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[Yosemite]

Backpacking in Winter

Hiking, backpacking, running, biking, climbing, rafting, and other human-powered activities in Yosemite National Park

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Backpacking in Winter

Postby WanderingJim » Mon Oct 17, 2016 7:43 pm

So, this winter I'm planning on trying my hand at backpacking in winter.

I'll need a 4 season tent, of course. Some more equipment suited for colder weather.

In addition to something closer to civilization for a trial run earlier in the winter, the main goal would be to enjoy the Yosemite wilderness in the winter.

I've done snow shoeing to Dewy Point and various valley hikes, plus climbing up to Nevada Falls along the ice covered trail (with strap on ice crampons-I can't believe how many people I've seen try this trail in winter without anything other than shoes or regular boots). But this would be the first overnight wilderness camping in winter conditions.

My thought is to start from Badger Pass, snowshoe down to Glacier Point for the first night, then make my way to Taft Point and then Dewey Point. And finish by going down to the valley via the Pohono Trail (via Tunnel View).

Now, I know they groom the trail from Badger Pass to GP, so that's a no brainier. But they don't have winter trail markings along the Pohono trail, but is it doable (assuming good weather conditions)?

I know I could go back on the Glacier Point road trail and then take the Taft Point trail and then the Dewey point trail, but that's extra distance and a bit too 'normal' for my tastes. Hiking along the valley rim in the winter would seem more interesting (as long as I can see the edge and not go over it :) ).

I figure 3 nights would be likely duration. And I'd have the GP ski hut for emergencies and could abort back to Badger Pass if it gets too hard.


Thoughts on following the Pohono trail in the winter or are there any other routes people who've done Yosemite in winter would recommend?
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Oct 17, 2016 8:02 pm

You're confusing me here. You'll go to Glacier Point but you won't go to Dewey cause it's too far? The winter route to Dewey is only 3-4 miles. Going all the way to Glacier Point in a day requires skis, it's waaaaayyyyyy farther.

Grooming the trail means they create those nice tracks for cross country skiers. You're supposed to stay out of those with snowshoes, y'know. It's still walking in snow in snowshoes, which is lots more work than skiing.

You don't need a four season tent if you're going out for one night and only going if the weather is fair -- which is what I would expect a newbie to do. No, you probably can't just "abort to Badger Pass" if you're out two days travel.

You can only light a fire if it's a survival situation -- fires are banned in winter. You'll want to melt Snow for water. That'll take extra fuel. You need warmer sleeping gear, so add a foam pad to the 3 season air mattress, and get a 0 degree bag. A nice balaclava and multi layer clothing system that lets you layer up when you aren't moving, or if the temperature abruptly drops into the 20s during the day. You'll want some hot drinks and hot food, and some good fats to keep that internal fire burning all night while your breath freezes and falls down on the top of your sleeping bag like snow.

How you getting back to Badger from the valley if you go allllllll the way down there? That's a looooong hump on snowshoes. No shuttles or tour busses to take you back up there. A lot fewer tourists around in winter.

I typically cut daily miles in half with snowshoes on, and powder on the snowpack. You'll be slower and working harder. Look at a map and think about those miles some more. Most people who go to GP or the hut at Ostrander are on skis.

And, you don't even know if there will be snow, yet. You may be getting ahead of yourself.
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby WanderingJim » Mon Oct 17, 2016 8:44 pm

No, my concern is if I can go from glacier Point to Dewey point via the Pohono trail (which isn't one of the official winter trails up there).

Basically, the full hike would be Bus to Badger Pass > GP > Taft Point > Dewey Point > Tunnel View

The abort to Badger Pass option would be if I get too tired to go the whole distance, which is possible enough that I 'll shoot for Mars and settle for the Moon.

As for distances, I am aware that I might not make it to GP in one day so I always have the option of camping somewhere along the way. GP is 10.5 miles from Badger, which I have done in snowshoes before. Not with a full pack, of course.

