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First Full Snow Trip
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Simon Weiss
(SimonGtr) - MLife

Locale: Bay Area
First Full Snow Trip on 02/19/2010 01:24:05 MST Print View

So I'm planning on my first full-on, intentional snow outting. I live in the San Fran Bay Area, and am hoping to do a 2-nighter up in the Yosemite or Tahoe area, with a friend.

I've camped in snow before, but by accident, and the temps were just a few degrees below freezing. This time, I know we'll be in plenty of snow, and we'll either be on snowshoes or skis.

My big issue here is that this is more/less my first full-snow outing, so I don't want to buy gear. I want to rent since I'm not very familiar with what it's like.

i'm guessing I need the following winter-specific gear:
* 0-degree bag (or close)
* 4-season tent (in case there are no cabins available)
* Skis (not sure which kind, alpine? touring?)
* Snowshoes i've done and can borrow, but just seem less exciting than Skis
* Axe/shovel - if I'm in avalanche country, right?

I just bought a Neo-Air to use on my ridgerest, and I'm finishing a Ray-Way tarp, and have a Mountain-Hardware PCT2 Tent. If i'm desperate, perhaps I can take both my SD 15-degree Down Bag and my MH Arrette 40-degree bag to bring me to something comfortable to what I'll need. Though, I'll definitely have to use a big pack.

Here is my question: What do people recommend for a first snow trip?
I'd like to do cabin camping so I can avoid the shelter issue this time and focus on the the traveling. Otherwise, I need to figure out where I can rent/borrow gear to be realistic in winter weather.

What's the bare minimum gear and where can I get it for very cheap/or rent?

Any recommended trips?

Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

Edited by SimonGtr on 02/19/2010 01:27:48 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: First Full Snow Trip on 02/19/2010 02:23:50 MST Print View

I hope my comments are not offensive. I have done a fair number of snow trips, but am not an expert or an authority.

First off, I would go with someone who has lots of experience (although I did not do this when I started). Or better yet, take a course. Maybe your first full blown trip should be part of a course.

Can you ski? It is a skill that must be learned, and it is much more difficult with a full pack. Snowshoeing is much easier to learn, but can be strenous work and it sounds like you have done that before. Also, snowshoes must be matched to the conditions/terrain you plan on traveling in.

An axe requires training in self arrest. You can get injured if you do not know how to use it. You have to practice self arrest, not read about it. Will you be on ice? Crampons are often required.

Avalanche country? You need to learn how to "read" slopes and snow. Shovels are heavy, and in some conditions required, and not in others.

4 season tent. Maybe. Depends when and where you are going.

A 15 degree bag and insulating clothing can usually handle most conditions in California.... but not always.

For a first trip I would go somewhere fairly flat and pick a loop that would not be too difficult to bail, just in case.

REI rents a lot of equipment, or at least they used to.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: First Full Snow Trip on 02/19/2010 02:37:44 MST Print View

The first question is 'do want an adventure, or is this a training trip?' :-)

> * 0-degree bag (or close)
You may not need a bag this good - but it is a VERY good idea for your first trip!

> * 4-season tent (in case there are no cabins available)

> * Skis (not sure which kind, alpine? touring?)
NOT alpine, unless you are an experienced skier. If you are going to hire, I suggest some waxless touring skis with either leather 3-pin boots (NOT plastic) or NNN-BC bindings.

> * Snowshoes i've done and can borrow, but just seem less exciting than Skis
True ... :-) But they may be a good idea while you are learning about snow camping. Not too much for the first trip.

> * Axe/shovel - if I'm in avalanche country, right?
Using an axe requires experience or training. It would be of questionable value for this trip. The shovel ... a far, far better bit of advice would be to choose gentle rolling country where there won't be avalanches. Far better.

Good luck.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Emergency bivy on 02/19/2010 04:13:18 MST Print View

I'd add a Heetsheets emergency bivy, as well. At 3.5 oz you can't go wrong. They stretch a bit because they don't use mylar as their base plastic, so they won't tear, even with repeated use. I use them every night in cold weather to supplement my BCB from Nunatak. In cold but dry weather I put it on the inside of the sleeping bag. If it's snowing or otherwise wet, I wear it on the outside to keep in the heat and keep the moisture out. It's a tight squeeze, but it beats wet (and therefore useless) down.


