Just Jeff's Hiking Page

"Going to the woods is going home, for I suppose
we came from the woods originally."

- John Muir

Winnemucca Lake, CA

16-18 Dec 05 - Elevation 9000 ft, snow-shoe hike about 2 miles each way.


How this trip started...


...and how it ended!

Friday - A Sunny Hike In

What a great end to a stressful week. I had a writing marathon for finals, finishing up about 10 pm Thursday night. Packed real quick, then got up at 5 am to pick up Patrick and go on the Songbyrd's house to meet her and Rob. We left there about 9:30 am, stopped by REI for some goodies, had lunch at a nice little log cabin restaurant in Kirkwood, and made it to the trailhead right after lunch.

The hike in was beautiful! This was a good first hike for my first time snow-shoeing...I loved it. It was pretty warm after I started moving (about 40 F) so I hiked in shorts all the way up. It cooled off pretty quickly, though. There was no wind, so we made camp on an exposed ridge and had a great view. It got dark at 6:30 pm, and we hung out for a while talking and eating by headlamps, then went to bed when it got too cold.

I slept in my homemade Speer hammock, my new PeaPod with an Exped Downmat 7 and JRB No Sniveller top quilt inside, and a MacCat Standard tarp over me. The wind kicked up after dark and was so strong it was blowing me around like a pinata! But I was so warm that I had to occasionally vent the PeaPod down to my waist, even in the gusting wind! It was kinda nice...rocking me to sleep and all.

I wore to bed:
Torso: Polyester long-sleeve T-shirt (like CoolMax or UnderArmour)
Legs: Swim Trunks, silkweight poly thermals, fleece pants
Feet: Liner socks, vapor barriers, heavy socks
Head: Watch cap, Turtle Fur ear band, gaiter for my face

I used my rain pants and down jacket for extra cushioning on my sides...that really helped because the wind would blow the tarp right against the hammock, smashing the insulation. I also slept with my fuel cannister, camera, cell phone (which I never turned on), and extra camera battery...gotta keep those things warm!

Low was about 15 F, winds were sustained at 20 mph, gusting to about 50 mph (estimated, based on Saturday's winds) for a wind chill of -5 F to -10 F.


At the trailhead


Loading up to start walking


Self-portrait...


Several sets of tracks in this area



Saturday - The Storm Hits

Absolutely beautiful sunrise...took pictures right from the hammock. Very windy and steady snow all day...high of probably 25 F. After digging a big kitchen in the snow overlooking the Western view, we mostly hung around camp and tried to keep our feet thawed. We took a few short walks, and Winnemucca Lake was frozen over and absolutely beautiful.

I woke up singing four lines of a song that I absolutely couldn't get out of my head until Sunday after we started hiking out. Irritating!! I sang it over and over and over, but I couldn't remember any more lines except those 4!! Grrr...

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off of ole Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Jim

Over and over and over all day and night.

The Saturday crew showed up while I was relaxing in the hammock. I got up after a while and met some new folks and saw a couple of people from the Ten Lakes trip. It was really too cold and windy to do much, so we just cooked and holed up in our bags.

Saturday Night to Sunday - worst storm I've experienced in the woods.

On Friday morning, Sunday's forecast said ~23 F, 40% chance precip, 1" snow possible, winds 1 mph. Yes, ONE MILE PER HOUR. By the time the second group hiked in Saturday afternoon, the forecast had changed to 2-3 feet of snow. It hit Saturday night, though.

It got dark about 6pm, so I restaked the MacCat and went to bed wearing the same things as Friday. I was warm, but the wind was blowing snow onto my PeaPod from underneath, and also kept changing directions and blowing snow in from both ends...not good in these temps and gusts. If I stayed here, I would be wet soon. After 45 min or so, I decided to bail and went into Patrick's GoLite Hex 3 (floorless 4 season tarp-tent). That was about 7 pm.

