Since the kids (Melissa-9 and Jason-6) had yesterday off school I planned a camping trip for the long weekend with our Chalet folding trailer.
I was hoping for snow but unfortunately the three spots on my radar for snow camping with the trailer were dry. That left another recent favorite- Joshua Tree, with a side trip planned up Mt. San Jacinto's cable tram.
I sent BPL member Nick Gatel an email and he and Mrs. Gatel decided to camp at Joshua Tree as well. This was fortunate as he lives nearby and headed up Friday morning to snag two campsites at Hidden Valley. Unfortunately they were full, so he detoured to Cottonwood Springs and got us a site there, then called us with the new destination. LA Friday afternoon traffic was epic, taking us three hours to go 90 miles. Total time to drive 150 miles was 5 hours including a brief dinner stop.
Saturday was nice, we did the 3 mile "Mastadon Peak" loop hike with JT volunteer "Roy". In the evening Nick and other astronomers had a star party with several fancy telescopes set up. The kids and I got to view several clusters and nebulae before bed time. Sunday morning we said goodbye to Nick (after spending way less time chatting about backpacking than I would have preferred).
We headed to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Palm Springs is only a few hundred feet elevation. The tram base is a couple steep road miles up the hill at 2600 feet. The tram summit is 8600 feet! It seemed crazy to be carrying parkas and snowshoes to the lower tram dock in the low desert.
11 minutes later though it was all snow. Unfortunately hard, icy snow. We started hiking to the Round Valley camping area about 2 miles from the upper tram dock. Crowds of flip-flop clad tourists quickly faded and it was rather peaceful. There were only a few spots where the snow was soft enough to need snowshoes for flotation. As the route got steeper though we decided to put the shoes on for the ice traction of the built-in crampons.
All of my snowshoeing has been in the Sierra, generally in deep, soft snow. This hardpack was new to me and I was amazed how effective the cleats were on my Atlas shoes. Wife and 9 year old daughter have new Tubbs shoes courtesy of Santa and they did great as well. Unfortunately 6 year old Jason wasn't so lucky. His Little Bear Grizzly snowshoes are a great piece of equpment for kids. Simple, light, inexpensive but with decent features for soft snow and flat ground. No chance of a kid hurting himself or others with sharp edges since there are none. He did his best to stomp the plastic edges into the hard snow, but eventually took them off and trusted lug soles. The boy is surefooted as a bighorn sheep and managed traction much better than I could have. Of course he's so light at 55 pounds that gravity hardly knows he's there. The hike was a lot of fun and all four of us had a good time.
A few gear mistakes showed up- daughter had a cotton T-shirt instead of the Icebreaker shirt I had packed for her, and her wind shell turned out to be a pretty good vapor barrier. She did fine in her fleece jacket though. Each of us also had a fall-back warm coat that never left the pack. My main planning failure was in not bringing enough food. We had planned to have an early lunch at the upper tram dock restaurant, but the line and unappetizing fare caused us to skip lunch. Our hike was cut just a hair short when we ate our last cookies and headed back.
Sunday night we headed to the hot pools at Sam's Family Spa and campground. Yesterday we drove home in a driving rain. Today there's a blizzard warning for San Jacinto- so this upcoming weekend the snow should be soft and deep!
Jason won't be left out next time the snow is icy. I just ordered a pair of MSR Swift youth snowshoes for him. They look like the real deal, not kids toys.