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A Wintery Week in Yosemite

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.

A Wintery Week in Yosemite

Postby Harlen » Tue Feb 27, 2018 12:49 pm

Just returned (Sat. the 24th) from a week of skiing (and yes Longri, also some boot hiking) in Yosemite. I can't quite call it the Yosemite "backcountry" since I was never far from a road, but it was a snowy wonderland, and felt nice and remote for all of the solitude. I can almost say that I saw as many coyotes as humans, if I exempt Rob and Laura Pilewski- the winter rangers extraordinaire, who are a part of the place, I spent every day alone and only very briefly saw three other skiers in the ski hut for two of my seven days and nights. As for coyotes, I saw 2 of them- one of whom I spent a good part of a magical morning with, traveling together through the meadows. I wonder if the predicted cold snap scared off the humans? That, and the thin snow cover, since many of the Toulumne skiers come more for the tele turns on the steep slopes above, rather than touring the meadows, and following the animals around.

I had a fine time, ski toured 74 miles of those high mountain meadows, river valleys, forests and the snow-covered Highway 120. I also got to boot hike about 16 miles (ie., 8 each way) from the Valley up to just before Olmstead Point, where the skiable snow began. (Note, now there is skiable snow well down the road, and the Snow Creek hill.) I over-stayed my planned time in to finally see the area under some heavy snow cover. Rob P. mentioned the snowstorm I'd been hoping for was setting up for the coming Thursday the 22nd, and they relayed a message back home saying that Ian would be late. Sure enough, the white stuff floated down, and blew sideways by turns, all of Thurs-day and night! I played in it Thursday, ski-mountaineering a route around Lembert and Dog Domes, and woke up to the winter snow-scape of my dreams on Friday morning. The meadows were blanketed, and trees were full! I made the dubious, but beautiful decision to ski out Friday morning- breaking trail through an average of 8 inches, and commonly up to 15" in the drifts. As I laughed to myself along the way, after the fifth hour of slogging though the powder- "This beauty is killing me!" And then I slogged on another 4 hours. It was a workout without end, never a single glide, I never saw my boots until I skied across the windswept Tenaya Lake, and often my entire skis were invisible beneath the snow! At every step I was both pushing through, and carrying a load of snow- thankfully it was so powdery that it mostly offered little resistance.

My photos will not show that Friday, as the camera battery was stone dead. I had planned to pull a marathonish (23 miles) ski out to the Valley, as I have done happily before, but barely made the 14 miles to the top of the big hill over the Snow Creek drainage. I quite literally was on my last legs, fearful in fact, of keeling over and going to sleep during one of my ever more frequent rest stops. I finally gave up on reaching Snow Creek, or the Snow Creek Hut, and just kicked the snow from the foot of a giant fir tree, and threw out my amazing new WM 5 degree z-bag ala Maverick, and slept the sleep of the nearly dead. In fact, I soon rallied a bit, being dreadfully thirsty (you know my rule: never carry water in the Sierra) and I thrashed together a smoky fire, dedicating some of my last, precious Vermont birch bark fire-starter to the cause. I filled two full pots with packed powder snow, and drank tea with dirt and bark and crap and fir needles for half a wonderful hour. (And BTW, I broke my hallowed rule and carried a full quart of lemonade- but it soon became so bloody cold I could hardly drink it! So what's the point?! What am I supposed to do, carry it in my pants like a great cod-piece?!

The end of this trip was a lesson in restraint, doing the right thing and stopping early to camp in the woods rather than pushing on to some hoped-for destination. And even before that, stopping at dark to change my apparel from light mittens to heavy woolens, and vest to full down jacket, as I was really starting to freeze up a bit-- remember that this cold snap had descended to 14 below zero at one point... Jeez but this is getting dramatic isn't it- where's Jack London with the slavering wolves when you need him?! Anyway, lets cut the crap (I'm still celebrating my trip with extra Gran Marnier) and get to the photos. So, I put on some warm clothes, and got into a cushy sleeping bag, and had a nice sleep, et voila.

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Halfdome from the terrace above Snow Creek Trail.

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North Dome.

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Red firs and a beautiful Western White Pine- amazing forest on the way to Olmstead Point, with the Snow Creek Hut hidden in there- presently off limits due to excessive partying.

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On the way in the snow cover was pretty thin. I was able to ski 90% from just west of Olmstead Pt. to the Toulumne Meadows Ski Hut.

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Frozen Tenaya Lake.

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Unicorn Peak at center, Cockscomb on the right. Altusky Peak on the left of Unicorn- these are some of the best ski slopes above the Meadows. It was icy wind crust when I arrived- deep powder right now!

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Here's how it looked when I arrived last Saturday...

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And here's the same spot after the first storm on Sunday.

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The dome country at the west end of T. Meadows, pre storms.