Inside the Hex, I put the JRB quilt inside the PeaPod, on top of the Exped, and cut my garbage bag pack liner for a ground cloth. At around midnight, the wind was blowing the snow into the tent. Patrick had piled snow around the edges as a windblock...throughout the course of the night, the wind blew away the windblocks and started pulling at the stakes. (The snow stakes had been set for a day by this point, so they were stuck in there pretty good.) At this point, the wind was gusting like mad...nearby Mt Diablo had measured speeds of 100 mph, and Tahoe recorded 65-143 mph. We were higher in elevation than Tahoe, and on an exposed ridgeline. Wonder what our true windspeeds were!


Beautiful sunrise from my hammock


Sunrise again


Winnemucca Lake frozen over


Great view to the West before the snow


The trees provided a pretty good windblock


Frost already accumulating on the PeaPod


Me and Rob sitting in the kitchen
Photo by Theresa


The kitchen Saturday night
Photo by Steve

Videos

360 Degree View at Sunrise
(22 seconds, 4 MB)


MacCat in Gusts.
(15 seconds, 3 MB)

Sunday - The Hike Out

So we spent the night fending off snow (the PeaPod was covered but kept its loft most of the night) and trying to hold up the tent. At about 2am, we heard a few avalanche cannons. At about 4 am, we started packing up so we could fix the tent. We didn't want to bother the stakes without having everything packed in case we lost it all. I had my warm clothes on and almost all of my stuff packed, and Patrick was just getting his stuff on and packed...when the tent blew away!

POOF...just like that we were exposed! It was so cold it took my breath away, and I dove to catch the flying gear...when I realized that my gloves were laying on the ground waiting to blow away! Big mistake. I grabbed them and put them on before they were lost, though, and then laid on Patrick's stuff while he put on his boots and finished packing up. Luckily his Hex was also tied to a tree so we recovered it, but didn't even try to search for his snow stakes (two of them were laying right on the snow so he grabbed those...the other 9 are MIA).

So the two of us went to another tent...Rob had been laying against his tent wall to keep it from blowing away, so the three of us crammed into a 1.5 man tent and waited for the sun to come up. More avalanches. At sunrise, about 6:30 am, the four of us in Friday's carpool started packing up to leave. When I had gone to Patrick's tent the night before, I left my hammock and MacCat, so now I was curious if it would still be there. After those gusts all night, I was surprised to find it still there, and even more surprised that it wasn't damaged.

We started hiking out at 8 am. Two miles in 4.5 hours...and there were some pretty scary times. Even with snowshoes, we were still post-holing up to our thighs. We saw a small avalanche right in front of us, and twice we had to cross avalanche-prone slopes...a little nerve-wracking for a Georgia boy like me! 2-3 feet my butt. At least the wind was at our backs for most of the hike out.

Patrick's GPS saved us a lot of trouble...in that weather, map and compass would have been extremely difficult because we couldn't see any terrain referents, and the trail wasn't marked. And of course we couldn't see how we had come in because of the new snow. We knew the road was just North so we could have made it out, but it would have been much more difficult because of the terrain in the High Sierras. As it was, if the trail were a mile longer we would have had to hole up to boil more water and eat something better than granola bars.

Song for the day: Foo Fighter's DOA. Only this time I could only remember a few lines that seemed to be relevant. Same thing as yesterday...only those lines over and over again.

You know I did it
It's over and I feel fine

And...

Been a pleasure but the pleasure's been mine all mine

We finally got to the trailhead about 12:30...and had to dig the car out. We were all soaked completely through and exhausted. We couldn't feel our feet and I could barely move my fingers because I lost a mitten shell when the tent blew away. There were times when we weren't sure how we would make it out Sunday, but I don't think any of us were really scared about not making it...we still had our shelters and plenty of food and fuel if things gotten any worse. If Patrick and I had waited another 15 minutes to start packing up before the tent blew away, this would be a very different story...very close call. Still probably not a real danger because we had a big group with some experienced folks, but it would have been much more challenging if we had lost wind shells, gloves and such.

Good trip, though - nothing like breaking in a snow-camping newbie with an unexpected Sierra blizzard! We were prepared for it as a group, but the deep snow that wouldn't support our snow shoes gave us big problems...at times, we could only take one step and rest, one step and rest, etc.

