Snow Basics Days Two and Three

Blue skies on Saturday

We woke to the sounds of wind blowing and batted at the sides of our tent to release snow. Unfortunately that action also released drops of condensation that went spattering all over our sleeping bags and faces. Our feet had been a little cold during the night, and we eventually realized that it was because we had neglected to completely zip up the entrance between our tent and our vestibule. A mild, very light sprinkling of snow that had blown in from our vestibule lay at our feet.

Still a stiff wind blowing

As I hustled out to do my morning ablutions, it didn’t seem that much snow had fallen overnight. Our tracks were still visible and the snow still fairly hard-packed. A fierce wind was still blowing snow sprays off Echo Lake, though, and I hastened back to our tent where DD had thankfully fired up the stove and was starting our coffee and breakfast.

DD heating water for coffee and breakfast

For the record, Mountain House Breakfast Skillet makes for a very tasty, hot and hearty breakfast.

Happy that we survived the night

The sun was shining brightly as we slowly emerged from our tents. Unfortunately the wind was still too strong for us to attempt a trek across Echo Lake. Instead, we would pile into Ned’s tent and have a lesson on topographical navigation using Halfmile’s coloured PCT maps.

Inside Ned's Tent for a Topo Navigation lesson

Ned taught us how to read the various marks on the map in order to identify area landmarks, or gauge the steepness of an incline. He indicated that in snow, we were free from the tyranny of following the exact trail, and instead might choose to walk on frozen water – across the expanse of Echo Lake, for instance. I wished we could have done that this time.

The sun beat down on the tent, and the cumulative heat from 8 bodies contributed to somewhat toasty conditions. When we returned to our shelter, we found that the warmth had helped some of our damp items dry quite nicely.

In the afternoon, based on reports that the weather would turn worse, Ned decided to do our self-arrest training rather than wait until Sunday. That turned out to be a very a good call.

Ned breaking in some steps

Ned first broke in some steps up a slope for us, and instructed us to glissade down to make our self arrest paths.

Creating our slope

That was a heck of a lot of fun.

Self-Arrest Training

Eventually Ned taught us how to hold our respective tools – everyone had an ice axe except me – I had rented a Whippet from Ned.  A Whippet can double as your hiking pole, and has the added benefit of being at the ready should an accidental fall on snow occur.

The top of the axe needs to grasped with 2 hands – one near one’s shoulder, either right or left; the other towards the bottom of the tool but not lower than one’s waist diagonally opposite from the higher hand. And when you’re falling down a slope, you always turn towards the tip of your axe and attempt to quickly bury it into the snow.

Upside-down glissade!

That, too, was fun – but perhaps not quite as fun as practicing upside down!

We wrapped up as the snow began to fall harder. With all that sliding and tumbling about in the snow, I daresay we were all more than a bit wet, and we needed to get into our shelters and put on dry things as quickly as we could.

And that was it for the evening. DD left to get water at some point for us and informed me that he had nearly fallen in. We thankfully had extra clothing to put on that was dry, and as well as extra socks. The snow booties Ned had urged us to bring (“for walking around camp”) definitely came in handy for keeping my feet warm inside the tent.

We actually had cell signal at camp, and that helped assuage some of the boredom of the long hours in our tent. Dinner was Mountain House Pasta Primavera (pasta with veggies! …to which we added slices of salami); and Chicken and Herbed Mashed Potatoes. Despite the fact that we hadn’t done much on Friday and Saturday, we still managed to finish it all. Afterwards we both read a little before once more, falling asleep around close to 8pm.

We both woke at sporadic instances through the night to whack snow away from the tent. At around one DD mumbled that he thought that the rear vestibule by our heads that was currently sheltering our empty backpacks, had come loose and snow was likely burying our packs. “Could you go out and look, please?” he mumbled. I grudgingly complied. He had, after all, done most of the shoveling over the last couple of days.

