Dec 11, 2013 at 12:28 am #1310873
Maybe this should be in the Pre-trip planning forum, but since I don't actually have a plan yet, I'm starting here first.
For those familiar with winter hiking and the Mammoth Lakes areas of the Sierras, what would be the best plan for getting to 1000 Island Lake in the winter? I've seen winter photos of people cross country skiing at the lake and other nearby lakes like Waugh, etc.
I don't have good winter skills, so this is a trip I would work up towards, even if it takes years to make it happen. It's sort of on my bucket list for backpacking. I'm basically looking for direction on what the best way to go about it would be.
Here are some of my questions…would a start from Mammoth Lakes (Minaret Vista) be best, or from June Lake, past Agnew, Gem Lakes? How many days would you suggest for the trip, planning at least one full day at 1,000 Island? Mode of transportation…snowshoes or cross country skis?
On the ski vs snowshoe topic, I tried snowshoing once in deep powder and had a horrible experience and swore off them for life (hahaha). If they are more effective for this type of terrain, I could reconsider, and learn to use them appropriately. I have cross country skied about 10 times, for half day trips, about 20 years ago. I took to it pretty quickly, and had an absolute blast, but that was on flat terrain, and groomed paths. I'm definitely not under the illusions that I'm now an xcountry ski expert.
Having hiked the High Trail to 1000 Island to River/ JMT loop in summer, I'm a little familiar with the route. I recall some fairly steep terrain on both routes, that might be difficult in snow.
Obviously I would get better prepared and trained before ever attempting this, but one question I have is a noob question about avalanches. For those familiar with this area, are the sides of the valley avalanche prone areas? They almost seemed to gently slanted to me to be in danger of that, but I really know nothing about avalanches.
For either snowshoes or skis, I'm thinking a pulk would be best? Anyways, I'd love to hear some thoughts to get me started…keeping in mind I'll take all the time necessary to improve my winter skills before setting out.Dec 11, 2013 at 8:15 am #2053175
In addition to the info you gain here at BPL, you might consult some Sierra XC guide books. The Mammoth to Yosemite ski trip is a classic. There would possibly be tracks to follow as this is a popular trip.
Spring would be the easiest time of year… the weather is more dependable in, say, April. And the days are longer.
Whether skis or snow shoes you will need to get experience using them with a full pack on sloping terrain… at least intermediate steepness.
And if you haven't tried winter camping you might want to get some experience with that first.
And… your post is in the first person. I highly recommend you do this with some experienced companions.
BillyDec 11, 2013 at 8:50 am #2053189
Also, you might want to take at least a basic avalanche course.
REI offers a very basic course.
For more in depth you can take something like this:
And… before your trip you should be aware of the recent snow storms and the snow pack. Avalanche danger is created not only by the most recent storms, but also by the history of the entire snow pack for the winter.
A site like this can help you gauge the avalanche danger:
BillyDec 11, 2013 at 9:53 am #2053204
Thanks Billy! I'll check out the links you gave. I tried winter camping once and wasn't properly geared for it, so I didn't care for it. I have more suitable gear and plan on getting back out this winter for another go at it.
I would be taking another person with me. Up until now I've primarily been a solo backpacker (which I still prefer for summer months), but I just found out that one of my coworkers is also up for winter camping/ trekking, and has done some of it already himself, but not in the Sierras. His stomping grounds are the Adirondacks.
I'm glad to find out that Mammoth to Yosemite is a popular ski route. I would imagine it would have to pass by 1000 Island Lake, or at least very close, since I know the JMT and PCT both do. That could make planning much easier. Besides, although I enjoy solitude in the great outdoors, I do like passing the occasional other hiker. I've met some interesting people, and it gives you a bit of added sense of security, that in an emergency, people may come along sooner or later.Dec 11, 2013 at 10:06 am #2053210
"I'm glad to find out that Mammoth to Yosemite is a popular ski route. I would imagine it would have to pass by 1000 Island Lake, or at least very close, since I know the JMT and PCT both do. That could make planning much easier. Besides, although I enjoy solitude in the great outdoors, I do like passing the occasional other hiker. I've met some interesting people, and it gives you a bit of added sense of security, that in an emergency, people may come along sooner or later."
well… popular in that you might see ski tracks, but you might not see anyone out there… not 'popular' like summer backpacking :)
Just remember, winder trips in the Sierra are not as forgiving as in the summer. One fall that rips up knee tendons could be the end of you on a solo winter trip.