So on the way home, I heard Foo Fighter's DOA! I laughed out loud when I heard those lines...it was over! Then I was a little disturbed about the other lines that I knew but didn't remember on the trail:

It's a shame we have to die my dear
No one's getting out of here alive

Eh...creepy.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for helping me learn about Sierra winters! And special thanks to Theresa for melting so much water for me when my JetBoil wouldn't work well, and to Patrick for letting me live with him Saturday night, and Rob for breaking so much trail Sunday...the man's a stallion!

Oh - if you missed out on Steve's toffee, you'll have to order some. (www.ruthstoffee.com) Good enough to make your tongue jump out of your face and slap you stupid.


Patrick with frost on his bag


Me in the PeaPod


The foot of my PeaPod near the door


Packing up Songbyrd's tent


Look at the trees in the background


The hike out starts at 8 am


Me, Patrick and Rob...about 10 am
Photo by Theresa


Rob and his new TrailBlazer at the trailhead
Photo by Theresa

Videos

Packing Songbyrd's Tent
(13 seconds, 2 MB)


Hiking Out
(9 seconds, 2 MB)

Gear Notes

  • Speer PeaPod. The PeaPod worked exceptionally well...it kept my warm air from gusting away with the wind. It also rebuffed the snow's moisture for several hours before finally getting wet, though I never really noticed a loss of loft. It was a bit tight with the Downmat 7 in there, and this was enough to compress the down around my hips and shoulders. Not a big deal since I had the top quilt and Downmat providing more insulation. I made sure I kept my head out of the PeaPod to prevent moisture buildup, and the male side of the velcro scratched my neck, and it stuck to my hat and neck gaiter. I think omni-tape would help a lot with this. Also, I had the PeaPod velcro'd tight around my neck to prevent drafts, so I had to redo the velcro each time I changed my position in the hammock (like when moving towards one end). Sometimes, the velcro wasn't exactly aligned and I ended up with a buckled area of velcro - this created a drafty hole. The solution was to open the PeaPod and realign the velcro all the way down. Not a big deal, but some sort of alignment marks on each side of the velcro might help solve this problem, as would using a zipper (though this has other disadvantages). Also, as I was lying inside, I reached up above my head inside the PeaPod to feel the temperature difference. It was much colder in that air space than it was between the top quilt and PeaPod. I assume it was the same at my feet. The temperature difference in this extra space makes me wonder how well the PeaPod will work as a stand-alone bag - according to Ed's site, this model should take me to 36 F. I'll keep testing to see if I can get there.
  • Exped Downmat 7. This thing kept me very warm, but reinflating it so often was a hassle. I first inflated it Friday night, and the valve kept opening so I had to keep reinflating. I would barely touch the valve and it would open! Then I figured out that the cold makes it harder to tighten the valve all the way - so I turned it harder and the valves locked closed. Then, I had to reinflate it Saturday night. Then again when I got to Patrick's tent. Then it was much thinner by midnight...my hip was cold if I laid on my side, and if I bent just a little bit I could feel the snow underneath me. I don't like the deflation of this pad, but it did keep me very warm on this trip. (Update: I returned the Exped for a new one...we'll see how this one works out.)
  • MacCat Standard. Praise for the MacCat!! I tightened it up Saturday night just before I bailed, and Sunday morning (after the 100+ mph winds) it was flapping in the gusts...one of the two ridgeline cords broke, and 3 of 4 corner cords were broken. It was hanging by one ridgeline tie-out, one JRB tarp tensioning line on a corner, and a mini-carabiner attaching the other ridgeline to the hammock support. It bent that carabiner. After gusting like that all night, I found absolutely no signs of wear on the tarp. One of the plastic D-ring connectors had a dent from the cord holding so tight...this is a tough piece of gear!
  • JetBoil Stove. Didn't work so well in the cold. I kept the cannister in my pocket and used a CCF sit pad for a windblock, but it still took about 15 minutes to boil a liter of water...normal is about 2 minutes. It used a lot of fuel, too. I think using a different fuel mixture might help, because Steve used a cannister stove with no problems. I haven't given up on it yet for these temps, but I definitely wasn't impressed this time.
  • JRB Tensioners. For some reason, my homemade ones froze in the extended position, so they didn't put any tension on the tarp. The JRB ones did not freeze that way...even when cold they maintained their spring. Jack says they're made from a heavier duty rubber than standard slingshot tensioners.
  • Footwear. I used a pair of HiTecs that are basically high-top shoes rather than boots, and my feet were pretty cold. Running shoes just don't have the insulation to protect my feet when standing on snow for an extended time. Think of sleeping on the snow and without a thick enough pad. It was ok while I was moving, but since I was with a group we stood/sat around talking quite a bit. I had plenty of insulation everywhere else...but without the blood pumping it wasn't enough on my feet.

