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Trip Report – Snowshoeing the High Sierras – 4/29-5/1/10
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Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Trip Report – Snowshoeing the High Sierras – 4/29-5/1/10 on 05/03/2010 13:24:35 MDT Print View

This trip is 37 miles starting at the Onion Valley Trailhead on the east side of the Sierra near the town of Independence, CA. To do the loop without shuttle requires an 8 mile walk down Onion Valley Road as well as a 4 mile gravel roadwalk to get to the other end of the “wild” trail. The trails go over Junction Pass (13,200) and Kearsarge Pass (11,760). Junction Pass is the pass directly to the east of Forester Pass (13,200ft) which is the highest pass on the JMT and PCT and was the former route of the JMT prior to completion of the Forester Pass Trail. Other areas of travel include Center Basin and Lower Vidette Meadow.

It was a tough week at work. I had to travel out to the Bay Area and staying the weekend would save hundreds on airfare meaning I had a three day weekend to kill in the Sierras. But what to do? Option 1 was the Onion Valley trip. I had attempted this twice already this year and on the first occasion the snow conditions would not allow me to do a solo trip in there without becoming a statistic. I made it over Kearsarge and down to Bullfrog Lake before turning around. My second attempt took me the other direction going up from the Shepherds Pass Trailhead, but I was not mentally prepared for the adventure. Third time the charm? Option 2 would be a 100 mile “forced road march” from Walker Pass to Kennedy Meadows and back with a goal 50 miles on day 1. The snowshoe trip ultimately won out because I am planning the thru-hike the PCT next year and I would be duplicating my route. Also, I can always do the PCT hike and the snow only allows this trip in a limited time of year.

Day 0
My meetings were over at 11am so on the road I went. There is no easy way to get to the east side of the Sierra from the Bay Area. I ended up going through Tahoe and getting to the trailhead at 6pm. I was fortunate that the Onion Valley Road was open so I left my car at the parking lot and backtracked down the mountain by foot. My progress was hastened by the temperature. It was already 25 degrees and falling fast and the wind was howling. My goal was to make to down the Onion Valley Road (8 miles) and across Foothill Road. (4 miles) and make camp at lower elevation, 5600ft. This was easily accomplished and it was nice to night hike using my new PT Remix. I laid my TG Raven bivy right on the trail and slept comfortable in my Golite UL-20. The bivy did a wonderful job keeping the winds at bay.

Onion Valley Road
4000’ Descent Down Onion Valley Road

Day 1
It seemed to be light but was it the sunrise or just the blazing full moon. The birds were starting to chirp so it was time to begin to real adventure. The day started off without snow as I climbed up the Symmes Creek drainage. The trail then goes over a ridge into the Shepherds Creek drainage. At 7500’ the snowshoes came out. Near the top of the ridge I met three cross country skiers. They were cutting their trip short due to the cold and wind. (Previous night’s lows at these elevations was -6F) These would be the only people I would see my entire trip including the road sections. The trail traverses across the south facing side of the Sherpherds drainage. Snow disappeared and snowshoes went back on the pack. This would be common for the remainder of the trip. The descent into Sherpherd Creek was 600’ of hard earned elevation. Near Mahogany Flat I had my first mishap. The snow was very firm underneath but there was a 6 inch layer on top that often broke free. That happened while traversing a bowl and I slammed into a tree giving me a war wound to tell the kids about. Mahogany Flats would make a great place to spend some time. Proceeding up Shepherd Creek I had a fork in the creek at The Pothole. Straight would take you over Shepherd Pass (12,000’) to Tyndall Creek. My path would be toward the right heading to Junction Peak. My goal for the day was to get over Junction Pass but after 10 miles and over 7000’ of elevation gain the elevation won. I camped out about half a mile above The Pothole at 11,200’ and prepared myself for a very cold night. The weather forecast was calling for a low of 4F and I was pushing my UL-20 beyond its limit. I had a sleeping bag liner which is supposed to add 5 degrees and the bivy in my optimistic estimation is another 5. Maybe the Fritos in the middle of night would give me the remaining 6 degrees? I was in bed at 6pm just a bit anxious. (Post hike add – CDEC Temp at 10,400’ was -2 and I was 800’ higher so this would be my first below zero night!)