If you did go solo (which I do not recommend) consider taking a Locator Beacon like the ACR ResQlink…
BillyDec 11, 2013 at 10:07 am #2053211
This is not a mandatory thing, but you probably want to team up with an organized cross country ski group for something as long as Mammoth-Yosemite. For one thing, getting organized into a group of four or six will make it a lot safer. Also, there is generally some kind of car shuttle involved unless you try to use the bus. As an example, it is not unheard of to see some ski equipment damaged on a trip like that, so we generally carry one ski repair kit for a whole group. Also, with a group like that, at least one person has already skied the route before. With a group of four to six, you can take turns breaking trail through fresh snow.
Winter is an excellent time to put some ultralight principles to work. I'm not suggesting that you try to do the trip with a ten-pound base weight. What I'm saying is that if you become proficient with a ten-pound base weight for summer, then you can transition into winter with several extra pounds of down and stuff, plus extra cooking weight, and you can still tackle the winter trip with a non-backbreaking load. I did my first trip like that in winter 25 years ago, and I think my total load was 26 pounds. You can ski a lot better with that kind of load than you can with 45 pounds or something.
–B.G.–Dec 11, 2013 at 10:54 am #2053234
Thanks Billy and Bob. Billy, I'm really not considering doing it solo, but the PLB is a good idea anyways, even on summer trips. My wife already told me she's OK with me buying one, even just for her peace of mind.
Bob, I like the group idea of 4 to 6. Where would the best place (or website) be to find people interested or experienced in that sort of trip? I'm really liking the idea of a Mammoth to Yosemite trip instead of simply an out and back, or a loop. I think I'd like to hike the route in the summer once or twice first to become familiar with it myself. Besides, I enjoy seeing what my favorite places look like at different times of the year.
About the group thing, have you found that being able to do your own thing gets limited in a group like that? One of my main goals is landscape photography, and on group motorcycle rides I've found that there can sometimes be dissention in the ranks if photo stops are too often, or take too long. hahaha. I don't like to inconvenience the people I'm with, but at the same time, if I do an "epic" trip like this to get great photos, I also don't want to feel like I'm missing out because I'm skipping stuff to not slow down the group.
I agree that the ultralight principles will help. After buying my first digital food scale this week I'm afraid that I'm going to turn into a gram counter…I'm already having a blast going around weighing all of my regularly carried items and thinking of ways to save weight. I think the bug has finally hit me, and the scale really helped. :) But on that note for winter skiing, what is your thought on a pulk vs a backpack?Dec 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm #2053331
Pulk ask I understand it is basically a sled you pull behind you.
Personlly, I think it's a very bad idea.
Can you imagine trying to traverse a slope with that behind you??? I can't.
Can you imagine trying to ski down a hill with that pushing behind you???
I know that ski patrolers take injured skiers down in sleds, but that's a whole other skill set… and it can take more than one person to control those things going down hill.
I say forget the Pulk and learn to ski with a pack. You will have more control with that than a pulk,
BillyDec 11, 2013 at 4:40 pm #2053335
You might check the Sierra Club for a Mammoth to Yosemite ski trip.
Or search the web.
Or when you get closer (I'm assuming you will not be doing it this year) post it here on BPL or some other web site for skiing.
Note that I'm saying skiing now that you are talking Mammoth to Yosemite. That's a lot of miles and think it make a lot more sense to ski it than to snow shoe… much faster.
As for groups… unless they want to do the same things it is likely to crimp your style a bit. You could try to put together your own group of skiing photo geeks…
There are, I believe, guided trips… again, search the web.
