Round Valley / Peter Grubb Hut
Date(s): Feb. 23-24
Distance: 5.75 mi (Round-Trip)
Elevation: 7,800' @ Round Valley
Trail Description: From I-80 there is 800' of elevation gain over the first two miles to Castle Pass, then a descent of 250' to the cabin in Round Valley at 7,800' (see USGS Norden 7-1/2' topo map).
Peter Grubb Hut
Great company in the hut
Castle Peak from Round Valley
The Donner Summit SnoPark was packed when I arrived around noon on Saturday, luckily I got one of the three empty spaces remaining. I put on my pack and carried my snowshoes and poles to the trailhead. The trail was quite packed and I didn’t need my snowshoes at all so I stopped and lashed them to the back of my pack. I think the last time my pack was this full and had so much lashed to the outside of it was well over 10 years ago before I started down the "Lightweight" road to backpacking. The trail continued through Castle Valley until I came to a junction near the south end of the meadow and needed to make a decision. Follow the more established route northwest or cross the valley to the northeast. I wrote down the instructions from the guidebook earlier on my map, and it said to follow the blue tree blazes so I crossed the valley. Not long after, I started post holing every few steps and finally had to stop to put on my snowshoes. I followed the tracks of a cross country skier for most of the way to the end of Castle Valley and verified I was still on the proper trail every now and then by spotting a blue trail blaze. Eventually, the tracks became less noticeable and then started going off in different directions. I could see the ridge above and where the Castle Pass should be so I continued on and eventually could see people reaching Castle Pass from the other route and could hear their voices as they crossed along the ridge above. Not seeing a better route to the ridge, I decided to hike mostly straight up for about 200'. The slope wasn't too bad but it was tiring cutting new trail. Eventually I made the ridge and continued along toward Castle Peak watching now for the yellow triangle blazes my guidebook said marked the trail to Peter Grubb. Not finding any I decided to stop for a bit and eat a little food and re-check the map. Not long after I sat down for my break I spotted one blaze and then another. I finally made my way down to Round Valley, making my own way as there was no real trail to follow and found the hut hiding beneath a blanket of snow. It would easily be missed in poor weather or if you didn't have a map and knew where to look.
I arrived at the hut around 3PM where I found Marc in the hut splitting wood. He directed me to where they had already set up camp for the night, about 400yards north of the hut. I promptly started setting up my shelter. I'd be sleeping under a MYOG Hammock Tarp (8.5'x11') with a OR Highland Bivy. This would be a trip of many firsts for me. The first night winter camping, first night with the bivy, and only my third night with the tarp. I used a continuous ridgeline between two trees and used my new REI Snow Stakes (x4) at each of the tarps corners. I pitched the tarp sides as low to the ground as I could to reduce any wind coming up and under them. Once my tarp was pitched, I shoveled snow around the sides and at the end facing Round Valley to reduce the likelihood of wind and blown snow coming from those directions. This would prove to be a great idea as the wind that night was quite ferocious. After I got my camp situated I joined the others in the Hut where we had decided to have dinner and stay for conversation.
At around 8:30 we all decided that we would "try" out our shelters and see how well they would weather the constant gusts of wind that had been increasing steadily through the evening. Upon reaching our camp, Jacob, David, and I discovered that David's MLD Trailstar had not fared so well in the wind. The center pole had fallen down and three of the stakes had pulled out of the ground. A sleeping bag and NeoAir had blown away, but they were found without too long of a search.
I shimmied into my bivy and quickly found that if I closed the head portion a lot of condensation would be trapped inside so I partially folded back the hood so that I could breathe to the open air. For about the next 4 hours I got about 5 minutes of sleep at a time. Constantly waking to the sound of the wind and peeking out of my balaclava to see the tarp billow with each gust hoping that my stakes and homemade tieouts would hold. Occasionally the spindrift would circle its way around my tarp and come in through the more "open" end and land on my partially exposed face. Quite the way to keep waking up through the night! I finally figured out that I could put my wool buff under the balaclava and cover my nose and mouth to reduce the jarring cold of the spindrift. At 2AM Marc came around with his flashlight yelling at me to see if I was ok. He noticed I had the bivy and said something to the effect of "Oh, you've got a bivy, you're alright." He said that he, Rick and Jacob were going to spend the right of the night in the hut. It was about that time that I noticed that I had about an inch of snow around my shoulders and a fair bit sticking to one side of my balaclava. I decided that for the next 4 hours I could handle the condensation of being fully inside the bivy. I only woke a few more times until sunrise, the best sleep I had all night, but did notice that my condensation was freezing to the inside of the bivy. Good thing I was only out for one night. I was all packed up by the time that Jacob and Rick had made their way back to pack their stuff and I made my way to the Hut for warmth and breakfast.
The hike out was much easier than my hike in. Largely due to taking the western route rather than the PCT route that I had followed the previous day. Also, having more eyes to find the "proper" trail helped in getting us back to the ridge safely. The wind was still quite powerful and I doubt you could have had a conversation with someone 3ft away while on the ridge. I covered as much of my face as possible until we reached the end of the ridge and dropped into Crystal Valley finally out of the wind.