Apr 2, 2013 at 2:01 am #1301199
After taking a few overnighters in the local San Jacinto mountains this winter I was excited to take a real winter trip in the high Sierra. For my first real winter experience in the Sierras I decided to start from familiar ground, the North Lake trailhead near Bishop. The plan was to cross the Sierra Crest at Piute Pass, then cross the Glacier Divide at Alpine Col and finally back over the Sierra Crest at Lamarck Col. I had four days and three nights to make the loop on snowshoes.
The roads were closed just outside of Aspendell so I parked and walked the three miles to the actual North Lake/Piute Pass trailhead.
By the time I got started it was already 1:30 pm so I camped on a ridge just below Piute Lake (only a few miles in from the trailhead). It seems like everything takes longer in the snow.
The lakes and streams were frozen at this altitude so I melted snow for water. I used some Toasty Feet inserts to insulate the fuel from the snow.
This was a solo trip. When I got my permit the ranger said, "you probably won't see anybody out there this time of year". I wouldn't see another person for five days. It's always strange talking to people after a long solo trip. I was enjoying the complete absence of anything except big mountain scenery and solitude.
The second night I camped above frozen Goethe Lake. The view of Mount Humphreys dominates the area.
The next morning I got an early start for Alpine Col. The hike was beautiful with rolling waves of pristine snow.
The view to the east from Alpine Col. Mt. Mendel in the distance and Lake 11,910 below.
I glissaded down the east side of Alpine Col and walked across Lake 11,910. This area is remote so most lakes are just named after the altitude. Alpine Col is the low spot on the left.
That night I camped in Darwin Canyon, surrounded by frozen lakes and huge peaks (Mt. Darwin and Mt. Mendell, both over 13,000 feet).
This bird was the first living thing I had seen in days.
I crossed back over the Sierra Crest at Lamarck Col (12,880 feet).
The view back toward Darwin Canyon.
The view to the east from Lamarck Col.
This trip was supposed to be four days/three nights but I ran into a lot of difficulty finding the way down from a steep snow covered ridge above Upper Lamarck Lake. I spent hours trying to find a safe way down. At one point I fell into an opening in the snow and into the hidden boulders below. I heard a 'crack' and figured it might be time to use the SOS on my Spot. My snowshoes got caught under the boulders as the snow filled in the opening. I spent a long time on this steep ridge digging myself out but eventually I got down to Lower Lamarck Lake. It turns out the crack was one of my LT4's breaking.
By the time I got down it was 8:00 pm and completely dark. The trails were covered with snow and the small amount of moonlight wasn't enough to find the way. I decided to just sleep there until the morning.
Camping under a tree next to Lower Lamarck Lake I fell asleep listening to the wind howl through the canyon. I watched the stars flickering through the branches above me as the melting creek flowed nearby. It was one of the most serene nights I have spent in the wilderness.
The next day I made my way back down to the North Lake trailhead and finally back to the car. There was a note on my truck from the local sheriff saying, "The owner of this truck is an overdue/missing hiker. Please call. . . ". My family was aware of my location from the Spot messages I had been sending, but they still worried something was wrong. Fortunately everything was just fine. What an adventure!
Many thanks to Roger Caffin for sharing his knowledge about snow camping in his many articles on BPL. I followed his guidance on everything from footwear to canister stoves.
My starting weight was 19 1/2 lbs which included food for four days and 1 liter of water. Here is a link to my Glacier Divide Gear List
If you're interested here is a link to the whole story:
Thanks for reading.Apr 2, 2013 at 3:06 am #1971924
@thomdarrahLocale: Southern Oregon
Nice report and pictures, thanks!Apr 2, 2013 at 4:10 am #1971927
This looks like a great early spring trip. I have done the Alpine Col route and it is likely easier and more enjoyable with snow, I seem to remember endless bolder fields. Sucks about your lt4s. Unfortunately I know that snap all too well. I made it through the Sierra on the PCT in '11 with the lt4s intact only to break three sections in three days north of Tahoe I suspect the poles weaken with serious snow use. Will you take them again on a similar trip?