I slowly pulled ski pants over my thermal leggings, shrugged on my parka, and jammed my down cap on my bird’s nest of hair. As I unzipped the vestibule opening, a whole lot of snow tumbled into the footwell and a flurry-filled wind smacked me in the face. I stepped out and immediately postholed — a lot of snow had accumulated in just those few hours. I trudged to the back of the tent and checked. Nothing had come undone, but there was definitely a lot of snow pressing in on the tops and sides of my tent. I did my best whack it off the roof, and shovel it away from the tent. The snow, oblivious to my attempts, fell steadily and consistently. I shoveled until I felt uncomfortably warm and my glasses fogged up.  Eventually, I called it quits and headed back inside.

Buried! Sunday morning...

In the morning, it was as if the last night’s efforts were for naught. Our tent was nearly buried again and once more we had to dig.

Ned, Beth's and Bob's tents

Our camp-mates had risen around 6, in the dark (it was daylight savings Spring Forward that night), and had managed to dig around their tents.

Charles' tent before and after

However, 3 hours later, they were close to being buried again.

Snowy Sunday

And the snow kept falling, and the wind blowing.

Breaking down camp

The mission for that morning: eat breakfast, pack up, and head out. We shoveled out our tents as fast as we could, needing to resort to ice axes to dig out the deadman stakes out from under 2 feet of snow, at least a foot of it icy and packed.

And finally we were nearly ready to go. Overnight over a foot of the white stuff had fallen around us, and our former paths were obscured and there would be lots of postholing as we made our way back to the parking lot. Ned instructed that we ought to take turns breaking trail, marching in single file. The leader of the pack would need to switch out every 100 steps or so.

Karley, trailbreaker extraordinaire!

Karley was full of energy that morning, and was ok with going longer at the head of the line.

It was crazy to see how much the snow obscured. We put some of Ned’s lessons into action as we tried to use landmarks to retrace our steps from Friday. And, snowshoeing in fresh, deep, powdery snow, with packs on our backs was difficult. Even following a little behind the lead was difficult. I was glad to have done it. I definitely want to snowshoe more in the future.

Woohoo! We made it!

Finally, we reached the parking lot, after the most difficult one mile each of us had ever hiked. The lot, and our cars, definitely did not look like how we had left them on Friday. Our next challenge was digging out our respective vehicles and putting on tire chains (also tiring and difficult). Ned, with his trim jeep with ample clearance and large snow tires, did a few back-and-forths in front of us, packing down the snow so we could roll out. Later he stopped to help dig out a large SUV that was blocking our way back to the freeway. He then went to each car in turn, saying goodbye. He was definitely a caring, thoughtful, and patient leader with an amazing amount of experience.

Line of cars on the 50.

Thankfully, though it was still snowing heavily the Tahoe plows were out in force and the 50 was fairly clear. We jumped into the line of slowly-moving cars and headed home.

Happy to be heading home.

Relieved and happy that we didn’t have to spend an extra night in the parking lot, though Ned had warned us to bring extra food. We couldn’t wait to get home to our puppy and a hot shower.

A required stop in Placerville

Snow turned to rain as we descended in elevation. Once out of the chain-required area we stopped to get gas and change into dry things. And further south we stopped in Placerville to have a requisite road trip meal.

Other items of note

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
  • Nuts! And DD is definitely lucky to have you as I don’t know if I would’ve ever left my warm tent to dig in the middle of the morn 🙂
    Glad you two are home safe, and count me in for snowshoeing sometime.

    • Can we snowshoe where you guys are in Philly? 🙂

  • Justin’s Dad here… Awesome adventure, I took Ned’s course in April 2014 just prior to my PCT thru-hike. We hiked across Echo Lake and beyond to our campsite, but unlike you we didn’t have a blizzard. If anything the lake was beginning to thaw and we had to be careful not to break through. I even got a sun burn on my face and lips – ouch! I found everything Ned taught us to be quite useful, and helpful in reducing my fear of what was to follow when I got to the Sierra Nevada Mountains about seven days after a late season snow storm with new snow on the north of all the major passes. As you said Ned is a patient teacher and I enjoyed those moment when he’d stop the group and use his pole to draw in the snow describing some point he telling us.

    • Hi Brian! It was your snow basics training course that inspired ours! So, thank you! We definitely had two very different experiences! While I’m glad we got to experience the storm, I do wish we could have been a little more active, though. I had never snowshoed before and am eager to go try again. Here’s to another rainy/ snowy winter for 2017!