Jan 10, 2014 at 7:51 pm #1311991
Simon WeissBPL Member
@simongtrLocale: Bay Area
I'm intending to plan a trip for myself and 3 friends to ski from, essentially Lee Vining (where 120 is closed) to Tuolumne meadows.
I know it's a long ski in and a lot of elevation gain – something like ~16 miles and 3000'. We'd have to be prepared to camp that first night in case we're not fast enough (conditions, fitness etc.). The thing that concerns me most is avalanche. The part of 120 that winds up the gorge is on some pretty steep terrain.
We'd certainly check weather and overall avalanche conditions. We're familiar with using beacons, we'll have shovels. Never taken a course, but we've all done winter trips and kind of schooled ourselves with books and drills.
Has anyone done this route? How sketchy is 120 up the gorge area? How tough is the slog – compare it, to, say Ostrander hut (only ~10 miles and often quite established).
(I know conditions could change everything – if the snow is deep, or slow etc.)
Any recommended ski trips in that area should the avalanche conditions be too bad?
Thanks!Jan 10, 2014 at 8:12 pm #2062356
Are you planning on going this winter? I ask, because many skiers will cache their winter food in the storage container behind the winter hut, but that has to be done by around October before they close the road. If you've cached food there, then you don't have to carry nearly so much food weight.
Starting from Highway 395, you drive west on Highway 120 for about 3.5 miles, and that is where the locked gate is found. You park there, jump over the gate, and start your trip. Don't be surprised if there is zero snow there, so be prepared to hike a bunch of uphill miles on bare pavement. For this winter, it is especially true. For some typical years, you get to the Warren Fork stream where there is a big curve in the road, and that is where the real snow begins. You follow that road on up, but it has never been bad when I've been on it in March. That piece of hill gets a lot of mid-day sun, so there can be ice. Basically, you ski through there one at a time with separations of 50 yards or better. From there on, the road is more gradual.
Yes, it is kind of a long way up to the pass. You jump over the gate at Tioga Pass and continue down to Tuolumne Meadows. That is all pretty gradual downhill.
When you arrive at Tuolumne Meadows, the summertime campground office is the wintertime ski hut. If you continue a couple of miles west, the summertime visitor center is the wintertime ranger residence. So, if you get an injury or something, that would be the place to go for help. The rangers are typically out on patrol during the mid-day. However, back near the ski hut is the river where you can get raw water. I would strongly recommend filtering it.
So, the distance to be slogged is easily enough for two whole days. You could go fast if you were all speed demons, but what's the point of that? It will be much more fun to survey the wildlife tracks in the snow (which the winter rangers report on with regularity).
–B.G.–Jan 11, 2014 at 11:19 am #2062456
Simon, if you go now you could do what people do in the spring before the gate opens–bike it. I've little doubt what with the general southern exposure & low snowfall, the road is clear to the gate. What snow once there is the big question. I've never actually skied the whole way up or down (bare road & wheeled transport always involved but feel is looks worse on the map. It's really "by the numbers" difficulty. No orienteering/micro-terrain/fording effort at all. BTW, I will color Bob's description of the "gradual downhill" from gate to hut with the modifier, striding downhill–rarely free-sliding. When you hit the gate calc time/distance for camping decision. You can get rapture-of-the-summit over how short a ski lies ahead.
The big Q once snow mercifully returns will be the long exposed, horribly faceted, base layer of ball bearings the snow will land on. Again, bare dirt will be way better. When there is snow, it's my belief you will find a use track. With ranger sifts, dam managers, other skiers…a track is ~always be there.
Useless with no snow, but ideas for side jaunts: from @ Lee Vining, ski up to Gibbs Lake (haven't done, but heard tell & it looks good on map (ridge routes avoiding terrain traps.)); Back at Conway Summit, up to Frog Lake area from Virginia Lakes. Legal parking is an issue with homeowners along the road; I've long wanted to explore around the wide open northeast zone on Dunderberg Peak. Wide open, pretty gentle, up as far as you want. But a wide windswept area will be the last to accumulate snowpack.Jan 11, 2014 at 12:50 pm #2062476
Simon WeissBPL Member
@simongtrLocale: Bay Area
as always, thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom.
Charley – appreciate the commentary and alternate route suggestions.
