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Snowshoeing Mammoth questions
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Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Snowshoeing Mammoth questions on 03/09/2012 20:55:23 MST Print View

Hello all,

My first winter backpacking trip is steadily approaching (as in a week or two). :)
I'm pretty set on gear now, aside from snow shoes and poles. I have no doubt that snowshoe rental places abound in Mammoth Lakes, so that's not high on my worry list.

I'm trying to be realistic about my backpacking goal, especially since it will be my first time snowshoeing and winter packing. I've read that snowshoeing difficulty varies greatly on the type of terrain and the condition of the snow. I'm basically trying to get an idea of how far I could realisticly go as a snowshoeing beginner, in end-of March, Mammoth type snow.

One possible backpacking goal would be San Joaquin Mountain. We'll be staying at the Mammoth Mountain Inn, which I've read is the ideal start point for hiking San Joaquin Mountain. According to my TOPO map system, from the parking lot of the lodge, to the summit of San Joaquin Mountain is 7.5 miles (approx), and roughly a 2,000 foot elevation gain (aparently the easiest and smoothest elevation gain in the entire Mammoth area). Would this be a realistic distance for the first day? My plan is to snowshoe somewhere the first day, camp for two nights, and snowshoe back the third day.

Thanks in advance for any help.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Snowshoeing Mammoth questions on 03/09/2012 21:04:55 MST Print View

How many experienced snowshoers are you going with?


Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: Re: Snowshoeing Mammoth questions on 03/09/2012 21:20:04 MST Print View

Sorry Bob, I should have's a solo hike. Me and the pooch are it. ;-)

That's why I tried to pick a safe place with fairly level terrain. It also seems to be a very popular snowmobile destination, so if I did run into heaps of trouble, people will likely be passing by.

Edited to add: Aparently the other benefit of this route is that it has outstanding views basically the entire length of the ridge. So there is no worry about pushing beyond my limits to reach a goal. Pretty much anywhere along the way I could stop and camp with incredible scenery.

Edited by Jedi5150 on 03/09/2012 21:26:28 MST.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Snowshoeing Mammoth questions" on 03/09/2012 21:29:49 MST Print View

Doug -

I think you should consider...

A) Going with a partner.


B) Staying fairly close to the trailhead.

Have you posted your gear list here for comment?

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Gearlist on 03/09/2012 21:57:34 MST Print View

Hi David, I appreciate your suggestions. The partner bit will be hard to do. To begin with, I really do prefer to hike by myself. I like stopping when I like, going at my own pace, etc. I understand that there is an increased safety risk hiking solo, and particularly in winter, but it's a risk I'm willing to take for two reasons; first is that I don't know anyone who likes camping in the snow (hahaha), second, in terms of danger, solo backpacking is one of the least risky activities I undertake. At work I chase armed people who want to hurt me. lol I'm not trying to sound cavalier and I don't think I'm indestructable. I just learned long ago that some amount of risk is acceptable, even for recreational activities.

Your second suggestion, staying close to the trailhead, is something I'm much happier to consider, and is good advice. The way I see it, the entire area that I'm planning my first winter excursion is sort of ideal for the task. My family are staying close nearby at the Mammoth Inn, and so that is always a "bail out" if conditions get bad or the going gets tough.

Here is a short version of my gear list:
McHale backpack (loaner)
Kifaru 0* synthetic sleeping bag
Thermarest open cell foam sleeping pad
Thermarest Ridgerest (closed cel foam pad) (yes, two pads)
Hilleberg Tarra 4-season tent
MSR Whisperlight Universal stove
Bear Vault 450
Freeze dried meals
Water purification (I can take either the iodine tablets or a pump filter)
Map, compass
Danner goretex lined boots
Goretex gloves and glove liners
ECWCS goretex parka and overpants
Polyester base layer
ArcTeryx Bravo softshell jacket
Dry dog kibble and collapsable bowl
Wiggy's synthetic blanket (for the pooch, plus an extra layer for me)
Canon DSLR
Carbon fiber tripod

Aside from water, I loaded this all up today and hiked for a few miles. The packweight was 40 pounds and 5 or so ounces. That was with a different tent than the one I'll be taking, the new tent will increase the weight to 43 lbs sans water.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Gearlist on 03/09/2012 22:02:37 MST Print View

"weight to 43 lbs sans water"

Maybe you are on the wrong forum site.


Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: Re: Gearlist on 03/09/2012 22:12:30 MST Print View

Hahaha...I definitely could be Bob, but then again how much does the average ultralight backpacker's gear weigh when they go camping in deep snow, with nightime temps around 15-20* F? The tent alone weighs 9 pounds, I know a great deal of that could be shaved off, so your point is valid there. But then again it is a bombproof 4-season tent, and that is one area I'm OK with splurging when it comes to weight.

Out of curiosity, what would your 3 day winter backpacking kit come in at for snowy conditions? Or do you not go backpacking in the snow? Who knows, I may not either after this trip, but I'm at least going to give it a whirl.

