Trip Report: A Cold, Quiet Merced Circle

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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rlown
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Re: Trip Report: A Cold, Quiet Merced Circle

Post by rlown » Wed Dec 16, 2020 7:59 am

Nice report. Nice to see Evelyn, Townsley and HB again, even if frozen..








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Re: Trip Report: A Cold, Quiet Merced Circle

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Dec 16, 2020 12:19 pm

Not so much the cold (which was not that bad considering it IS December!) but those long dark nights UGH! I have always considered a head lamp a nice thing to have, but not strictly essential- and you proved this. Nice to see that someone else has learned to build fires with wet wood. Fire-building is becoming a lost art.

What did you think of the direct route to Red Devil Lake? Few people do this route; I did it years ago, but not in the winter. The route has wonderful wildflowers in the summer. I found getting up the first cliffs the most difficult. Did you have trouble with this? Were they icy? How did you cross the river- wade?? or was it frozen?

Star King is a fine climb; probably class 4 if not easy class 5, depending on your route. Reminds me of the routes on the slabs up at Tuolumne.

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Re: Trip Report: A Cold, Quiet Merced Circle

Post by Flamingo » Wed Dec 16, 2020 1:14 pm

Awesome trip report @Harlen. It sounds like you had a real adventure, with the wildlife encounters, wilderness solitude, route-finding mistakes, and. . . no headlamp! This is great stuff. It's interesting to see these areas in non-peak season. Thanks for sharing.

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Re: Trip Report: A Cold, Quiet Merced Circle

Post by Harlen » Wed Dec 16, 2020 1:56 pm

Thanks for the comments, and for not giving me too much $hit for my blunders.

CAMERONM wrote:
Did you really need the white gas, or could you have gotten by with a large canister? Was water that hard to obtain?
I have had only poor results from canister stoves in winter, have you found a fuel mix that works? I mostly cooked on the the coals of my fires, or on the two pieces of wood that I wedge into the coals to prop my stove on:
100_0502.JPG

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No lack of coals!
As for water, one of the beauties of winter camping is water everywhere! Cooking snow over a fire, I had the luxury of camping high, and yes, water was quite hard to come by up there.

WD writes:
I have always considered a head lamp a nice thing to have, but not strictly essential- and you proved this. Nice to see that someone else has learned to build fires with wet wood.
Nancy, I believe you enjoy music more than written words; for me the lack of a headlamp at night was painful. I love creating fires, and carry birch bark sent to me by friends in VT (which is cheating, but I almost never need to use it.

Regarding the route up to Red Devil Lake via Red Peak Fork, it was a challenge getting up the initial over-steepened slope of this hanging valley. It faces northward, and so held a lot of the old snow. On the shadowed, northern aspects the snow was mushy granular stuff, that accepts legs nicely. I hunted for shallow, rocky areas and made it work. After that, there was more than a mile of solid granite slope facing south east, which was very nice walking, and I camped just under it:

100_0476.JPG
Thanks again for the questions and comments.
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Last edited by Harlen on Fri Dec 18, 2020 10:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Trip Report: A Cold, Quiet Merced Circle

Post by CAMERONM » Wed Dec 16, 2020 7:28 pm

If you want to go down the rabbit hole on the subject of canisters in winter you could spend some time with some searches on www.backpackinglight. A quick jump to what seems to be a consensus UL approach can be found here: https://backpackinglight.com/forums/top ... irections/.
Water is a major shoulder-season problem, before the first of season snowfall; the creeks may be dry; the slightly larger ones frozen, but no easy snow to scoop up.

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Re: Trip Report: A Cold, Quiet Merced Circle

Post by Harlen » Fri Dec 18, 2020 10:06 am

CAMERONM writes
Water is a major shoulder-season problem, before the first of season snowfall; the creeks may be dry; the slightly larger ones frozen, but no easy snow to scoop up.
True, but I find that if you wander around the creek and lake margins near your camp, sooner or later you will break through and locate the water.

Thanks for the interesting link to custom winterizing canister stoves. I will try it for sure. I will start with smashing and trimming copper pipe.
Nice report! It may embolden me enough to get out next week. Maybe.
Do you have a plan yet for a wintery trip?

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Re: Trip Report: A Cold, Quiet Merced Circle

Post by Shawn » Fri Dec 18, 2020 10:57 am

Damn Harlen, what an amazing trip. Really enjoyed the report and photos. Of course sitting here in the warmth of my home makes it really easy to enjoy, I bet those long cold nights weren't the most comfortable of times (but make for great memories). The photos of the tracks were terrific.

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Re: Trip Report: A Cold, Quiet Merced Circle

Post by commonloon » Fri Dec 18, 2020 11:31 am

Sweet TR @Harlen ! It sounds like a really fun wilderness experience.

FYI, I use a Kovea spider as my barely-winter stove. I've used it In the snow lots, even cooking hotdogs for my son (extreme backpacking food). I do tend to put my canister in my sleeping bag at night and use a cozy. When it is liquid feeding, it's power seems a little sub-par for cooking fast but I'm still learning/getting to know it. It tends to start up like a white gas stove (flame up) then get better when the feedback starts happening. I have NOT used it for ski touring, etc.

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Re: Trip Report: A Cold, Quiet Merced Circle

Post by Harlen » Fri Dec 18, 2020 1:48 pm

Shaun Writes:
The photos of the tracks were terrific.

There are more photos of the many bear tracks; it was surprising how common it is to share the trails- both on and off-trail, with our Bear brothers.
The snow on the ground really makes that fact apparent. And this at a time when I assume that a fair percentage of them are already in hibernation phase. The hungry ones still out are really covering a lot of ground in search of last meals, this being their period of "hyperphagia."
During the autumn hyperphagia, feeding becomes virtually the full-time task of American black bears. Hard masts become the most important part of the American black bear's diet in autumn and may even partially dictate the species' distribution. Favored masts such as hazelnuts, oak acorns and whitebark pine nuts may be consumed by the hundreds each day by a single American black bear during the fall. During the fall period, American black bears may also habitually raid the nut caches of tree squirrels.
Also, it seemed as though many of the tracks were of immature Bears, the prints small: 4-6" in length for the bigger hind paw prints (big adult bears will be up to 9"). Unlike Brown/Grizzly Bear, who remain with their mother for 2.5, up to 3.5 years, Black Bear cubs are generally living separate from their mother at 18 months.(Backcountry Bear Basics, Smith). My idea is that a larger % of young Bears remain underfed for winter, and so are the ones that stay out later in the season foraging.

Anyhow, here are the other photos of Bear tracks from my recent trip:

100_0432.JPG


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This seems like a very recent track, because of the sharp edges above. The tracks in the 2 images above have rounded outlines, so are probably a few days old.

100_0745.JPG
These are also Bear tracks, but low in the valley. They appear to be much older, but it may be that this elevation melts out faster.
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Last edited by Harlen on Mon Dec 21, 2020 1:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Trip Report: A Cold, Quiet Merced Circle

Post by iceboal » Mon Dec 21, 2020 3:42 am

Thanks for sharing! Great experience and great report.

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