Leaving early is my plan as well. Unfortunately, with the length of the drive, leaving early for me will probably be hitting the trailhead at 10:30am, maybe 10 if I'm lucky. If I can cruise those first 3 miles and hit the snow at noon-ish, it won't be terrible yet.
I was at Shasta last weekend, and by the time I set up camp, it was 1pm. It was slow and mushy going up to Helen Lake - not deep enough to post hole, just like walking in sand.
I wasn't sure about how much water to be carrying. I knew Rafferty Creek would be running, but it starts (stops?) about a mile from Fletcher Lake, and Helen Lake (10300') last weekend was snow covered and frozen. I was going to ask the ranger when I picked up my permit if the lake was frozen, and I wanted to have capacity to dry camp if it wasn't.
It's nice to hear an actual trip report. I talked to a ranger yesterday, but knowing that people have actually been going helps my confidence. I've snowcamped 3 times now, so that part doesn't worry me. I am more concerned about losing my way, though the trail follows a creek until it gets to a pass, (should be obvious) after which I should just be able to aim for Fletcher Peak (weather permitting). Knowing there might be a bit of a boot track would be nice. I won't be the only one out there either, as permits are gone for Saturday.
7 miles is also a safe retreat distance for me, if I get to camp and find out my pack liner has leaked, or my shoes got soaked. I've turned around after reaching camp in the past when something just didn't feel right.
I was trying to figure out base layering. What I wouldn't give for a pair of thermawrap or cocoon pants about now. I think I'm fine with the bag (again shasta last weekend the condensation inside my tent was a bit frosty, and I was fine in that set-up, except for forgetting the extra blue CCF and having cold legs at night). But I think I'll add the vest, and bring midweight smartwool instead of silk.
And an extra pair of socks. And gloves. I can survive everything but cold/wet hands and feet. I hate that.
Thanks for the advice.