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. 

Middle Fork Bishop Creek just below Sabrina Lake.

Entering John Muir Wilderness. 

Sabrina Lake was dry at the north end by the dam.

Morning reflection on the south end of Sabrina Lake.

The first view of Piute Crags, Sabrina Lake and the White Mountains.

The route finally opened up at frozen Blue Lake (10,400 feet). 

Deep powder above Blue Lake.

Solo camp above Blue Lake.
The next morning I slid back down the mountain on fresh snow to meet Andrew and Chris near the Sabrina Lake trailhead. We would all experience the fun of downhill snowshoeing through deep powder in a few days. . . but first we had to get back up to Blue Lake. 

Andrew and Andy on the way up to Blue Lake.

Chris on the way uphill. 

Easy progress following tracks from the day before.

Andrew kicking steps.

Beautiful cross country terrain.
Chris almost at the top.
Andrew on frozen Blue Lake.
 By sunset we made camp at Emerald Lake. This was one of the colder nights, my thermometer stopped working at14 degrees and it probably got a little colder than that. Andrew and Chris shared a Supermid that Chris recently purchased on the Gear Swap. It was large enough to easily fit two sleeping pads, cooking equipment and all the rest of their gear. They probably had 60 ozs of 900 fp down between their warm quilts/mummy bag(s), puffy down jackets, down booties and beanies. I brought a more humble (and small) Solomid, puffy jacket and a homemade winter quilt.

Satisfaction after a long day!

The next morning it was crystal clear and we dried our gear out on some polished granite nearby. After some hot coffee and oatmeal we got started toward Echo Lake, and hopefully Echo Col. 

Glacially polished granite makes for a nice place to hang out for breakfast. 

Andrew breaking trail along Dingleberry Lake (seriously, that's the name).

Chris walking over Dingleberry Lake.

Andrew and Andy along Dingleberry Lake.

Andrew leading the way toTopsy Turvy Lake. 

Chris along the outlet of Topsy Turvy Lake. 

Walking over frozen Sailor Lake. From left to right: Mt. Powell (13,364 ft), Clyde Spires (12,955) and Picture Peak (13,640). The bowl that leads to Echo Col is at the low spot on the ridge in the background. 

Andrew and Chris at a watering hole near Sailor Lake. 

We made it to Sailor Lake in time to setup camp, take a short hike over Moonlight Lake and watch the sunset. Although the conditions seemed fine at sunset we had no idea this area would act like a wind tunnel at night.

Picture Peak. 

Digging in for a windy night.

Sunset over Sailor Lake (shot in 'Super Vivid').

Chris in a long exposure night photo.

Night photo of the moon-rise on Picture Peak. 
That night the wind gusts got up to 30 mph. The Supermid was setup below ground level and I built walls at the base of my Solomid but the sound of snow blowing across the tops of the shelters made for a restless night. When the wind really got going I could hear the fabric actually humming in my shelter. By morning we woke to another clear day. 

After a long windy night.

Andrew relaxing in the Supermid.

After a long windy night.

Luxury accommodations.

The next morning we left most of the gear at camp and day hiked to Echo Lake. 

Andrew breaking trail on the way to Echo Lake.

Walking over frozen Moonlight Lake.

Breaking trail toward Echo Lake.

The route to Echo Lake. Mt. Powell (left) and Clyde Spires (right). Echo Col is hidden behind the ridge in the middle.

Our route to Echo Lake.
The final notch to Echo Lake.

Andy on frozen Echo Lake.

Andrew and Chris.

It's all down hill from here.

After the strenuous hike to Echo Lake the rest of the day was mostly easy downhill plunge stepping through deep snow. We broke camp and headed back toward our last camp at Blue Lake. Along the way Andrew discovered some cross country routes. . .

Wide open terrain. . .

Andrew found a rare granite cave somewhere in the Sierra (I'm not sure if this is even from the same trip).

Ice stalactites. 

Very cool views thanks to Andrew's cross country route. 

Fresh powder on perfect slopes, much better than Mammoth!!

A vertical slope. 

Walking over frozen Emerald Lake.

Sunset over Blue Lake. 

Night sky over Blue Lake.

Morning at Blue Lake camp.

Blue Lake camp.

Chris on a downhill run.
The final view of Sabrina Lake before heading into the trees.

A great day.

Many thanks to Andrew and Chris for coming along on this trip. It was a lot of fun backpacking in the beauty of the winter Sierra with some like minded UL hikers!

I made a few updates to my winter gear list for 2014. This winter my base weight was just over 10 lbs, but who's counting? For anyone interested in the gear I used on this trip check out my: Winter Sierra Gear List 2014.


  1. Great trip report, Andy!! Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Thanks Randy! Dude, we gotta run into each other in the backcountry sometime.

  2. So beautiful! So so beautiful that I can only say that! Wow... Simply beautiful!!!

    1. Thanks Ligia! I appreciate your feedback, it's good to know someone out there is actually reading this:)

  3. Superb trip and photography, Andy. A little jealous as I read it, ok - more than a little! Good timing with the weather too. Good stuff.

    1. Thanks Jacob! Check back for more soon, I will be posting photos, video and a trip report from my recent thru-hike of the Trans Catalina Trail!

  4. Awesome Awesome. This might be my next trip. Way to get after it Andy.


    1. Thanks Adan. I've been reading about your latest trips around San G. Looks nice up there!