The planned timing is beginning of April, so unless this winter is worse than worse for snowfall, there almost surely will be snow. That's my expectation and impression, at least.
We are planning to go this winter. I've read about the food cache option, but didn't manage to make it up to Tuolumne to put food. So we'll be carrying it all in. There will be 4 of us.
Charley and Bob, would either of you share your gear list? I've done similar trips, so I have a good idea what I can use, but I'd love to know what other (more) experienced back-country skiers would use.
Tent: unless a heavy snowfall is expected, I'll be bringing my NEMO pentalite as it will fit the 4 of us pretty comfortably. I've used it in the winter before. Not a sealed shelter, but light and spacious and blocks the wind. Not ideal for snow loading or high winds, but I think we could manage.Jan 11, 2014 at 12:56 pm #2062480
"The planned timing is beginning of April, so unless this winter is worse than worse for snowfall, there almost surely will be snow. That's my expectation and impression, at least."
Right now, I don't think that you can count on anything for snow.
One alternative route would be to ski over Mono Pass, which is just a few miles south of Tioga Pass.
–B.G.–Jan 11, 2014 at 2:07 pm #2062501
I'll try to put up a more recent gearlist than what I have. I don't know your tent but doesn't sound much more substantial than mine: Betalight. April in the Sierra can be stormy, but not for long. Have used the Betamid for years in deep winter and high winds. IME the key to surviving a stormy night is earplugs. (Obviously not applicable where hurricane winds could actually destroy a tent.) Silnylon sheds wind and snow well. My outlook on snowload is just "shovel" it if you have to. Hit the tent to slide snow down, punch the collapsing base out, go back to sleep until cold fabric touches your cheek and wakes you ;). I wall the inside of the tent so wind and snow press the fabric against that i/o penetrating. Selected vent holes in snow walls. On all my trans or pan Sierra trips–all in April–I've been snowed on but never found drying sun more than a day away.Jan 11, 2014 at 2:29 pm #2062505
"Have used the Betamid for years in deep winter and high winds."
One friend and I have used a Betamid a few times for two, but it requires lots of snow blocks. I'm thinking that there won't be very much snow for blocks. Also, obviously, the area around Tioga Pass proper is going to seem like one of the windiest places in the world. Camping a mile or two one way or the other seems smarter.
–B.G.–Jan 11, 2014 at 3:25 pm #2062519
Paul McLaughlinBPL Member
In April, it will be mostly walking up 120 from the gate. So I'd suggest running shoes for the walking. What I've done in similar situations is to wear my running shoes until the solid snow starts, then tie them to a tree by way of the laces and pick them up on the way out. Done it several times and they've always been there on my return. But I do try to use old shoes just in case a marmot decides to chomp them or something.
As to avalanche danger on 120, keep an eye on the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center website: http://www.esavalanche.org/advisory#
Usually the snowpack is pretty settled by April, but not always. If the advisory says the risk is high I personally would think twice or thrice about going up that road, as it has some steep slopes above it that could let go.Jan 11, 2014 at 9:32 pm #2062603
"… a Betamid…requires lots of snow blocks."
Not at all. I even use it extensively in the summer, when there is no snow at all. It's a lightweight shelter and, as such, needs care in pitching and location. But that's another thread.
Back on T, I'll offer that if avvy conditions were such as to keep you off TP road, I wouldn't go up Bloody Canyon to Mono Pass. Terrain trap.Jan 11, 2014 at 9:53 pm #2062604
"… a Betamid…requires lots of snow blocks."
Exactly, Charley, we were not discussing summer.
For winter snow, we have found it practical to stretch out the shelter fabric on the snow surface, then mark around the edge into the snow. Then cut and dig two layers of snow blocks from within the marked area and set those as blocks outside the marked area to form a snow wall, leaving only two or three feet as an entrance. The Betamid can then be supported on two extended ski poles within the wall. The snow wall keeps 80% of the wind off the shelter fabric, so this works good. We've also done this with a larger/lighter shelter. With a large flat tarp, like 10×12 feet, we can shelter four skiers. Again, lots of snow blocks.
