" that looks perfect... because I lack understanding of this whole concept of snow and how it moves and forms. I've never felt like such a flatlander.

Silky Smooth wrote:Come on down to Bishop and head to Aspendell and the Sabrina basin. Lots of snowshown' to do, Sabrina, North Lake, Blue Lake, Lamarack(more ambitious). You can also head to Big Pine and go to Glacier Lodge, you can go to S. Fork or N. Fork. Head to S. Fork for 1st lake with not too much effort. Funny I was bored of my snow shoe hikes and was going to head up to your next of the woods. Reds sounds like it would be a fun trip, be nice to head to Thousand Island in the winter. I just dont have enough time.


That sounds fun, and would be something completely new. The Bishop area, and Rock Creek etc. are intriguing to me. I'd love to do Thousand Island Lake... but I can't even get there in the summer! My goal for next summer is Minaret Lake... start at 7am and hope to be back by 7pm.
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