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)
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)
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.