High Sierra Snowshoe Trip ~ March 2014

Snowshoeing over frozen Emerald Lake.

Last summer I had the opportunity to join a group of ultralight backpackers from BPL on a trip in Emigrant Wilderness. I was fortunate to meet Andrew and Chris on the trip and like most people in the group they were well versed in the latest UL gear, food, techniques and cuben fiber bling. 

During that summer trip we all shared stories about our latest journeys over the UL campfire. After hearing about a winter trip I took last year Andrew mentioned possibly doing a group snowshoeing trip in the winter. He was finishing up a personal challenge to do a Sierra backpacking trip every a month for a year and a snowshoeing trip was a good fit that winter. 

We agreed to get something scheduled for that winter but the busy holiday season came and went and before long it was January 2014. By early 2014 we decided to head out in March, weather permitting. Although it was a dry winter a few late season storms hit the Sierra and there was plenty of snow! 

With about four days available for the trip we decided to try the classic Evolution Loop on snowshoes. The loop is about fifty miles and this seemed like a reasonable distance for a four day trip. I would go in a day early to check the conditions then we would decide which way to start when they arrived the following day. 

Due to the large amount of fresh snow at high altitude our plan turned out to be overly ambitious. The recent storms left two to three feet of fresh powder on the north facing slopes. I spent the first day breaking trail through deep powder and by the time I got above timberline at 10,400 feet it was time to make camp. It had taken six hours to go five miles. Echo Col was six miles away over difficult cross country terrain on unconsolidated snow. At this rate it would take four days just to get to Muir Pass.

By the time Andrew and Chris arrived the next day we decided to follow my tracks back up to Sabrina Basin and see how far we could go. . . 

The road to Sabrina Basin was gated outside of Aspendell so we walked the first 1.8 miles to the trailhead. 

Winter Sierra Gear List ~ 2014

For 2014 I updated my winter gear to include a few new items while still staying lightweight, safe, comfortable and well fed.

To stay warmer at night and even as part of my sleep system I added a puffy jacket that has a lot more down insulation. The Montbell Mirage puffy jacket has 5.3 ozs of 900 f/p down, which means over 40% of the total weight is in down! It allowed me to stay out after sunset and take night photos while still warm and cozy in the 10 to 20 degree temps.

Winter Quilt with a Custom Trapezoidal Baffled Footbox.

Winter Quilt with a Custom Trapezoidal Baffled Footbox.

Last year I got tired of sitting out the entire winter then having to struggle to get my 'trail legs' the next summer. I decided to get out and enjoy the backcountry in the winter. . . but the last time I camped in the snow I was a Boyscout and my memories include freezing all night in a canvas A-frame tent.
After hearing about the easy way to the snow via the tram to Mt. San Jacinto I was determined to get out in the winter. I figured that if I could do a few nights in the local mountains I would be ready for a real snowshoe trip in the High Sierra. I would need a much warmer quilt if I wanted to actually stay warm and enjoy the cold winter temperatures.

It was time to make a Winter Quilt with a Custom Trapezoidal Baffled Footbox. 

Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013

Blackcap Basin - Lake Confusion Pass - Goddard Canyon - Ionian Basin - Finger Col

Storm clouds rolling in above Rainbow Lake

Over the past twenty years my brother Jeff has organized annual backpacking trips in the Sierras for our varied group of lifetime friends. Even as the group has scattered around California and beyond he has found beautiful places for us to meet. A few years ago he scouted out a cross-country route to a secret spot he discovered in the Sierras. . . but the rugged terrain and desire for some dude time meant it was a guys-only trip. 

I will never forget struggling down loose granite slopes in my old boots to this new Sierra destination. As I ran out of water, carried way too much gear and even forgot to bring enough food I realized it was time to rethink my backpacking strategy. Although it was a challenging trip (I ended up loosing several toe nails) that time in the back-country reignited my enthusiasm for exploring the High Sierra. The guys spent most days lounging by the granite pools and waterfalls but I went wandering up the river, always wondering what was beyond the next ridge. 

Fast forward a few years and I was ready to take my own cross country trip far up that same river. . . and beyond.

Heavyweight Ultralight Backpack

After completing the first section of the Sierra High Route last summer I realized it was time to build a much more burly backpack. Since there was nowhere to resupply on these remote trips I needed something that would comfortably hold ten days of food and a bear canister. I also needed a pack that could withstand the beating that comes with scrambling through cross country terrain in the High Sierra. I decided it was time to make my first Heavyweight Ultralight Backpack!

The Heavyweight Ultralight Backpack.

Shoulder Season Gear List 2013

My Shoulder Season Gear List includes extra warm gear for the colder temperatures and high winds typical of the High Sierras in late season. Although it is not yet winter late September and October usually bring colder temperatures down into the 20's. I have used this setup to hunker down for 16 hours at 12,280 feet during a strong snow storm and stayed warm, comfortable and safe.

Much of my gear is homemade (MYOG/Make Your Own Gear). If you are interested in the details check out the Custom Gear section here: Cool Custom Gear.

Sierra Wandering ~ 08/24 - 08/30/2013

Sunset on Darwin Bench.
"Two guys said they could see the fire from New Army Pass today". . . 

I had no idea that the Fish Fire had started the day before I left for this trip. I could smell smoke at the Cottonwood Pass trailhead the first night, but it didn't seem too bad. The next morning I woke to clear skies and what appeared to be another beautiful summer day in the Sierra. . . but the conditions took a turn for the worse in the afternoon.

Custom Quilt with No Cold Spots!

There is nothing worse than being woken up in the middle of the night by the cold because the down in my quilt has migrated to the sides. 

My latest "ultimate quilt". Finally no more cold spots. 

Sierra High Route & Mono Divide: 06/26 - 07/02/2013

Pinecreek Trailhead.

This trip was originally planned to be an 11 day SHR section hike from Merriam Lake to the Silver Divide and back via the PCT. I had planned a few layover days to enjoy Lower Mills Creek Lake and Bear Lakes Basin. . . but by the time I finished a few last minute gear projects (a new backpack, sleeping quilt and stove) the plan was compressed into an 8 day loop with no 'zero' days. 

So with a new more comfortable internal frame backpack and 8 days of food I headed up the switchbacks from the Pine Creek trailhead. The first 2,000 feet to Lower Pine Lake made for a steady but reasonable climb. I enjoyed a nice breeze and long lunch break along the outlet creek. 

For the rest of the day the bugs chased me through Granite Park. 

Whitebark Pass Route Detail

For anyone interested in Whitebark Pass here are a few details of the 'Roper Route' or Sierra High Route and an alternative that I took on the north side. 

This is the view of the approach to the south side of Whitebark Pass. One of the Nydiver Lakes is visible on the right. Ropers description of the two stands of Whitebark Pines was helpful here.