Absolutely gorgeous area, great trip plan.Apr 2, 2013 at 6:14 am #1971941
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
Great pics and report.Apr 2, 2013 at 7:27 am #1971960
@ikeLocale: Central Michigan
Looks like a fun trip. Had to laugh at the note on your truck when you got back- I'm always afraid my wife is going to call SAR on me one of these days. It is a huge motivator for me to make big miles and always get back when I say I will.Apr 2, 2013 at 8:50 am #1971986
@andrew-fLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Wow! Awesome trip! That's an ambitious loop to do solo in the winter. It's nice to see the snow conditions too, I'm probably going to do the Rae Lakes loop sometime in April if the road opens.Apr 2, 2013 at 8:57 am #1971988
@creachenLocale: East Bay
Cool TR and pictures. That is a awesome area to explore and I give you a big Thumbs-Up going there with snow still on the ground. That region is tough in Summer time and I could not imagine it in early Spring. Great Stuff!Apr 2, 2013 at 9:04 am #1971993
How lovely to see that route with all the snow – have done much of it (North Lake to South Lake) in summer, with only patches of snow, but this looks quite different! Great report, thanks.Apr 2, 2013 at 9:34 am #1972003
@nickbLocale: Los Padres National Forest
Great trip report Andy! Looks like a real adventure, especially going for it solo. Glad it was your pole breaking and not a leg…
How were temps and snow conditions?
I was hoping to get up to the Sierra for a winter trip with my brother this year but I just couldn't ever put it together with him. Guess there's always next year…Apr 2, 2013 at 11:37 am #1972057
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
–B.G.–Apr 2, 2013 at 12:56 pm #1972069
Thanks for your comments everybody, I really appreciate it.
@Malto, I will probably take the LT4's on the next winter trip. I think it broke due to some unusual use that I hope not to repeat:) Unfortunately GG is out of stock until late April.
@Ike, I was hoping my family/wife wouldn't worry too much, but as it turns out she was on the phone with the local sheriff as soon as I was 24 hrs overdue. Even with the Spot messages she was still concerned. After making no progress working an uphill slope in the dark trying to find the 'trail' I finally made the call to stay, but I knew they would be worried.
@Andrew, have fun on the Rae Lakes loop in April. I'm sure the Painted Lady will be beautiful in the snow. I hope you post photos. . .
@Nico, the lowest temp I could record was 14 degrees while making dinner in Humphreys Basin. After that my watch seemed to freeze. The NOAA forecast had temps down to 10 degrees. During the day it got up to the mid 30's. I wore shorts, s/s merino t-shirt and long gaiters during the day and stayed warm while moving. Windshirt and gloves were enough during breaks.
The snow conditions were good most of the time. After a mild three day storm the week before there was a layer of new snow, especially noticeable on the lakes. Most of it was soft on the flat areas and hard packed on the slopes, rarely too deep for snowshoeing.
There was a section on the way up to Alpine Col where I got caught on a slope that had iced over. It was supposed to be a side hill short cut, but I ended up doing a long traverse facing uphill while on the toes of the crampons that are built-in to the snow shoes. The first section from Darwin Canyon up to Lamarck Col was a similar ice wall, but it wasn't bad going straight uphill.
I can't wait to go back.Apr 2, 2013 at 4:17 pm #1972122
@obxcolaLocale: Outer Banks of North Carolina
I used an xtherm in Sept on a trip up to Ritter Lakes and it was so warm it felt alive.
How'd you like yours in really cold weather?Apr 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm #1972185
Way to go, Andy. That was a well conceived, committing trip thru some great country. Doing it alone makes it all the more impressive-very little margin for error. I can only imagine what it must have been like coming down off Lamarck Col. That ridge drops off pretty steeply on both sides. Thanks for the excellent trip report.Apr 2, 2013 at 7:57 pm #1972193
The xTherm is amazing, I can feel the heat being reflected back towards me. I got the size large to fit my shoulders and elbows and it's the only luxury item I carry. My only complaint is that even when fully inflated I still need a GG thinlight pad under my hips when sleeping on snow or ice. A small price to pay for a good nights sleep.Apr 2, 2013 at 8:13 pm #1972199
Andy – nice trip. Thanks for the report. Looks like the snow is still in pretty good shape – I have my fingers crossed since I can't get out until early May.
If you go that way again sometime, coming down from Lamarck in the snow is easier if you stay right and don't go down where the trail goes. Instead follow the drainage that goes directly to Grass Lake.Apr 2, 2013 at 8:22 pm #1972204
Thanks for your comments Tom! Although it was a challenge getting down the boulders at the top the glissade down from there was fun.
Here are a few pxts of the slide down the east side of Lamarck Col. The scale is hard to capture. It's 200 feet from top to bottom. I stayed to the side to avoid starting an avalanche in the steeper loose snow in the middle.Apr 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm #1972210
Thanks for your info about the drainage down to Grass Lake Paul! It would have saved hours of frustration at the end of a long day. Does that way also work in the summer?