David was helpful in his response. From your two posts I can't tell if you're interested in helping, or simply being confrontational. But as a side note, in my thread about expedition tents, you were informative in suggesting a 4 pole dome-style structure for strength. That fits my new heavy tent to a "T". ;-)

Edited by Jedi5150 on 03/09/2012 22:16:36 MST.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Re: Gearlist on 03/09/2012 22:18:04 MST Print View

My base pack weight for winter temps that get to 15*F, and in snow, is just under 15lbs. (does not include snow shoe weight)

For 3 days, my pack would weigh about 22lbs with food and a liter of water.

Caveat: I'm in Wisconsin, and while we can get some nasty weather and snow, it is not the mountains.

Edited by T.L. on 03/09/2012 22:22:34 MST.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Gearlist on 03/09/2012 22:24:10 MST Print View

"Out of curiosity, what would your 3 day winter backpacking kit come in at for snowy conditions? Or do you not go backpacking in the snow?"

I haven't been on snowshoes in decades now. Cross country skis work much better for me. My three-day pack weight would likely be 20 pounds, maybe 22 tops.

On this forum we try to help, up to a point.

I guess you know that it would be much wiser to go with a human friend. Your dog might be good at this, or maybe not. Some dog breeds are excellent in snow, especially if they have paw protection. Unfortunately, dogs are not asked for their opinion very much.


Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Gearlist on 03/09/2012 22:27:08 MST Print View

Hi Doug - Having been on San Joaquin Ridge in the summer, I'd say that getting all the way to San Joaquin Mtn is a pretty tall order. However,you are right about the first part of that route - as far as the little high point just south of Deadman Pass it's quite gentle. The drop from there to the pass is fairly steep, and my guess is that for a first-time trip it will be more than you want to deal with. But the views from that little peak are tremendous, and you could drop down on the east side a ways into some trees for a nice protected campsite if if it's windy - which it's likely to be at any time up there.

You might also consider heading down towards Agnew Meadows from Minaret Summit - I know, just a snow-covered road - but safe and easy going for your first trip.

A couple of gear notes - you don't need the bear vault in March. I'd skip the water treatment also - you're going to be melting snow for your water.

Snowshoeing with a pack is hard work, much harder than walking on a trail with a pack. So take it easy, enjoy the view, stop early so you have plenty of time to set up camp and get yourself situated. Drink plenty of liquids.

And I would suggest a foam pad for the pooch, since the blanket won't provide good insulation underneath. And with you and the pooch in the tent, keep the vents as open as you can, because the two of you will produce quite a bit of moisture - especially the dog's damp fur drying out during the night.

Have fun and be careful.

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: Re: Re: Re: Gearlist on 03/09/2012 22:27:53 MST Print View

That's truly impressive Travis. With that gear are your comfortable, or simply surviving as a slightly thawed out popsicle? In all seriousness, I'd love to see your gearlist for those circumstances. I'm not sure if Bear Vaults are required where you camp, but they are in the Mammoth area. That adds some weight. Also, my cold weather clothing (aside from my softshell) is heavy and bulky, and that I'm well aware of. But it was free, and it's what I've got, so I'm limited in that regard. Does your pack weight include a DSLR camera and tripod?

"Ultralight" has never been my goal, but "light" is something I'd strive for, at least in summer camping. Comfort is important very to me, however.

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: Re: Gearlist on 03/09/2012 22:33:18 MST Print View

Great suggestions Paul! The road to Agnew Meadows was an earlier plan I had as well. In the end fof summer or beginning of fall I'm going to do my dream backpacking trip, which is a 3 or 4 day to Thousand Island Lake and exploring. At least with Agnew Meadows I'd be able to see the start point of the trail.

I like your idea about going to the first high point before Deadman Pass. I think it may very well be the route I take. If it looks remotely hairy beyond that I won't venture any further.

As for the bear vault, I know that bears themselves won't be an issue, but what about other critters that like to get into food? And I sort of figured they'd be required year round as a general rule thing, but maybe not.

Edited: So according to my TOPO map system (I can never make the little pencil-route tracer go exactly where I want it), the Mammoth Mountain Inn parking lot to the first knoll before Deadman Pass is 3.7 miles, and an 1,100 foot elevation gain. That sounds quite doable, if conditions are right.

Edited by Jedi5150 on 03/09/2012 23:18:14 MST.

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: Re: Re: Re: Gearlist on 03/09/2012 22:38:59 MST Print View

Thanks Bob, I'd hoped your goal was to be helpful. As for the dog, that is the one area that is a known factor. Both my dogs absolutely love the snow. My wife will be watching our male... Our female is my hiking/ backpacking buddy. She is a 60 lb Belgian Malinois, and is as athletic, fast, and agile as a coyote. We've taken both dogs to the Sierras many times (in summer and winter) and they absolutely prefer the winter and snow (much like our kids). ;-)

Vixen has been camping and backpacking in the snow, incidently, just not in the winter.