3 nights would be the max time out there. GP would be the primary goal, Taft and Dewey would be icing on the cake. :) Tunnel View would be icing on my toes. :)

As for snow and weather... I'm 4 hours away form Yosemite, so I'm able to head up there on short notice.
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Oct 17, 2016 9:12 pm

If you can navigate without signs... I would want to be right on the trail though for the drop to Bridalveil Creek. It would be really quite dangerous going down from the north side anywhere other than the trail, unless you move some distance inland from the valley, and crossing the creek on the bridge would be necessary if there's water, which I believe there will be. That's a steep descent into that canyon. The rest of the Pohono is fairly straightforward. Other streams are step-across except in spring when runoff is in progress.
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby balzaccom » Mon Oct 17, 2016 9:50 pm

Excellent advice from AT, as always.

The other thing to keep in mind is that days are a lot shorter in the winter. You are probably going to be spending close to ten and maybe twelve hours in your tent each night. Be prepared for that, both with lighting and something to do. Staring at the inside of the tent is usually only entertaining for the first couple of hours...grin
Check out our website and blog at: http://sites.google.com/site/backpackthesierra/home
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby Phil » Tue Oct 18, 2016 8:29 am

If there's no snow that's more than couple/few inches in the forecast, a considerably less expensive 3-season tent without a lot of mesh, good geometry, and a few guylines will handle your needs.

I know you want to do the whole snowshoeing multi-day adventure, but even if travel is something you have skills in already, you still have to operate, and know how. For people that want a winter camping learning experience under somewhat controlled conditions where there's virtually no question of getting in trouble, I usually recommend a spot off Donner Summit along Hwy 40 up behind Donner Ski Ranch. You have access to a section of the PCT there, it's pretty, you can camp and make a fire, get the gist of things, and wander a bit without getting lost, in trouble, or into avalanche zones if you stay aware. You're also blocked in by civilization within very-fairly short distances, have full cell coverage and have multiple ski patrols close by, so if you become disoriented or have trouble, it doesn't become a life and death struggle that you can't get yourself out of within a few hours, at most.

For the extended tent time, I don't know what to say except bring a book or some cards.
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby WanderingJim » Tue Oct 18, 2016 8:20 pm

Thanks for all the info, guys.

I was just going to ask about a good test site, so thanks for that info Phil. Tahoe area was on my mind for that already. I've actually hiked that part of the PCT before, so it's not unknown territory to me.

Tent wise, my backpacking tent is a BIg Agnes Fly Creek UL, so it's VERY meshy. :) That's why I'm assuming I'll have to get a different one for the winter.
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Oct 18, 2016 8:44 pm

My winter tent is floorless, single wall, and weighs 2.5 lbs. The GoLite Shangri La 3 person tipi tent. Works great in snow. Perfect shape for shedding snow and wind, plenty of tie outs if you need them.

GoLite is dead, due to bankruptcy, but has been resurrected at My Trail - they have the renamed Shangri La here.
http://mytrailco.com/collections/tents? ... oCNErw_wcB
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby WanderingJim » Tue Dec 27, 2016 4:24 pm

Well, had my trial run for winter backpacking in Tahoe this weekend...

It was successful in the fact that I survived. :)

Weather was what I was looking for. A fresh layer of snow, but clear skies and no snow/rain in the forecast.

Just a wee bit colder than I'd like. Around 32 degrees F at the warmest in the daylight... probably under 0 degrees F overnight based on the current weather info and my little backpack thermometer that hovered around 0 to 10 degrees most of the night. While I was hoping for slightly warmer, it was a good test of my equipment and my body. :)

Sleeping bag with extra liner for warmth: Fail. Even wearing every layer I had (including an extra pair of pants and fleece shirt that I added at the last moment due to the cold weather forecast) it was still bitterly cold overnight. And the liner was hard to keep in place over my whole body. Will bite the bullet and buy a 0 degree bag before I do any more winter backpacking. I survived and still have all ten of my toes, but it wasn't very enjoyable overnight.

