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Icy Snow & Backpacking
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Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Icy Snow & Backpacking on 01/24/2011 14:27:50 MST Print View

I have very limited experience with snow camping and wanted to ask what problems/difficulties I might encounter when the snow has been melted and re-frozen over multiple times. Apparently enough so that I have been told that you can walk on this snow without snowhoes.

Looking to go up to the Lake Tahoe area.

Not expecting any storms this upcoming weekend that I am considering going out, but I could see problems with anchoring tents or digging out a snow trench for my shelter.

Would appreciate any thoughts people might have if I am worried about nothing or maybe I should just pass and wait for another time where there is some fresh, snow.



David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
icey snow on 01/24/2011 14:39:52 MST Print View

A couple worst cases:

-Icey crust the requires crampons on a steep traverse with exposure.
-Burly crust with sugar underneath, when the crust is just weak enough for you to break through. Post-hole and shin bark at once. This is where you'll want snowshoes or skis.
-Hard crust on the way in, warming temps, nasty and sticky slush on the way out.

Anchoring your shelter could be tough. I almost always bring a proper avy shovel when snow camping. Of course, I'm usually traveling in avy terrain so the shovel serves "double duty." Snowshoes make pretty decent shovels.

In short, I think difficulty of travel is a bigger deal than anything.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Icy Snow & Backpacking on 01/24/2011 14:49:05 MST Print View

In the Tahoe Region, the terrain can be quite steep, hence the standard avalanche warnings. Part of the problem is that you will go from a shady side of a hill to a sunny side, so the snow consistency keeps changing on you. Just when you think that you have a solid crust to walk on, you hit the breakable crust. If you can stick to the flatter areas, you will find the snow to be somewhat more manageable.

The other risk is if you have a crust on top, and then some more snow falls. It will hang there for a while, and then it may avalanche. That can ruin your whole day, or worse.


Joel Waddell
(TenderPaw) - F

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Tahoe snow on 01/24/2011 15:54:02 MST Print View

Man its 51* here at the airport. Not single snow flake since the New Year. Conditions on the mountain are basically down hill ice skating. The back country is really firm. But I would still bring snowshoes. You won’t have problems with new snow, none at least on the 10 day outlook. Where are you planning to hike in the Tahoe area? And should not be a problem pitching your tent, Looking at 55* for the high and 22* for lows this weekend.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Icy Snow & Backpacking on 01/24/2011 16:48:54 MST Print View

If this helps, we will be North toward Round Valley from Donner Summit.

If anyone has a better suggestion for a place for us to go, that would be great.

Both Jeremy and I are noobs when it comes to this.

We are only looking to go out about 1 mile...not much more....could be less distance.

Jeremey's father is coming with us too.

So really, just a training expercise for us that is far enough in that we have some sense of isolation from the rest of society.

Thanks again for all the advice and local conditions so far.


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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Icy Snow & Backpacking on 01/24/2011 17:12:00 MST Print View

Tony, if you have a permit, you can park in the Sno-Park lot on the access road just east of Boreal ski area. Then you cross under I-80 and follow the jeep road mostly north. You will be skirting Castle Valley for the first two miles. Then the jeep road disappears and you have to cross up and over Castle Pass for a half mile. Then you will descend into Round Valley at about the three-mile point. That is where Peter Grubb Hut is located, and people with reservations stay there for a small fee. They get the comfort of a two-story outhouse.

I've stayed in the warm hut when others were sleeping out in the snow of Round Valley. Incidentally, sometimes the avalanches will sweep off Castle Peak, and they run down into Castle Valley or else Round Valley.

So, you might want to think about where one mile is, and where the three-mile point would be.


Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Icy Snow & Backpacking on 01/24/2011 17:55:18 MST Print View

Tony, I have done that route that you and Jeremy are going. Bob is right in that there has been avalanches from Castle Pass. In fact there have been a few fatalities on that ridge just due north of the pass. This was cross country skiers plying their trade. Where you guys are going is a fantastic place for a beginning trip. I love it there! The pass is rather steep on the Hwy 80 side and it is usually hard packed and icy. On the other side, it is filled with deep snow and route finding is not really too difficult. Heck you guys might get invited into the hut for some warmth too. I am expecting the Tony treatment with photos too!

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Re: Icy Snow & Backpacking on 01/24/2011 17:56:07 MST Print View

Oh and make sure you pick up a Sno Pass at Boreal. Your car will be towed without one

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Icy Snow & Backpacking on 01/24/2011 18:06:37 MST Print View

I think over the years quite a number of skiers and boarders have bought the farm on the steep slopes of Castle Peak. Actually, there have been fatal avalanches on Andesite Ridge, which is the moderate thing to the left of the jeep road. It does not take a prominent peak to make a fatal avalanche.

Now, where it gets interesting is when you head north from Round Valley and keep going. You get to descend into Paradise Valley, then ascend Mount Lola.

Castle Pass is kind of a pain to get up and over if you are a beginner.

Oh, and for the Sno-Park lot, I don't think that they tow you. I think they give you a big ticket, like around $100. Since the daily permits are only about $5, it just isn't worth it. It used to be that Boreal ski area would let us park in their lot, for a price, but that was years ago. That is a good place to go for Ski-Orienteering.


Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Snowshoes on 01/24/2011 18:12:20 MST Print View

Rent some snowshoes and head out, I wouldn't venture out without them in these conditions, afternoons will be high probability of postholing. Also if for no other reasons it will give you traction in the morning when the snow is still hard. You can find the avalanche information at Sierra Avalanche Center. Right now the Danger is Low. Check it before you head out.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Tahoe Rom Trail on 01/25/2011 00:32:10 MST Print View

I was going to recommend The Tahoe Rim Trail but after looking at my trail topo map I can see ther is almost nowhere that is not avalanche prone.

Seriously, if you live in the Reno/Carson City area and want to begin winter camping you NEED to get with some like-minded friends and all take an Avy I course then equip yourselves with the necessary avy gear per person.

To wit:
1. avy beacon (Tracker II, for ex.)
2. avy probe
3. avy shovel (metal ONLY)
4. avy study kit
5. Avalung
6. SPOT II beacon (at least one in group)

Not to scare you but going out W/O training and the gear above is foolhardy. To go with it, and no macho egos, is the way to have fun in the winter safely.

Why do winter mountain parties with women as members experience fewer fatalaties than all male groups? Because the women won't continue when there is a distinct
possiblity of avalanche. Males macho into danger and pay for it.

BTW, several years ago my buddy & I TRIED to backpack on icy crust in the Allegheny mountains of wesern Pennsylvania. We had to give up and go to flatter terrain after constantly sliding downhill and getting bruised up. My new MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes would have solved the problem.

Edited by Danepacker on 01/25/2011 01:00:20 MST.

Lisa Frugoli
(alfresco) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Snow Skills - SF Bay Area on 01/25/2011 07:01:58 MST Print View

Tony -

I took this course last year and highly recommend it.


Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Icy Snow & Backpacking on 01/25/2011 12:41:00 MST Print View

I wanted to say thank you to everyone for the great advice, suggestions, and concern for the Asian Worker Monkey's butt not getting frozen to death.

Running all this info by Jeremy, as he is the Master planner....I am just the photographer.

We have both snow camped before, but don't have a lot of experience.

Never dealt with ice before....we have snowshoes and not looking to go anywhere that crampons would be needed.

Will take photos and post them up...quick and easy given that this is an overnighter.

Again, really appreciate everyone's willingness to share their knowledge and concerns.

Best people I know are here.