Edited by nerdboy52 on 02/19/2010 08:38:18 MST.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"First Full Snow Trip" on 02/19/2010 08:33:58 MST Print View

Simon - we have a Sierra snowshoe trip coming up in March, you are welcome to join us.

So far, we have four attending with varying degrees of snow camping experience.

Post here, search for the thread under "Bay Area BPL Winter Camping - Part Two" or PM if you want more info.

Simon Weiss
(SimonGtr) - MLife

Locale: Bay Area
Some clarification on 02/19/2010 10:03:48 MST Print View

Hi Nick,

I do not take offense.
I should clarify that although I put the shovel and axe on that list of possible equipment, I fully intend to find a trip that keeps me off steep slopes. For this first trip I am looking for rolling hills, a nice valley etc.

I've never back-country skied in the form of alpine or touring. I have downhill and X-Country (groomed trails) skied. I'm athletic, so while I'm not familiar with the specific equipment, and some of the technique, I imagine I can pick it up as I go along. AS LONG as I plan for modest mileage and don't include any dangerous/tough very steep sections. Does this sound reasonable?

I've done some, including a modest hike up a steep but short summit. Assuming I'm not doing any serious mountain climbing, is there really a need to match snowshoes to snow conditions? Can you give an example of the different kinds?

Hi Roger:: your advice to pick some rolling country further solidified my intent to only consider this kind of terrain. Do you have any suggestions? Someone mentioned Yosemite valley as a good area for this - though if I can't find a 4-season tent I need to cross reference available cabins with rolling, easy terrain.

Hi Thomas:: It sounds to me like a plastic bivy like that is going to cause all my body's vapor to stay trapped near my body. Is this what you experience? I can see how in very wet weather this is the lesser of two evils, but it sounds like you recommend this for more general cold-weather use. Right?

Hi David:: That trip certainly sounds interesting. I'd love to be able to learn directly from more experienced backpackers - typically, though, this is a difficult thing to schedule. I don't know that I can make those days, but I'll see. Thanks for the invite!

Edited by SimonGtr on 02/19/2010 10:05:01 MST.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Heetsheets on 02/19/2010 10:15:49 MST Print View

>It sounds to me like a plastic bivy like that is going to cause all my body's vapor to stay trapped near my body. Is this what you experience? I can see how in very wet weather this is the lesser of two evils, but it sounds like you recommend this for more general cold-weather use. Right?

Yep, wet or dry. It extends the capability of my BCB to pretty cold temps. In weather down to freezing, I can do without it, but below that it acts as a "vapor barrier" in both directions. In wet weather, it keeps the moisture off the down bag. In cold, dry weather, it keeps enough of my body moisture/ heat in to raise the temp/ humidity in my micro-environment to tolerable levels.

I also wear Gortex oversocks, BTW, day and night. Gotta keep them feets dry if you want to keep them warm.

To be honest, I'm not hiking in killer, alpine conditions, though. Things never get too bad in Ohio.


Edited by nerdboy52 on 02/19/2010 10:27:45 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Some clarification on 02/19/2010 10:20:53 MST Print View


Skiing: Okay, you have experience so it is an option.

Snowhoes: On gentle terrain, you need flotation more than traction. Ray Estrella posted a story of how he had a potentially dangerous slip on Mt San Jacinto, and that his MSR shoes don't do that. I had a similar spill many years ago with a pair of Sherpa brand shoes. IF you rent snowshoes, MSR seem readily available because they hold up. There and many threads and article here regarding the merits of many brands/models.

Shelter: I have done many trips with tarp tents and my old Chouinard Tee Pee. Condensation is an issue. Years ago I did fine with an early model Sierra Clip Flashlight. A nasty storm was predicted for San Jacinto, and it took me 30 minutes to convince the ranger to give me a permit. Spent two days stuck in that tent, and it required an occassional trips outside to knock down snow. But I was comfortable and I had a great time. For a 2 day trip you can usually predict the weather to some degree of accuracy. If there is any chance of bad weather, don't risk it and take an appropriate shelter.

The bivy Thomas mentioned is an "emergency" bivy. I can sleep in a vapor barrier liner, but many cannot. It would be a good just in case item.

Have fun!!