Symmes Creek Canyon
Entering Symmes Creek Canyon

Shepherds Creek
Looking up Shepherds Creek

Day 2
I survived the night and it was a frigid pack up. Thankfully, I now roll my bag, liner and bivy in a loose roll and stuff it in my pack so it went quickly. I skipped first breakfast which was a sign of things to come. I had 1400’ of climb right out of the shoot to the top of Junction Pass. The snow was rock hard so I went without snowshoes until the final assault of the pass. The altitude was kicking my butt and I still hadn’t eaten. I would take 20 steps and stop, repeat as needed. Junction Pass was incredible. Anyone who has hiked Forester knows the view both north and south is beyond words. The entire Sierras stretch out as far as you can see and had the wind not been in full gale from Center Basin I would have stayed for hours. The descent into Center Basin was straight-forward at first. You follow the ridge separating the Center Basin from the drainage containing the PCT/JMT. I was able to get some great pictures of Forester Pass from the same elevation. But suddenly I had to descend and it was steep. So I decided it was time to learn how to glissade. So down I went and it was so much fun I almost climb the 500 feet back up to do it again. Luckily I would have many other occasions on the remainder of the trip to make my butt numb. (I was wearing normal hiking pants, not snow pants.) The trip through Center Basin was spectacular and very easy going. As the sun started heating up the snow the top 6 inches was sticking to my snowshoes making the MSR Denalis weigh about as much as the mountain their named for. I tested out my Salomon trailrunner and no postholing, so off I went san shoeshoes. The decent down to Lower Vidette Meadow (9500’) was interesting. I had hiked this on my JMT trip but I really enjoyed this section, maybe because it was downhill this time. The snow was really starting to melt at Lower Vidette and the bear box was clearly visible. The climb up toward Charlotte Lake sucked and the fact that I only ate a handful of Fritos and a few Oreos meant that I had no energy, I had hit the wall after only ten miles and 3000’ elevation gain. I had tried to eat a decent lunch at Center Basin but I nearly gagged. I stopped right above Bullfrog Lake (10800’) and went to sleep at 6pm without eating a bite. I slept warm that night and the CDEC temperature gauge at Charlotte Lake (2 miles away) recorded a low temperature of 5F.

North from Junction Pass
Looking North from Junction Pass (Center Basin in foreground)

Looking South from Junction Pass
Looking South from Junction Pass (Tyndall – Whitney)

Forester Pass
Looking Down at Forester Pass (The U-shaped notch beyond the V shaped notch)

West Vidette
Looking South at West Vidette

Day 3
I woke and immediately dreaded the 2000’ climb over Kearsarge Pass. It was cold starting out and my soaked wet trail runners were frozen solid. The climb over the pass was in the shade and as soon as I crossed the pass warmth hit me. At this point there were now visible prints in the snow leading me back down to the trailhead, about 4 miles away. Then the fun started, there were many opportunities to hone my newly found glissading skill and I took advantage of every one. The final one took me down right to the trailhead. Now there was one thing left to do, pig out! In the following hours I consumed more calories then the rest of the trip combined and completely guilt free.

Onion Valley Trailhead
Final Glissade at Onion Valley Trailhead

Post trip Observations
1) What worked – My PCT gear list overall worked great. The change from a Ridgerest to a Ridgerest Deluxe really increased my warmth when sleeping on snow. The fact that I could handle temperatures below zero with a UL-20 is amazing.
2) What didn’t work – I have to resolve my appetite at higher elevation. I was calorically limited to about 10 miles a day at these elevations and conditions. I also had lbs of food that I needlessly carried.
3) Recommended? This is a very physically demanding trip and if you are up to it then it hits one of the premier locations in the Sierra. For this year, my timing was perfect. I would recommend April/May vs. earlier due to lower avalanche dangers. This could also be an interesting hike in Summer/Fall. There is supposed to be the remains of the old JMT trail between Center Basin and the Shepherds Pass Trail.
4) Trip Statistics- GPS Distance – 36.1 (I went straight up switchbacks.) GPS elevation gain – 14,835. (I think it was high because of many stops) Gross Elevation calculation from topo – 11,400’ (Doesn’t include minor ups and downs.) Max Elevation 13,277 at Junction Pass. Min Elevation 5200 at Foothills Road.

