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Snowshoeing Mammoth report
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Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Snowshoeing Mammoth report on 03/20/2012 18:04:08 MDT Print View

Well, here is my post trip report (gear test) for my first winter camping experience. Refer to this thread:
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=60892

My plan was to snowshoe from the Mammoth Mountain Inn (at the base of the ski slopes), up the road (closed for winter), towards Devil's Postpile Nat. Monument, and then north along the ridge towards San Joaquin Mountain. That plan did not come to pass, due to weather conditions. The two days before my arrival, and the first day I was there, Mammoth got dumped on. Words can hardly do it justice, so let me explain it this way. I saw a snomobiler who had gone a few feet off the road and buried his vehicle. When I put on my snowshoes (rated up to 250 lbs), with no pack (I weigh 170ish), I sunk to my thighs even with the snowshoes on. Hiking for 3 1/2 miles with a 45 pound pack and 4 feet deep powder just wasn't going to happen. Haha

So instead, I found a spot in the woods off of Hwy 203 (the scenic bypass leading from Mammoth north towards June Lake), where the snow was not as deep. I just went back far enough in from the road not to attract attention (the green tent was handy in this regard).

So in the end, it was a great, easy experience as far as lessons learned and what worked and what didn't. Elevation was roughly 8,200 feet, nightime temps were 21* F, and no wind. Here's what worked:

The two sleeping pads that I was told were a common combination for cold weather camping worked great (plus I already owned both, which made it nice). I used the normal Therm-a-Rest inflatable pad on the bottom and the Thermarest RidgeRest on top. I felt the heat from the pads the entire time. The system worked great.

My new Hilleberg "Tarra" tent. To say that I'm in love with my new tent would be putting it mildly. At 9 pounds, and about 8" by 20" packed size, it is a beast for backpacking, but I knew that when I bought it. It will be my go to tent for motorcycle touring, family camping, and winter camping. I'll use something smaller and lighter for true backpacking. The green color blended in great against the pines, and the yellow interior was bright, roomy, and very livable. The whole tent just oozes quality.

The Grivel Air Tech Evo ice axe/ hammer. A lightweight tool, with a T-rated shaft, this is my new mountaineering tool. Do I really need it? Probably not, but then again it is cool and I've always wanted an ice axe, so I talked myself into buying one. Primarily, I thought it would come in handy as a lightweight hammer for pounding stakes into hard ground in warmer weather. But I've got to say, it was worth it's weight in gold when it came time to dig my snow stakes (set deadman style) out after they'd become buried in rock hard snow the next morning.

What didn't work was my lighter. I've always been a believer in bringing two types of ignition source. Thank goodness I did. The butane lighter didn't work after repeated attempts, even after warming in my pocket. Luckily, I had my back-up magnesium block and flint firestarter which fired my stove up instantly.

My 0*F sleeping bag, a Kifaru "Slick" bag, was about as I expected, so I shouldn't really blame the bag. I've always been a very cold sleeper, so I bought the 0* bag in hopes that I would be comfortable to about freezing. It likely would have worked fine at that temperature, but at 20* I was a bit chilly. And this was inspite of wearing thermals, regular clothes, and even my ArcTeryx softshell inside it.

As more comes to mind, I'll add it to the review, but that's it for now. I'll throw in a couple pictures for fun:

Vixen, my Belgian Malinois, in the Hilleberg Tarra:
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A shot of the tent interior:
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And some photos of the area...just outside the hotel the family stayed at:
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On the north end of June Lake loop, looking towards Parker Lake:
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USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Awe! on 03/20/2012 21:23:05 MDT Print View

Thanks Doug. I managaed a short bp trip from my place, a few mile trip with a few inches of snow overnight. You did good, close to a bail out and learned stuff. What stove did you use? I did not recognize the model tent you have, must be because I only look at solo tents and LIGHT ones. :)
Duane

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
nice one on 03/20/2012 22:37:46 MDT Print View

Doug - excellent judgement call. Sounds like you learned the most important lesson of all - when to back off in the face of conditions.
I'm curious about your lighter - I've always used BIC lighters and never had one fail (not after warming it in my pocket, anyway). What brand was yours?

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: Awe! on 03/21/2012 01:45:32 MDT Print View

Duane, sounds like your hike went good as well, glad to hear it. The Tarra is one of Hilleberg's 2 person tents, although it could hold three in a pinch. It is in their heavier line, and a hybrid dome/ tunnel design. This gives it a very roomy interior for it's floor area space. As for my stove, I used my MSR Whisperlite Universal, with the gas cannisters. I had an almost empty SnowPeak cannister and a full MSR cannister. At 20*, the cannisters still worked OK, although I did have to turn the Snow Peak one upside down when it got low and began to freeze. I melted snow for our drinking water as well as the Mountain House meals and hot chocolate.

Paul, my lighter is just a cheapo one from a gas station, with the clear sides so you can see how much fuel is remaining. I did drop it in the snow, so that could have had something to do with it not starting, although I did clear all the snow out of the workings and tried it after a good solid hour or so of being in my inside jacket pocket. Still no go. Thankfully the flint and my pocket knife worked great. I just turned on the gas, and within 3 or 4 sparks the stove fired right up. I fiddled around with an Esbit stove that I also brought with me. The sparks alone were not enough to light the Esbit fuel cube. I think if I'd taken the time to shave some magnesium on top of the fuel tab it might have worked OK.