–B.G.–Jan 11, 2014 at 10:27 pm #2062606
I've seen your way done, Bob. I just don't find it practical for myself. I don't need to go that high, and my silnylon has so far handled high winds without snow wall protection. And, realizing we were discussing winter, THAT'S why I mentioned summer: to point out that you can adapt this same shelter and your needs to a season what has winds as high and precipitation as driven as winter, but no snow blocks available. Nice if you got em, make do without em. Again, we could debate the elaborate Sierra Club snowmason approach vs my pitch-it-adequately-and-go-to-sleep one. I'm not promoting my Betalight or pitching method. I only raised it to Simon to suggest he doesn't need to get a new tent for this trip. I think he, like I, can make his work.
Edit: OK, next-day add on to hopefully end the post, post, post water torture, Simon. Unlike Bob's pitch method for the Betalight (applicable to all floorless tents/tarps), my pitch method does NOT require "a lot of blocks,"…but it does require excavation on snow (thus work; one day I will retire to a Hillberg). For the record: like Bob, I lay it out flat on a tamped, roughly level surface, and then tramp around the perimeter. Hard. I lift the tent and mark a line about 4" in from the tromp ditchlet. I dig small "bricks" and stack them on the scribed "foundation." Eventually I will taper the outside of this wall and pitch the tent over it, fabric to the outside. As I posted originally, I like my high-exposure exterior doors to be outswing, so the harder the wind blows, the harder it pushes the door against the weather seal: " I wall the inside of the tent so wind and snow press the fabric against that i/o penetrating." Then you have to excavate the rest of the floor to the level of your brick trench. It's not careful quarrying, just free shoveling. Work nonetheless.
I bet you know all this from your floorless tent, which you have used in winter.
In conditions of low snow, or bad snow, where "bricking" is hard to do (or, yes, laziness) I pitch the tent high for the headroom it so needs, and then form the inner wall by just hand-troweling snow-mortar into the gap from the floor inside. Barrier snow walls are impressive and good wind bblocks, but too much work for my taste. I also notice that snow always drifts over them and collects on the bottom where you can't push it away from inside. This isn't a big problem, but an advantage of my way is you can go ahead and just seal from the outside with snow without flattening the pitch of the tent: you have that solid wall of snow inside to pile & press against from the outside.Jan 12, 2014 at 9:53 am #2062695
Kevin BurtonBPL Member
There's a youtube video with two people doing this if you're interested. It's a fun idea.
I like the idea of pre-caching food. The only issue could be finding it again and having to dig it out from ice… it could be pretty deep in the snow and if a drift covers/obscures the location then you're screwed.
I've thought about doing something similar with caching firewood. Basically gather a pile away from the trail in a distinct spot and then camp there in the winter and recover the wood.Jan 12, 2014 at 10:31 am #2062705
Kevin–I assume you're thinking free cache, not formal like in the Tuolumne hut. I did that once in Kerrick Meadow for a Sonora to Tioga trip and never will again. I'll note I hung it in early October, but in a bear can for insurance. Turns out it's illegal. Leaving personal property over a given length of time (2 weeks?). Purpose is to keep folks from living in forests, but I'll note that after hanging mine, I saw another in a plastic bag hanging nearby. It was still there when I retrieved my canister the next spring. I bet it still is. I now dedicate my caloric planning to SUL like my gear: if I need a cache, my trip is too fat and heavy.Jan 12, 2014 at 1:21 pm #2062768
"I like the idea of pre-caching food. The only issue could be finding it again and having to dig it out from ice… it could be pretty deep in the snow and if a drift covers/obscures the location then you're screwed."
If you cache food in a national park by ordinary means, it is illegal.
However, at Tuolumne Meadows, they have a big walk-in shipping container. By October, everybody brings in their sealed 5-gallon plastic bucket of food. Then when they get there on skis in March or whenever, the food is there. We had to take turns shoveling out the door to be clear of snow. Otherwise, it worked perfectly. Mice can't get into the sealed bucket, and bears can't get into the shipping container.
–B.G.–Jan 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm #2063022
Looked up your tent, Simon. Here are some pics from a trip with members using mids on a raised-foundation pitch. As you no doubt know, this makes 4-to-a-tent habitable for the "outsiders." Don't know how you feel about 4 in yours in summer. The penta will be a bit more challenge, but you have 4 diggers. But you have 4 cooks over the "broth." On this trip, one mid failed to pitch *over* the blocks one mixed-rainy night and took in water–wet "outsider." Second photo shows my Beta tent with snowseal against the low interior wall. There is a low-snow quinzee-quarry possibility.
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