Tent was okay, but when the sides of the tent are icing over, it makes you want to rethink your decision to camp in the winter. Not sure if a proper 4 season tent would help that or not. My guess is the sleeping bag is the main thing that helps keep you warm and the tent is only to keep the elements outside, not really help keep you warm.

My new snow boots were good. Feet never got wet and they kept my feet warm the first day. Second day... not sure if it was due to the extended period of coldness that didn't allow my feet to get warm even in the boots or if they weren't as good as I thought, but I definitely was feeling the cold in my feet on the hike back. I may need better insulated socks... I was tempted to sleep with my boots on at one point. :)

Melting snow for water: Took longer that I thought it would and took more snow to get a couple cups of water than I thought. But it was a good test so I know what to expect in the future. Had plenty of gas for my stove, though. More than enough for a single night.

I did suck my camelbak hose dry so it wouldn't freeze overnight . (good plan!) But after making breakfast I didn't clear it out again and it was mostly frozen an hour later when I packed up and headed out. (oops) Had to stuff it inside my down jacket to allow it to warm up before I could drink for the hike back.

One big surprise is that it was so cold that I had trouble keeping my iPhone turned on. Had to keep it plugged into a charging battery once the temp started to go down in late afternoon. And even then it wasn't very reliable. Since I use that for GPS tracking and for part of my hike I was breaking a new trail through the fresh snow (most of the way from the PCT along the lake trail was fresh snow when I hiked up there Sunday morning), that could have been a problem if I was out far in the wilderness.

And you were right... the long 14 hour night was hard to pass the time in the tent. And I had no desire to pop out of the tent to stargaze due to the cold. Considering my iPhone was my planned entertainment for the long night, the problems I had keeping it running didn't help.

But I survived and saw a spectacular sunrise over Donner lake from where I decided to camp for the night near Flora lake, so wasn't all bad.

So a good test run, but I'll have to get a little more real winter gear before I'd consider a multiple night trip in Yosemite. Might try to fit the Glacier Point ski hut into my plans (assuming I can get a reservation) to see if I can do some tent camping on either side of a night at the ski hut to have some warmth in the middle. :)

Thanks for all the advice.

Sunrise pic: https://flic.kr/p/QqQwhF
Timelapse movie of the sunrise: https://flic.kr/p/QqQwhF
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby Phil » Tue Dec 27, 2016 5:09 pm

I'm glad that area worked out for you.

With i-phones, headlamps, or anything that takes batteries, especially lithium ions, cold weather performance is always a problem. It's one of those things that you have to keep in close to your body for the heat and only use sparingly before getting it back into a warmer place. For tent entertainment, a deck of cards or a book are the way to go. Electronic technology is never as reliable as dumbed-down gear. That's why map reading and compass navigation are the best way to go...imagine if you were lost and had to rely on your phone's GPS...yikes!

There is no substitute for a good ground pad system and a properly rated bag! Liners will never do it. In winter, bladders and tubing get weird, so I prefer to use Nalgenes in OR insulated parkas or in the inside drop pockets of my jacket. And speaking of Nalgenes, they also double nicely as hot water bottles for your bag's footbox or within your core layers, and then they're also not frozen in the morning so you can use them for breakfast and the trail. Same with clothing...into the bag at night.

Unless you have a lot of snow accumulation, a good 3-season tent is usually fine. 4-season tents are generally just heavier single-walls with taped seams and stouter pole systems with better geometry. For sagging and distortion from hoarfrost and wind, if you guy out a 3-season correctly, along with being a lot lighter in most cases, most nights aren't going to pose any problems whatsoever.

You can go all over the place with boots, but good boots (Gore-tex optional, but sealed), obviously, and with at least one set of expedition weight REI Merino wool socks and a set of neoprene kayak socks over them has been my fallback, no blisters, always dry, always warm system, forever.
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby WanderingJim » Sat Mar 11, 2017 10:36 pm

Well, figured I'd give you all a little report after I attempted my Yosemite winter backpacking trip to Glacier Point...