BillyDec 11, 2013 at 6:39 pm #2053370
Would agree with suggestion to do the trip in April or even early May. There will be complete snow cover but I have found the snow to be easy to snowshoe. I have done several trip south such as Rae Lakes Loop during this timeframe.Dec 11, 2013 at 6:49 pm #2053376
@hipassLocale: Los Angeles
im interested in doing such a trip…i just did my first snow camp via snowshoes…if you had a rough go in deep snow with snowshoes i would think it would be way harder with skis…ii would guess that snowshoes are a lot easier to maneuver on all sorts of terrain than skis…if you have little experience with skis youre probbably better off to sticking to flat groomed trails…with snowshoes i think all you need to know is how to walk.I couldnt imagine doing what i did in the sierra with xc skis without great experience and balls.I also think its probably very easy to hurt yourself badly on skis with a pack on steep or rough terrain vs snowshoes.Dec 11, 2013 at 7:30 pm #2053390
"if you had a rough go in deep snow with snowshoes i would think it would be way harder with skis…"
If you know how to ski, it is MUCH easier on skis than snowshoes… and faster. He expressed this as a future, bucket list goal. If he takes a couple of seasons to learn to ski, he should be good for this trip. Mammoth to Yosemite is one of the easier ski trips in the Sierra.
"ii would guess that snowshoes are a lot easier to maneuver on all sorts of terrain than skis."
Actually, there are conditions that skis would be MUCH better than snowshoes. Skis with a good pair of climbing skins (and ski crampons if necessary) will climb icy slopes that snowshoes won't. What do you do on an icy slop if your snowshoes won't stick???? Skis are MUCH faster so the trip will take less time (and less food weight)… or more time for side trips. And skis are just a ton more fun. Skis were invented as an improved mode of transportation by those who were previously snowshoeing…
(do you think I am partial to skiing??? :)
But If you don't want to take the time to learn to ski… back country conditions, with a pack… they you are indeed better off with snow shoes.
BillyDec 11, 2013 at 7:42 pm #2053395
of course it could depend on your age. If you are in your 20's, 30's to me it's a no brainer, learn to ski back country and the skill will serve you for many years. If you're 50 or over and have little to no ski experience, then maybe the learning curve will be too high for the old bones… maybe snowshoeing would be best then. If you are in your 40's…. maybe, maybe not…
But if you think you'd like to learn to ski… try it… take some lessons… If you don't like it you can always revert to plan B… snowshoes…
BillyDec 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm #2053396
@hipassLocale: Los Angeles
i should have prefaced that i have no baxkcountry skiing experience…i used to downhill ski as a kid…i would like to learn how to ski in the backcountry…the cost and choice of equipment is intimidating…with snowshoes i just go.Dec 11, 2013 at 8:16 pm #2053408
you are right… snowshoes are cheaper and easier to learn.
skis are more expensive and harder to learn… just way more fun :)
BillyDec 11, 2013 at 9:01 pm #2053420
"Where would the best place (or website) be to find people interested or experienced in that sort of trip?"
Well, apparently you are somewhere in the Central Valley of California. Most of the big cities will have some kind of cross country ski club. It might be Sierra Club or just a bunch of skiers. Otherwise, there are Sierra Club groups in San Francisco, Palo Alto, etc. Just make sure that the group does cross country skiing, sometimes called ski touring. Some downhill skiers get confused and think that they are going on a tour of downhill ski resorts, so they think that must be ski touring. Some such clubs will do mostly day-long ski tours, but some do longer trips as well. In general, around the start of the ski season, like now, there will be easy trips, so now is the time to identify the group and get started with them. Then as the season progresses, the tours start getting longer. Then the time for Mammoth to Yosemite starts around March 15 on an average year, and the best trips will be around April.
I would never haul a pulk unless I had an unusually heavy load to handle, so normally I just get everything into a backpack. For one trip, we were going to a ski hut that had no firewood, so I had to haul in two boxes of oak firewood plus two gallons of white gas, plus my normal gear, so that is when the pulk was necessary.
–B.G.–Dec 12, 2013 at 11:22 am #2053582
Thanks for the replies, gents. Billy is correct, I'm not looking to do this trip this winter. This winter I plan on doing a couple snow camping trips, to get more dialed in with my gear, comfort, cold skills, etc. I also want to take the family cross country skiing hopefully a couple times this winter, probably in the Tahoe/ Donner area. I'll also look into avalanche courses. I may even continue this same pattern next winter as well. I want to be plenty prepared, and with a group before attempting my first actual winter trekking experience with combining skiing and winter camping in the backcountry.