Edited by gg-man on 05/03/2010 13:42:06 MDT.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Trip Report – Snowshoeing the High Sierras – 4/29-5/1/10 on 05/03/2010 13:50:59 MDT Print View

Nice trip, report and Photos! Thanks.

In your summary you mention "The change from a Ridgerest to a Ridgerest Deluxe really increased my warmth when sleeping on snow."

Since the R-value is the same, do you attribute this to just better all around separation from the snow - no "overhang" as on a narrow pad?

Philip Delvoie
(PhilipD) - MLife

Locale: Ontario, Canada
Trip Report – Snowshoeing the High Sierras – 4/29-5/1/10 on 05/03/2010 14:25:03 MDT Print View

Great trip report Greg. Beautiful area. Would love to see some more pictures and your gear list if you have it.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: snow camping! on 05/03/2010 15:35:01 MDT Print View

Excellent trip. Gorgeous photos. Quality adventure. Doesn't get any better.

On a butt cold morning I like to pack and get moving, and have a snickers or two warm up in my clothes, then munch that still on the move after 20 minutes or so. Best excuse to have candy for breakfast.

Greg, I believe the Deluxe adds .5 R over a regular Ridgerest.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: re: snow camping! on 05/03/2010 16:09:22 MDT Print View

Yep. I got confused.

It is 2.6 versus 3.1, making a bit of a difference.


Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: RidgeRest & Snowshoeing the High Sierras – 4/29-5/1/10 on 05/03/2010 16:20:58 MDT Print View

Great trip report. I went to high school in Independence but have never been over Junction Pass. Makes me want to try it next year.

Re- Ridgerest vs. Deluxe: Spec's for the 20"x72" size are:

Insulation R2.6
Thickness .625" (5/8")
Weight 14 oz

RR Deluxe:
Insulation R3.1
Thickness .75" (3/4")
Weight 19 oz

It seems that the Deluxe is a bit less efficient in a weight/R value or weight/thickness analysis- I wonder if that's real or just measurement uncertainty. I've decided that I'm sick and tired of my elbows falling off 20" wide pads in the winter. Next year I'll go with the 25" width cut it down to a mummy shape.

David T
(DaveT) - F
high sierra. on 05/03/2010 17:20:04 MDT Print View

Loving this trip concept!

Nothing better than being up high in the snow with no one else around.


p.s. Next time pick me up on the way up Highway 80!

Edited by DaveT on 05/03/2010 17:24:46 MDT.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Trip Report – Snowshoeing the High Sierras – 4/29-5/1/10" on 05/03/2010 17:29:48 MDT Print View

Greg - You are the "Warm Dude" for sure!

You should put a disclaimer on there "Don't try this at home". ; )

Nice trip.....let me know when you're in Pleasanton next time and we'll get lunch.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Superb on 05/03/2010 17:44:01 MDT Print View

Excellent report of a superbly conceived route, Greg. Great photos to boot. Thanks for sharing.

Damn, I'm getting homesick!

David W.
(Davidpcvsamoa) - MLife

Locale: East Bay, CA
Re: Superb on 05/03/2010 21:48:35 MDT Print View


You are an animal. Great report and thank you for sharing.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Eating on cold trips on 05/04/2010 04:32:45 MDT Print View

Hi Greg

> I have to resolve my appetite at higher elevation. I was calorically limited to
> about 10 miles a day at these elevations and conditions. I also had lbs of food
> that I needlessly carried.
Add to that the safety risk of not having enough reserve energy in case of emergency!

It can be hard to eat straight after a lot of very hard exercise. We know that. But if you reverse what you were doing and have a big breakfast, maybe with a hot drink, before you even get out of your sleeping bag, you will find things go much better. Hey - sitting there in your SB or quilt with a bowl of food and a hot drink while the sun comes up ...


Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Eating on cold trips on 05/04/2010 18:34:41 MDT Print View

"Add to that the safety risk of not having enough reserve energy in case of emergency!"