My first attempt was the last weekend in January after that HUGE storm. The weather report for the next 5-6 days was nice, clear, and maybe a bit chilly. :) I even managed to snag a reservation at the Glacier Point Ski Hut for Friday! So one night in the way to GP, one night at GP, and one night for the hike back. Simple! :)
Heading into Yosemite, the Badger Pass road was still listed as closed and the ranger at the entrance station said it was closed. Once I got into the valley I checked and they just opened it and were sending the shuttle buses up. Away I went!
Had to use my tire chains, but I made it. Got my wilderness permit and then checked in at the nordic center for the GP ski hut.
Horror!! The ski hut wouldn’t be open that weekend because the storm caused some electrical problems and the fire suppression system was not working.
I decided to go for it anyway. Kind of wished I’d decided to go to Dewey instead, but I really did want to see the views from Clarks Range View to Glacier Point in the winter.
Got about 6-7 miles in before I decided I had to find a place to camp. Unfortunately, I was on the steep part that overlooked Clark Range, so not very many open areas to camp. Since I left late from Badger Pass due to the problems with the ski hut causing me to think about my options at that point, it was about 4pm when I found a spot that would probably work. Way to close to the road (5-10 feet only), but I didn’t have much choice at that point.
Of course, sunset and sunrise over the Clark Range was beautiful and spectacular!!
That’s were the enjoyment ended.
Had a leaky air mattress that I had to keep reinflating all night (which led to not getting much sleep and it being colder beneath me than it should have been).
My new -20 degree bag did keep me pretty toasty though, so at least I didn’t feel like I was likely to freeze to death like I did in my Tahoe test trip.
And one of my tent poles broke when I was taking down my tent in the morning. I had an emergency splint, but that and the air mattress, plus a ill placed tarp under my tent which caused water to pool under the tent all night (learned my lesson on that…never again) led me to decide one night was good enough.
I made the trudge back to Badger Pass and called it a weekend two days early.
If I could have stayed at the GP ski hut I would have pushed for it, but with my gear not cooperating, I couldn’t push myself to continue (since I expected it to be two days to go to GP and two days back).

Got the air mattress fixed at home (it’s hard to patch them in the field since I had to put it in my bathtub to find the leaks :) ) and had an extra one, so planned to bring both for my next attempt. I’m a glutton for punishment.

But to try again I had to wait for the weekend weather to be good and find a good time to take a couple more days off work… Finally, everything aligned last weekend. Sunday looked a little iffy, but the weekend after that (this weekend) was showing more rain and snow for most of it (which didn’t materialize, unfortunately).
No luck getting a reservation at the GP ski hut, but I got myself on the waiting list just in case.
Deciding I could just do the hike with just camping (despite my prior problems), I set off from badger Pass again. Road was much better, so didn’t even need chains and I got up early, so was on the trail by 9am (as opposed to 11am in my first attempt).
Now the first part of the trail is a bit dull (especially since it was my second time through it in a month’s time), but once I reached the view of the Clark Range, it was again spectacular (it’s nice taking in this view at a leisurely pace… usually I just end up driving by it). Made it to my camping spot from my first attempt around 1pm, so I kept going. Made it about a mile further before I started getting some flat area around the trail and finally found a semi open area to camp in. Bonus points since it had a direct view of the Clark Range!

This time, I had a small tarp to use in front of the tent, but avoided putting it under the tent this time.
Air mattress worked fine and I didn’t even need the new one.

Sunset and sunrise were once again spectacular!