I'll cross the pulk off the list of possibilities. It sounds like way too much work for a 30 mile trek. I'll follow you gent's advice and stick to a backpack.
Billy, I got a little chuckle out of your age comments. I don't disagree with you, but some people are an exception to the rule. My father started running marathons in his 50's, and now he'll be 80 next summer and he still runs marathons. I guess what I'm trying to say is that he has gotten three decades of enjoyment out of a hobby he started in his 50's. I'm 41, so I'm banking on many years of enjoyment if I start liking backcountry skiing. I've never had a desire to do downhill skiing, but as I said, I did cross country ski a number of times about 20 years ago and it was one of my favorite sports I ever participated in. I'm sure I will enjoy it if I start again. To me it felt like hiking in beautiful areas, while covering WAY more ground, with less effort in a given amount of time. Obviously those were on almost flat, well groomed trails, but I still think I'll enjoy it.
Thanks for the suggestions for March or even April. When the time comes, I'll plan it for later in the winter as you suggest.Dec 12, 2013 at 10:19 pm #2053824
Bob, (or anyone who knows) since it sounds like you've done this sort of thing, backcountry ski touring in the Sierras, what type of skis/ bindings/ boots are most appropriate?
I'm not looking to buy anything. I want to try renting x-country skis this winter to make sure it's something I really want to do. The reason I'm asking is that for ski touring there seems to be a wide variety of equipment used, such as Telemark, backcountry Nordic, and AT. Without knowing what style fits a Mammoth-Tuolumne trip and terrain the best, I don't even know what type of websites I should be looking at or forums to read.
Based on my knowledge of the first 10 or so miles of the journey, I know that the terrain can be a bit on the steep side, so I'm guessing AT would be most appropriate due to the increased support and down-hill ability. But now that I've made my guess, it will probably be the opposite. hahaha
Also, in another thread on here about ski touring, I read that racers are doing something like 180 miles in 4 days. If I remember correctly, the trail between Agnew Meadows and Tuolomne Meadows is roughly 30 miles. I was thinking a 3 day (2 night) trip. Is that how long folks generally take on it?
I forgot to respond to your comment about my location in the last email. I live on Ft. Ord, in Monterey County. I worked in San Jose for several years and now work in Santa Cruz.Dec 12, 2013 at 11:52 pm #2053832
I don't know what other ski people use, but most of the skiers that I hang out with use light metal-edge backcountry skis that are a bit narrower than telemark skis. Most use traditional 3-pin bindings. There aren't many leather ski boots left, so most of us are on something synthetic that looks somewhat like leather ski boots, maybe two or three inches higher than your ankle bone. Adjustable aluminum poles. We've had a few people do a trip like that on plastic-edge skis, although I would not recommend that. Climbing skins. Avalanche transceivers.
We apply some lightweight backpacking gear techniques so that we can each end up carrying a backpack that weighs little more than 25 pounds. We figured out a method of shelter for four skiers that weighs a total of maybe two pounds. One reliable white gas stove for four. Anywhere from two to four shovels for four skiers.
A long tour like that is generally done around the first of April. That late, and the snow is generally reliable on a normal year, but there isn't too much chance of a prolonged snow storm that will foul up progress.
The big problem is that there are very few ski rental shops that will rent equipment like that. Most will rent really lightweight ski gear and that is all. Plus, it is kind of dangerous to do a long trip like that on rental gear anyway.
The important thing is that you need to team up with others who have a similar agenda as you have. If three skiers want to go 10-15 miles per day and one skier wants to do more photography and cover only eight miles per day, it isn't going to work out.
–B.G.–Dec 13, 2013 at 12:33 am #2053834
Thanks Bob! Good info. Since asking you this question, I found this introduction to ski touring article here:
Based on what I read in the article, it sounds like you are describing "Nordic BC (backcountry)" gear, is that right? After reading through the article, I had a feeling that was what you were going to suggest. It sounds like the most well-rounded gear approach for that terrain, and costs WAY less than an AT or Telemark gear set-up.
I know what you mean about the rentals. Every time I went cross country skiing they only rented what I now realize was "classic Nordic" skis, which if I understand correctly are basically only good on groomed, fairly flat trails (and awful in deep stuff). But at least I would get a little bit more comfortable and efficient if I brushed up on the regular Nordic stuff I'd imagine.