This might be one of those situations where you would consider using Perpetuem or something similar and just drip the calories in along with the water while on the move. It goes down easy when you're not hungry, especially at higher elevations. It's all I use going in over Shepherd Pass, where the elevation gain is pretty dramatic that first day.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Eating on Hard Trips on 05/04/2010 19:35:29 MDT Print View

+1 Tom, especially at high levels of effort.

Perhaps from Mr. Nisley (but I'm not sure), I saved a carbohydrate to fat burn ratio as you approach VO2max, and from looking at the numbers, I assume I did some rounding to keep things simple.

What my notes show is

90%.......90 to 100/0

Certainly on all out efforts it is 100% Carbs. The trick is knowing where you are on the curve, and then eating accordingly.

And "accordingly" implies stuff that is palatable, will go down, and stay down. Perpetuum is one option.

It is a challenge all ultra athletes face.

Greg G. - since you were alone, and not constrained, do you have any idea where you were on the exertion scale?

Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: ATL -- Zurich -- SF Bay Area
Trip Report – Snowshoeing the High Sierras – 4/29-5/1/10 on 05/04/2010 20:38:54 MDT Print View

Awesome trip report. It is so beautiful out there. Thanks for sharing.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Re: Re: Eating on Hard Trips on 05/05/2010 08:09:14 MDT Print View

Here is a couple of data points.
1) Normally on a 30 minute elliptical workout I will be at a 160bpm or higher.
2) The weekend before this trip I did 30 miles in under 10 hours with 7500ft elevation gain and I wasn't winded or needing to stop at all.

I tend to push myself pretty hard, I'm not known for moderation. On this trip I was "physically" limited yet I wasn't the least bit sore. I would guess that I was close to 100% at least on Day 1 and 2. I remember seeing how the ratio of carbs to fat should go up and my food packout refelcted the higher carb need. My issue is that I have to want/be able to eat it. It was so bad that I could even eat a Little Debbie's Brownie which in the real world I couldn't pass up.

One option would be liquid. There was little if any water above 11k but lower I can have done something along the lines of Gatoraid. I will have to check out Hammer's website to see what their equalivant. I may be able to get a liquid down.

Edited by gg-man on 05/05/2010 18:08:14 MDT.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: Re: Eating on Hard Trips on 05/05/2010 17:24:08 MDT Print View

"I will have to check out Hammer's website to see what their equalivant. I may be able to get a liquid down."


If palatability is an issue, one possibility is to try an unflavored version of either Hammer Perpetuem or Sustained Energy and add your preferred flavoring agent to taste. Hammer also makes a drink called HEED, which is very similar to Gatorade. The problem with either Gatorade or Heed is that they don't supply quite the calories of Perpetuem or Sustained Energy, both of which also contain significant protein and a bit of fat. None of them supply adequate electrolytes for the level of sustained effort involved in the route you chose. Morton Lite Salt provides 290 mg of sodium and 350 mg of potassium per 1/4 tsp (1.4 g). It can be added to either your energy drink or water bottle. A calmag pill at either end of the day should take care of your calcium/magnesium requirements, with the possibility of popping one midday on tough routes. Just some thoughts based on my own experience in that area.

If you do end up going that route, a useful technique is to mix the Perpetuem double or triple strength to make a thick slurry, then dilute to normal strength on the move by taking 2-3 sips of water for every one of Perpetuem. The advantage is that when you stop for water, you don't have to mix your energy drink every time. Much faster and less complicated.

BTW, I have no interest, financial or otherwise in Hammer Nutrition Co. Just a lot of positive experience with Perpetuem on routes similar to Greg's.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Eating on Hard Trips on 05/05/2010 18:06:30 MDT Print View

Thanks. I will definitely give this a shot.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Eating on Hard Trips on 05/05/2010 18:16:07 MDT Print View


My pleasure. One favor: Would you let me(us) know how it works for you?


Backpack Jack
(jumpbackjack) - F

Locale: Armpit of California
RE WOW! on 05/06/2010 22:59:02 MDT Print View

Greg, what can I say, beautiful trip pics and report. Looks like it was a little harder than the Crabtree hike we did. I think the only other person that could keep up with you and that pace would be KAT! I'm impressed, way to go, makes me wish I would have started backpacking when I was younger, so I could do the miles and elevation. Hope to hike with you again soon. Jack