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After the first storm-- if only I could show how it looked after the big storm last Thursday- pure WHITE!

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I always ski out to Soda Springs in the morning for some "champagne water."

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The shepherds, or Mr. Lembert, built this log barrier to keep animals out of the springs. Lembert kept Angora Goats and also did entomological collections for the Smithsonian. I wonder if he and Muir were friends? Note the fine V-Notch corners.
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Last edited by Harlen on Sun Mar 04, 2018 9:42 pm, edited 5 times in total.



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Re: A Wintery Week in Yosemite

Postby maverick » Tue Feb 27, 2018 1:45 pm

Great trip, thanks for the photo's! I'm sure after this in-coming storm (Wed - Sat), we will receive over a foot of new white stuff in that area. :nod:
and threw out my amazing new WM 5 degree z-bag ala Maverick, and slept the sleep of the nearly dead.


Was hoping to hear that it kept you nice and toasty Harlen. :thumbsup:
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Re: A Wintery Week in Yosemite

Postby Harlen » Tue Feb 27, 2018 2:21 pm

and threw out my amazing new WM 5 degree z-bag ala Maverick, and slept the sleep of the nearly dead.


Was hoping to hear that it you kept nice and toasty Harlen.


Yes indeed Maverick-- here is the great z-bag in action:

DSCN1113.jpg
I slept out in the forest on the edge of T. Meadows on a zero degree night, with down jacket, booties, gloves, etc..., and even though 2" of snow blew in on top of me (no tent of course)- I was unzipping and shedding layers by midnight. And it really served me well on the last night in the deep snow, when I really was freezing. Thanks again Mav.
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Re: A Wintery Week in Yosemite

Postby copeg » Tue Feb 27, 2018 7:27 pm

Looks and sounds like you had a blast! Loving the photos, and the morning with coyote must have been magical.

Going up snow creek has always been my favorite way to get into the backcountry in winter from the west (granted I’ve only done it twice, and never longer than a 3 day stint hence never too deep into backcountry so count me in as a bit envious).

Re the bag, I’ve got the same and love it. Re drinking freezing water in winter, I’m guessing given your rule you’ve never carried a thermos? Despite the weight, I’ve found it can be very convenient...nice to have something warm without firing up the stove
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Re: A Wintery Week in Yosemite

Postby Harlen » Tue Feb 27, 2018 8:07 pm

Thanks Copeg, can you please recommend a lightweight, 1 qt. thermos? Cheers, Ian.
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Re: A Wintery Week in Yosemite

Postby copeg » Wed Feb 28, 2018 8:12 am

Harlen wrote:Thanks Copeg, can you please recommend a lightweight, 1 qt. thermos? Cheers, Ian.


Only ever used one so I'm not sure how much weight to put in this as a recommendation, but I use a Thermos 'thermax' (bullet style, 16oz). Weighs in at ~10oz empty, has been pretty indestructible (eg been dropped on granite multiple times and survived), and has kept water warm overnight with temps in teens (helps to 'prime' it first - eg poor boiling water to warm it up first)
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Re: A Wintery Week in Yosemite

Postby Hobbes » Wed Feb 28, 2018 10:36 am

I looks really beautiful up there. Any plans on getting back after the incoming big storm blows through?
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Re: A Wintery Week in Yosemite

Postby psykokid » Wed Feb 28, 2018 10:49 am

Harlen wrote:Thanks Copeg, can you please recommend a lightweight, 1 qt. thermos? Cheers, Ian.


Zojirushi makes some dam good vacuum insulated bottles.

https://www.zojirushi.com/app/product/sjjs

This one holds just over a quart and weighs in at 15oz according to their specs. It will keep hot liquids really hot for 6-8 hours and still pretty warm at 24 hours. I've got a bigger one that I use when car camping that I will fill with hot water in the morning and will use it to make tea or hot cocoa later in the afternoon or evening. My wife found out about the brand when she was out with my daughter on a girl scout trip many moons ago. One of the moms had boiled water in the early AM and was pouring hot water later that evening for the girls to have hot cocoa from this wonder thermos. We picked up one the following week.
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Re: A Wintery Week in Yosemite

Postby longri » Wed Feb 28, 2018 12:09 pm

Even though it's what I expect this year it's a little heartbreaking to see how dry it is up there in February. I turned around one year at the top of the Snow Creek switchbacks when I realized how devoid of snow the backcountry was. I had been in denial but couldn't pretend once I got up to the rim and saw it. Too many memories of flush years.

But it's better than being in the city.
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Re: A Wintery Week in Yosemite

Postby longri » Wed Feb 28, 2018 12:11 pm

Harlen, I don't know if you can edit thread titles but it's a little confusing that this thread says "Yosemite" and the other two say "Toulumne (sic) part 2 and 3". It would make more sense to give them all the same name, part 1, 2, 3. And it would be nice if the date were in there.
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