Ryan Huetter of "Life in the Vertical" (ryanhuetter.blogspot.com) did the same route on ski's in Feb. He also recommended the drainage to Grass Lake, but not until after the trip. . .
Next time I better ask the mountain veterans ahead of time.Apr 2, 2013 at 8:36 pm #1972211
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
Yes, I can remember skiing from Lamarck Col down to Grass Lake, but that was a few years ago, back when we still got decent snow.
–B.G.–Apr 3, 2013 at 3:58 pm #1972501
Andy – I've only been there in the snow, but I doubt the grass lake route is better than the use trail in the summer.Apr 3, 2013 at 7:12 pm #1972583
"Although it was a challenge getting down the boulders at the top the glissade down from there was fun."
Yup. When there's no snow it is pretty loose, but sometimes preferable to negotiating the snow field when it's iced up and you're crampon-less. I'll bet the glissade was a hoot. That said, I should have been clearer in my original post. I was referring, not clearly, to the ridge above Upper Lamarck Lake. I recall it being a real steep drop on both sides in places, and was wondering how you found it when covered with snow. I was thinking it would really concentrate your mind if the snow was hard pack or iced up, especially with no crampons and what looked to me like Northern Lites Backcountry snowshoes.Apr 3, 2013 at 9:50 pm #1972649
Thanks Paul for the info about the use trail vs the Grass Lake drainage. I can see how bush whacking down that drainage with no snow could become a suffer fest.
I misread your original post Tom, I thought you were talking about just the begining of the trek down the east side. Internet senior moment (wait, I'm only 44).
Finding a way down from the ridge to the south of Upper Lamarck Lake was a real challenge.
I followed the top of the ridge from west to east until it droped off. From there I couldn't see a way down the north or east sides so I climbed down the south side to get a look at the eastern edge. It looked like the use trail was covered with steep precarious snow chutes, but I could see a way down by scrambling along the large boulders at the top then down the east side and over to the next ridge (which would lead to the switchbacks at the bottom). There was a cornice between the two ridges but it was the only way I could find.
So I climbed back up to the top and started climbing within the large boulders toward the east. From there I made a big mistake. I thought the large steep partially snow covered boulder field at the top of the north side was actually the switchbacks leading easily down. The slope was so steep the real drop off was hidden. Unfortunately I tried climbing down then snow shoeing between the boulders. Climbing, snowshoeing, repeatedly taking on and off the snowshoes to climb etc. This is where I fell and had to dig my way out.
From there it got better. I put on micro spikes and full snow gear and worked my way over to the next ridge. The snow was deep but the slope was too steep to safely glissade. I stopped from sliding downhill with my legs while moving my body and arms to the right, then slowly repeated until I finally reached the next ridge, all while trying not to sink into the deeper sections of snow or get caught in a downhill slide.
By the time I got down the sun was setting. I wish I had known about the easier drainage down to Grass Lake then! Usually I look back at challenging times as the best part of an adventure. This won't be one of those times. But I will be back soon!Apr 4, 2013 at 4:40 pm #1972932
"I misread your original post Tom, I thought you were talking about just the begining of the trek down the east side. Internet senior moment (wait, I'm only 44)."
Nah, the senior moment was mine, an increasingly frequent occurrence it seems. I garbled my post pretty badly.
"Finding a way down from the ridge to the south of Upper Lamarck Lake was a real challenge."
From your description, it sounded like a borderline epic. Scrambling over that terrain in the conditions you describe would be pretty hairy, particularly the mixed snow and boulders section. That kind of stuff is a crap shoot half the time, with a very unpleasant downside if things go south on you.
"Usually I look back at challenging times as the best part of an adventure. This won't be one of those times."
When it happens on a solo hike it takes on a whole different feel, IME. Type 3 fun Skurka calls it? Just fun enough to keep us coming back for more ;0)Apr 7, 2013 at 9:05 pm #1973898
Tom, I had to look up type 3 fun and it sounds just right. Always more than enough to keep going back for more:)Apr 7, 2013 at 10:22 pm #1973907
@b14Locale: Siskiyou Mtns
very inspiring as well.
Thank you Andy.Apr 30, 2013 at 4:11 pm #1982072
@scottbentzLocale: Southern California
Thanks for the nice report. My son and I will be doing the same exact route (maybe in reverse) in July. He has been away for 2 years and that will be our first trip back together. Thanks for the pictures and report.
It makes it even harder to wait for now!
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