    On the hike out my feet spent more time under the snow, completely covered, than they did above the snow. I'm sure winter boots would have helped, but even they guys with heavy winter boots had cold feet and numb toes when we got back. (I think the vapor barrier socks helped quite a bit, though.) So I guess footwear depends on what kind of winter hiking...if it's just cold without a lot of snow, I'd gladly take runners. If I had jumped right into bed at camp instead of standing around, I would have been fine for the most part. If I start doing more than a few trips a year on the snow, it's a no-brainer - I'll get some warmer boots.

  • REI Generator Down Jacket. Worked very well for the weight, but the inside pocket's zipper kept getting stuck.
  • GoLite Clarity. This worked pretty good. It kept the snow from wetting my down jacket when I wore it. I wore only the Clarity and my long-sleeve T-Shirt on the hike out, and the Clarity cut the wind really well. It was soaked on both sides by the end of the day, though. Part of this was probably sweat, and part was snow blowing into the hood and neck opening as I was trying to vent. I don't know if it was those two things or if it wetted out, though. I liked the cinchable hood...it really helped to cinch one side towards the wind and leave the other side open to vent. I also liked the fleece liner where the zipper closes at the top...this kept my lips off of the cold hard zipper when I cinched the hood all the way up.
  • Turtle Fur Earband. I'm sure glad I bought this thing. It kept my ears warm while still allowing me to remove my hat. Great for hiking in, and I slept with it both nights.
  • Vapor Barrier Socks. This is the first time I've used vapor barriers...they warmed my feet right up! They weren't actually socks, though. I put on a SmartWool sock, then a plastic shopping bag, then my thick socks. My toes were numb when I first went to bed on Friday, and I woke up a short time later with toasty feet. I guess I shouldn't sleep with them when I'm going to have wet boots all day - immersion foot comes when feet never dry out. I think I'm going to buy some real VB socks, though.

Lessons Learned:

  • Hammocking in cold temps is easy. Being prepared for a Sierra-style snowstorm in a hammock is not. Have a bail-out plan that won't blow away. :) (I've since bought a waterproof/breathable bivy as backup - the ID Salathe.)
  • Don't forget a CCF sit pad when snow camping...oops.
  • Don't bonk. Hiking out without breakfast isn't a big deal in warmer temps, but eating on the trail was harder this time. The lack of water made it even worse. In these conditions, it's not a good idea to hike out without eating and drinking first.
  • Keep everything packed up as much as possible at night. If the tent had blown away before we packed up, we would have lost lots of gear. A floored tent would obviously help, but things can go wrong in any shelter.
  • Don't get lazy. I had all of my pants on in the morning (shorts, thermals, fleece, rain pants), and didn't realize until we were leaving that I didn't have a dry pair in my pack. I got lazy and just hiked out without removing a pair, and they were all wet after an hour or so...leaving me w/o dry camp pants in case we had to hole up. No big deal this time b/c we didn't hole up, and not critical b/c my sleeping gear was dry and warm enough, but still not a smart move.
  • Don't split up. We had two groups hiking out, and it turned out our parking lots were only about 200 yards apart on a plowed street. Had we hiked the same route back, we would have had a skier and 6-7 snowshoers to break trail, instead of the three people our group had breaking trail. That would have made a big difference! We just thought that we should go ahead and leave since we were in separate lots anyway. Not the smartest.
  • We weren't efficient when we switched trail breakers. When we switched, we let the new leader walk around the old one (and anyone else in between) to take point. This meant he had to take an extra few steps in unbroken snow. The standard method is for the old leader to step aside so the new leader can walk to the front on the broken path. Our method meant we broke lots of extra trail during the trip...and when each step was a struggle that wasn't smart.

Other pics of this trip:

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