Edited by Jedi5150 on 03/21/2012 01:50:11 MDT.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Snowshoeing Mammoth report on 03/21/2012 04:02:22 MDT Print View

Good idea to choose locations where an easy bailout is possible whenever you start learning to deal with much harsher environments.

Being chilled at 20F wearing clothing in a 0F rated bag seems odd ... sets a high standard for the term "cold sleeper". Your pads were definitely all right. I'd be inclined to question the bag's rating, it takes a LOT of Climashield Combat to make a good bag for 0F. But it's worth examining other factors too. Were the clothes dry? Evaporating water from clothing drains a lot of heat. How about the caloric content of the food you ate that day?

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Yucky on 03/21/2012 05:26:49 MDT Print View

That has to be some of the worst snow conditions to shoeshoe in. Not enough snow to have complete solid coverage over logs, bushes etc but some exhausting lokking drifts. You will have to give this another try when there are more typical snow conditions.

Sounds like a great trip. Poochie seems to be a happy pup.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
the snowmobiler on 03/21/2012 06:53:07 MDT Print View

Sounds like the guy on the snowmobile didn't know how his sled would do in such deep and fresh snow. So you have the new MSR stove, I collect the old ones, they are very enjoyable. Your tent did look pretty spacious and the dog looked tired already.
Duane

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: Yucky on 03/21/2012 09:12:06 MDT Print View

Greg, I'm afraid those last two photos were misleading as far as the snow conditions. They were scenic shots I took, and at about 1,900 feet lower elevation then where I went snowshoeing (plus a very warm day later). This is where I actually went...

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...it was very even, with probably at least 4 feet of fresh powder over who knows how many feet of base layer snow. No bushes, boulders, or fallen logs were visible. But to be honest, I think the snow in those two photos would actually have been easier. I was literally sinking almost waist deep with each step.


Jim, I've always slept cold with my bags. My previous bag was a Wiggy's mummy that was rated to 40 degrees (or very near). I typically have to add at least 20 degrees to the temp rating for me to be comfortable. If I understand correctly (and don't quote me on this), Kifaru uses a layer of climashield combat for each 20 degrees below 40*. In other words, their 40 degree bag uses 1 layer, their 20* bag uses 2 layers, and the zero degree bag uses 3, etc. on down the line.

Edited by Jedi5150 on 03/21/2012 09:14:04 MDT.

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Update with more Mammoth pics on 03/21/2012 18:07:30 MDT Print View

Well, snow conditions were finally such that I was able to hike the road to Agnew Meadows as far as Minaret overlook. All I can say is WOW! The scenery looking over the San Joaquin river valley was incredible! Looking up towards Garnet and Thousand Island lake, I could hardly resist the wanderlust. It was a beautiful day, mid 50's, with hardly a breeze. Anyways, here are a few pictures of the area.

Vixen and I at the Minaret road summit:
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Looking westward across the valley:
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Vixen and the McHale demo pack in "daypack mode":
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And finally, just a goofy picture of all sorts of feet:
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USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Hit it in the Fall on 03/21/2012 19:15:48 MDT Print View

Those photos look great, love all the snow. Doug, I like to visit that area in early Oct., not many folks out. Between Silver Lake and Devils Post Pile area, I've seen 6-10 people in the first 4 days or so of a solo trip and they were seen in a couple groups was all. After that, no one.
Duane

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
+1 to Fall on 03/21/2012 19:38:07 MDT Print View

Fall is a great time for the area.

I don't often venture into the Sierra before late September. I don't like to/can't plan trips far ahead which makes dealing with permits tough. So instead, I visit in the fall so I can just drop in without any hassles.

I did a trip starting from Devil's Postpile and coming out via Duck Pass the last weekend of October last year. Saw only one other person, at Iva Bell Hot Springs, over the course of the three day trip until we got over Duck Pass and ran into various day hikers around Skelton Lake.

Fall runs the risk of early season storms but it also ensures solitude.

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: +1 to Fall on 03/21/2012 20:12:17 MDT Print View

Duane and Nicholas, fall was sort of my plan. I'd love to see the area with the aspen leaves changing. In particular I thought the hike to Parker Lake would be awesome because of all the aspen groves in the area.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
weather has changed on 03/21/2012 21:47:03 MDT Print View

Doug, unfortunately, of the last four years I have cut short or went to Plan B because of snow. Used to be able to plan a trip the first week of Oct. with no issues, although a trip to Yosemite three years ago had me bping in 4" of snow Part of the second day in my shorts. I ate dinner that night sitting in my sleeping bag, warming up. Found a clear spot under a tree by Sunrise Lakes for my second night out, doing a version of the High Sierra Camp loop. The third day was what we bp for, a really nice day, shorts and T-shirt weather in the afternoon. I came back one year to my car that had a flyer on the windshield, stating Tioga Pass was closed, but since I had been out five days, the snow had melted, so no issues going home up 395. Just the days are so much shorter by then.
Duane