At this point I'm still at the beginning stages of putting my plans in motion. So it sounds like the areas I need to focus on are winter camping techniques, lightening my gear-load, avalanche safety, Nordic skiing (with the knowledge that I'll be transitioning to Nordic BC), and of course finding a group of similarly minded people who are OK with photo breaks. ;-) When I list it all out like that it sounds like a piece of cake. Hahaha Oh well, the preparing and planning is half the fun.Dec 13, 2013 at 8:37 am #2053904
in order to better answer your questions, specifically, how much ski experience do you have:
downhill not groomed?
xc on groomed trail?
xc not groomed?
do you know owe to make a parallel turn? a telemark turn? a stem christy? snow plow? kick turn?
How much meaning how many times? or how many years? and what level have you attained? (beginner, intermediate, advanced, or expert)
BillyDec 13, 2013 at 10:48 am #2053956
Hi Billy, at this point in my life the most accurate would be:
xc- groomed trails- beginner
I've never once been downhill skiing, and my cross country experiences were 20 years ago in Banff, on groomed trails and a golf course. Now keep in mind, I won't be attempting a trip like the one we're discussing until I have considerably better experience. But that is where I'm at right now.
I went roughly ten times, for half a day each time. Some were on narrower hiking trails, but none were steep. As for turns, I've read about some that you've mentioned, but never practiced them. By the way, sorry to leave you out in my post to Bob. He had mentioned doing trips in this area before, but going back and reading your prior post it sounds like you are familiar with it as well.Dec 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm #2053987
I feel like a moron. When I was chatting about the Mammoth to Yosemite ski tour, I was picturing the 30 mile trip to Tuolumne meadows from Agnew Meadows. I completely forgot that Tioga Pass is closed in winter, so the trip is actually to Yosemite valley floor right? As near as I can figure, that is closer to 60 miles than 30, and with a far greater elevation gain/ loss along the way.
I'm not sure I'm up for something that long, at least it's much longer than what I had in mind. Maybe an out and back/ loop to 1000 Island Lake and Waugh without going all the way is more going to be my speed. I really have no interest in going all the way to the valley floor, as I want to be spending most of my time at 9,000 feet plus. The Eastern Sierras have always held a lot more interest for me than the Western side.Dec 13, 2013 at 12:44 pm #2053988
Let me offer a suggestion. Lots of people have beginner skis on cross country skis, but it would be a gigantic jump to go do a Mammoth-Yosemite trip based on that. So, here is what you do. Go on a ski hut trip. For example, there is a bunch of ski huts in the Lake Tahoe area, and some of them are managed by the Sierra Club and sit on Forest Service land. Find out some club that has organized a ski hut trip to one of them and get on the trip. You will need to carry a halfway-heavy pack, but you will have a semi-warm place to sleep overnight, and often they organize a central commissary for meals. So, you would get to test your new sleeping bag and pack. This is an intermediate trip to help you transition to the serious trips. If you don't get to Tahoe, then there is one hut in Yosemite and another in Sequoia.
Ostrander Ski Hut in Yosemite is about ten miles in, and the entire last half is uphill, so it is not a stroll.
There was another trip years ago. Start from Lee Vining and ski across Yosemite, ending up in Yosemite Valley. There are huts along the way, but it is difficult to get access.
There is always a certain variation on the skis used for a trip. Some people are yo-yo skiers, and they often have "fat boy" skis best described as full telemark skis. Other people don't want to expend that much energy, so they just concentrate on getting from point to point without wrecking their knees, so they use narrower skis that are maybe 65 or 70mm wide in the middle.
–B.G.–Dec 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm #2053990
"I completely forgot that Tioga Pass is closed in winter"
The pass being closed makes for some interesting possibilities. That means that there are no vehicles on the road, and that makes it an easy navigational path across the park. There is a ski hut in Tuolumne Meadows, so some people ski over the pass from Lee Vining to the hut, ski a couple of days, and then return back to the start. The last time that I did that one, Tioga Pass Resort was open for business, but I don't think that it is open anymore. That made a great overnight stopping point.
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