Edited to add: Regarding skis vs snowshoes. A couple decades ago I lived in Canada and went cross country skiing a number of times. I absolutely loved how quickly you could cover distances. The downside was mainly the boots. Since I never had my own pair (always rented them), I used to get blisters like you wouldn't believe. I'd come back to the car after a day of skiing and wouldn't even notice the blisters until I took the boots off (because of the cold). By that point, 1/2 my boot would be filled with blood from the blisters being warn raw. I had more than one pair of socks that were stained red from the heel to the toe. hahaha.

So my biggest reason for wanting to try snowshoeing instead this time is that I can wear my normal boots, that fit me right and are comfortable.

Edited by Jedi5150 on 03/09/2012 23:07:40 MST.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gearlist on 03/09/2012 22:44:18 MST Print View

Ah, yes, a bear canister will add weight. Not required here, though, not even needed in winter as bears are hibernating. So yes, that will add a few pounds.

No DSLR or tripod. So carrying that will add weight.

Brief breakdown of the big 3:

Shelter: Trailstar 19oz
Pack: Talon 44 39oz
Bag: Marmot Pinnacle 15* 41 oz

Aside from the required weights, such as a bear canister, everything is relative to what we're comfortable carrying. Especially in winter, weight will aid in comfort. But in regards to my 15lb base weight, I am always warm. Except pooping in the snow in the middle of the night. That's always uncomfortable. :)

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gearlist on 03/09/2012 22:53:56 MST Print View

That's impressive Travis, your big three are very light, and you still manage to stay warm. I'm genuinly impressed. Part of my folly is that I am plagued with being a cold sleeper. I'll be shivvering in conditions where my buddies (when I do camp with other people) are just fine.

By the way, I laughed at your pooping comment. When camping, I can usually make it 2-3 days before that is an issue (too much info, I know;-). One of my friends (now deceased), once told me that when you are in inhospitable conditions your body naturally goes longer between bowel movements. I'm not sure whether that is true or not, but it seems to have been the case for me. He was an old school Viet Nam vet and fought in just about every war since, so I usually believed him when it came to survival type knowledge.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gearlist on 03/09/2012 23:10:38 MST Print View

Even in cold temps, as you probably know, simple hiking can create enough heat to stay warm (and sometimes even too warm!)

The big keys to keeping warm while stationary, such as sleeping in winter, is minimizing drafts, good head insulation, and an adequate sleeping pad. (An appropriate sleeping bag goes without saying.) You must have a pad with an R-value of at least 5 to prevent the cold ground from sucking heat from your body. A 4 season tent will stop drafts much better than the tarp I use, but such a tent is not always necessary.

I'm still in the process of figuring out how to be as comfortable as possible in winter. See, I have an issue of putting too much moisture into my bag at night, which degrades the insulation properties as the night progresses. That is caused by either sleeping too warm (i.e. too many clothes) or a personal issue with my body.

Going back to the sleeping pad, which would make it my big 4....I use a custom KookaBay down air mat (KookaBay has recently become defunct as a company) with an R-value of about 5.5 and weights 16 ounces. This alone helps immensely with warmth.

Even with your camera gear and bear vault, I think you could shed some pounds. Spend some time here! It's kind of like a, who am I kidding! We're all nuts!

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: Gearlist on 03/11/2012 00:37:25 MST Print View

I agree Travis, I could definitely lose some weight, but I'd honestly be much more comfortable doing it in summer/ shoulder season camping than winter camping.

As a side note, here is my backpacking partner, Vixen:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

And this is my boy, Ari, who will be keeping my family company in my absense:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Edited by Jedi5150 on 03/11/2012 00:49:36 MST.

Paul Johnson
(johncooper) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Snowshoeing Mammoth questions on 03/11/2012 00:41:17 MST Print View

More power to you Doug. It sounds like you are pushiing your personal boundaries, which I appreciate. Enjoy your trip and keep us informed on the post trip report.

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: Re: Snowshoeing Mammoth questions on 03/11/2012 00:50:43 MST Print View

"More power to you Doug. It sounds like you are pushiing your personal boundaries, which I appreciate. Enjoy your trip and keep us informed on the post trip report."

Thanks John! And will do. I'll post pictures and a trip report after I get back.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Gaiters on 03/12/2012 11:17:33 MDT Print View

Don't forget some gaiters, too bad you don't have access to a lighter tent. I was going to mention leave the bear canister behind, but that was covered already, bears should not be active. You and the dog can protect the food from critters. If you are an experienced bper and have thought situations out, you should be fine. I snow camped for quite a few years before doing group trips in the winter. Just don't over do it with the heavy pack, deep snow can suck it out of you and your legs are gonna be sore the next day. :) I always wonder how people have such a light winter pack, never asked, I'm guessing they set up camp and stay in the tent or keep active. The groups I go with when I do winter trips with groups, bring extra clothing, but then we stand around talking etc. Sure would be nice to have a winter pack under 22 lbs, heck, that would be great in the summer for a week trip. :)