Lori P
(lori999) - F

Locale: Central Valley
Re: First Full Snow Trip on 02/19/2010 10:51:39 MST Print View

Just chipping in with a little local knowledge -

Yosemite has some good straightforward overnight options in the Badger Pass area, and the trainers at Badger will provide an hour or two in backcountry skiing or telemark skiing - if you are familiar with skiing in general. Dewey Point or Glacier Point are both popular overnight trips. The road to Glacier is a groomed ski/snowshoe trail in winter if you don't want something too challenging. There is a ski hut at Glacier Point and another at Ostrander Lake, but they are often reserved way in advance, but there may be cancellations so is worth checking. You can do the route on cross country, backcountry, or roller skis.

(Badger is the only place on the western slopes that rents telemark gear or provides lessons, I am told. If that is of any interest.)

I took a lesson in backcountry skiing and it was very informative - I learned that I am a snowshoer!

Edited by lori999 on 02/19/2010 10:52:47 MST.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
snow camping on 02/19/2010 11:57:15 MST Print View

Yosemite Valley is a particularly bad place to go, since there is no "backcountry". You can pay money and stay in a car campground there. There are many good places starting from Badger Pass on the Glacier Point Road, and I have led a number of beginner trips there. The ranger station can issue a free overnight permit. Usually there is enough snow there for snowcaves, which would eliminate the need for a tent. Don't drive there without chains for your vehicle, since that is one of the few places in California that routinely gets the infamous R3 Chain Control.
Yosemite has other places that are easy to get to, such as the Crane Meadow and Crane Lookout area. It is not quite the same elevation as Badger, so it gets less snow, and that can be good or bad. In fact, there is a nearby grove of giant Sequoia trees, and if that doesn't make a great environment for snow camping, I don't know what does.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"First Full Snow Trip" on 02/19/2010 12:55:51 MST Print View

I'm new to snow camping myself, but I thought I would throw in some advice that has worked for me:

1) Obsessively study winter gear lists on BPL.

2) Read all or most of Richard Nisley's posts.

3) Avoid areas that have any history of avalanche. Don't put yourself in a situation where you have to make an expert decision with beginner's knowledge. And still keep your eyes open.

4) Stay relatively close to the trailhead, no big miles here.

5) Watch the weather forecast closely. If the forecast turns bad for your scheduled trip days, you can always car camp to test your kit.

6) If you take into consideration the above, I wouldn't worry about a double wall tent.

As I write these things down, they seem obvious, but I found all these steps really helped my peace of mind and helped me feel prepared.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Couldn't agree more! on 02/19/2010 13:06:05 MST Print View

> 6) If you take into consideration the above, I wouldn't worry about a double wall tent.

Gotta agree here, even if it does open up the usual can o' worms. With my trusty Heetsheets emergency bivy on the outside of by BCB, I've done pretty well with a Gatewood Cape in light snow and a Tarptent Moment in medium snow.

Of course, YMMV, he says, expecting an attack from Australia at any moment.

And, to repeat, the weather rarely reaches alpine conditions in lovely Ohio.


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
reply to Simon on 02/19/2010 13:19:26 MST Print View

When I first decided to learn cross country skiing, I didn't know anything about equipment, so I walked into my local REI store and went to the cross country ski department. Back then, the sales folks were knowledgeable. I told them the typical trip where I needed skis, and they helped me pick out some moderate waxless backcountry skis that were optimized for doing miles, not for doing steep slopes. They were slightly longer and wider than a track ski, and that helped flotation since I might be carrying a heavy load. Those skis served me for years. I also recommend heavy-duty 3-pin bindings and 3-pin boots. They are a little more traditional and seem to hold up better than the newest boot-binding systems.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
hetch hetchy on 02/19/2010 14:16:21 MST Print View

Hetch hetchy is a great area to snowshoe out of. Once you climb out of the canyon there are a multide of route based on capability and desire. The road is generally open though there is limited hours you can enter or exit.

Edited by gg-man on 02/19/2010 14:30:44 MST.

Simon Weiss
(SimonGtr) - MLife

Locale: Bay Area
great advice on 02/19/2010 17:14:51 MST Print View

I will look into all the locations suggested. I'm going to look for non-groomed areas, I want the backcountry experience, and I'm afraid that a groomed trail will prevent me from feeling like I've gotten away.

I've been scouring all the forums for winter-camping related discussions and advice. There is a wealth of information here, though it's hard to know what's been asked and answered.

I wish this site had a better search function!