So, with a better night’s sleep under my belt and no gear problems, I continued towards Glacier Point. The ranger had suggested checking out Sentinel Dome area and there were some nice tracks to it along the fire road, so I went up and found a fantastic camping spot looking to the east with a spectacular view of Half Dome and all the surrounding peaks and valleys.
Someone had even already camped there and packed down the snow pretty well so I didn’t even have to do any of that myself this time.
At this point I had cell phone coverage, so I called the Nordic center to see if there happened to have been a cancellation… nope.
So I set up my tent and thanked mother nature for the view.
Then my phone rang and the Nordic center said there had just been a cancellation. Pretty much right after I had set up my tent and settled in.
Figures. :)
Now, the weather Sunday was looking to be much worse than it initially seemed before I headed to Yosemite (and it was a doozy in retrospect), so I really didn’t want to be out camping Saturday night. Without the bad weather coming I was thinking could goto the GP ski hut Friday night, then return to camp near Sentinel Dome Saturday night (could have even left my tent setup there if I tied it down better). So I decided to stay at my glorious camp overlooking Half Dome.
But it was still only about noon at that point and I did want to see Glacier Point in the winter, so with only the minimal gear I needed (and a few things I’d want if I changed my mind and stayed at the ski hut after all :) ) I made my way down to glacier point. Spectacular in winter!
Pretty much had the whole area to myself for an hour or so before some skiers showed up. Did look into the ski hut (the shop/grill building) and salivated having heat, a bed, and a leather couch to enjoy, but with the bad weather for Sunday coming and figuring starting from GP in the morning would add 1-2 hours to my return time, I decided to head back to my camp near Sentinel Dome.
Spectacular sunset and sunrise!!! The light over Half Dome changed about 3-4 times in various hues and intensities during sunset. Including a dark orange that almost spotlighted only Half Dome.
No problems that night.

Since I had mostly a downhill hike from my camp near Sentinel Dome back to Badger Pass, I actually ended up making it back in only 6 hours (which is what I took during my first aborted attempt from my camp 4 miles closer). I was very surprised at how fast I made it and I sort of wished I had taken a little more time out that way to see Taft Point or just more sightseeing in general.

But the forecasted storm pushed me to try to make sure to make it back to Badger Pass that day. The fact that the day was pretty beautiful with only a few more clouds than the last day didn’t really make it seem like there was a storm coming, so I was tempted to say out longer. But there was a pretty strong wind blowing that day and I started to get the idea that mother nature wasn’t going to let me stay out there. :)

And of course it was a very strong storm, so in retrospect I made a good decision. Even sitting it out in the GP ski hut Saturday night and Sunday probably wouldn’t have been a good idea. I did cross my mind that there would have been cancellations with the storm coming and considered doing that, but it may have taken until Monday to be able to go back to Badger Pass so I chose the safer choice.

I should have just taken the extra day off work and started Wednesday, but at the time I didn’t like the look of the long term forecast for this weekend (that now looks very nice) and Sunday didn’t look that bad at that time.

So not perfect, but a very enjoyable trek anyway.

Will try some more winter camping next year.

My idea to follow the Pohono Trail or even take the Panoramic trial down the valley turned out to be impossible (especially this year with the huge amount of snow we’ve had). Panoramic hadn’t even one set of tracks in it and I’m sure Pohono would have been VERY hard and I didn’t see many tracks headed that way from Glacier Point.

So survived my first 3 winter backpack camping experiences and learned a good deal from them.


Of course, took a lot of pictures.


All the highlights on my successful three day hike here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskSc6Rqd

ALL of the rest of the pictures here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskTf7ypj

And my first single night attempt here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskQkqgTo
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby MadDiver » Mon Mar 13, 2017 5:44 am

Really nice pics. I especially like the shots down onto Nevada and Vernal Falls. Very nice campsite, I don't think one could ask for more!
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby Phil » Mon Mar 13, 2017 9:44 am

Beautiful shots, Jim. I'm really partial to your pics of Cloud's Rest. You must have had some amazing lenses, and your study of light was incredible. Ansel Adams would be jealous.

You should be really proud of yourself for sticking to your ambitions and even more so, going it solo.

Well done!
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Re: Backpacking in Winter

Postby WanderingJim » Mon Mar 13, 2017 1:31 pm

Phil wrote:Beautiful shots, Jim. I'm really partial to your pics of Cloud's Rest. You must have had some amazing lenses, and your study of light was incredible. Ansel Adams would be jealous.


Actually, it's just a Sony HX90V and a few pictures from my iPhone 7 (the iPhone does better panoramas than the Sony). Nothing special.

And I give most of the credit for the photos and colors to Mother Nature. :)
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