Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Trip Report: Winterfest 2009 Yosemite Snowcamp

El Capitan (middle-left) and Cathedral Rocks (foreground) in the pink glow of sunset with storm clouds in the distance.

I've been a member of the Yahoo! online group "NorthCA_Hiking · NCH" for a few years now and had yet to go on a trip with them. When one of the members posted a snowcamping trip for New Year's—Winterfest 2009—I decided it was time I stop lurking and actually participate. Winterfest has been a yearly tradition with NCH and normally happens at Lassen, but this year we would be camping near Dewey Point in Yosemite National Park.

Snowcamp Stats:
  • Dates: December 31, 2008 – January 2, 2009
  • Location: CA, Yosemite National Park, Dewey Point
  • Mileage: ~7 mi round trip
  • Elevation: +/-725' round trip; lo pt 7,246'; hi pt 7,388'
  • Trailhead: Badger Pass Ski Area
  • TH Lat/Long.: 37.66466904, -119.6633224
  • TH Facilities: Restrooms, water, phone, trash, snack bar, and ranger station
  • Winter Trail: Dewey Point via Meadows #18
  • Route Type: Out and back
  • Trail Terrain: Marked well-traveled snowshoe and cross country ski route; groomed road to meadows, flat through meadows and then rolling hills.
  • Camp: Southeast of Dewey Point; wilderness permit required.
  • Why go?: Amazing views from Dewey Point including El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, and the Yosemite High Country; Beautiful sunset and sunrise light at the point without the considerable dayhiker crowds that show up midday.
  • Official Website: NPS.gov Yosemite Winter Sports
  • View my photo album.
Me setting up my tent (notice the manzanita poking out of the snow in the foreground). Photo credit: © Maria E. Lopez 2009.

No Trench This Time

We got a little bit of a late start, leaving the trailhead after noon, but the weather was clear and sunny and the going was easy. The campsite we picked was basically the same campsite I stayed at last year on my Dewey Point snowcamping trip with the Sierra Club. In fact, my tent was a few feet away from the location of where I dug my trench last year.

I didn't dig a trench (a.k.a. snow-coffin) this time for a few reasons:

  1. The snow pack isn't very deep yet.
  2. Trenches can be a lot of work (the way I do things anyway).
  3. There are a lot of manzanita bushes in this spot and last year I had to re-dig my trench because I ran into one right in the middle of it.

In hindsight, there were a couple more good reasons: Because the weather was so warm (for snowcamping that is), the trench would have been colder than my tent (it was in the 40s in my tent New Year's Eve and the following night). A trench would have been the temperature of the snow (i.e. 32ish), which is good when it is 15 degrees out but not when the temps are about or higher than 32. Also there was little-to-no wind, so the wind benefits of a trench over a 3-season tent were not needed either. And finally, because it was so warm (the storm that blew in overnight rained on us Friday morning), rainwater could've seeped around and through my old tarp and dripped on me. However, my 3-season REI Half Dome rainfly is seam-sealed and water tight.

In the snow kitchen, New Year's Day morning, 2009.

Partypooper Stove = Partypooper Rebecca

This was the first trip for my new MSR Whisperlite Stove. I had practiced using it in my kitchen, but this would be the first field test. Luckily there were several other campers there that knew how to use a whisperlite as I had quickly forgotten what the heck I was supposed to do with the little arm that hooks into the pump. I also did not construct a proper insulated pad for my stove to sit on, so I had a little bit of a sinking problem.

However, I did do one thing right and take my stove down to my dad prior to this trip to fix the pot slippage I experienced on my kitchen test run. He cut little X's on the pot supports with his dremel tool which worked brilliantly at keeping my pot from slipping off of my crookedly-sinking-into-the-snow stove.

About midway through making dinner and melting water, my stove pump inexplicably decided that it didn't want to hold pressure any longer, which meant my flame was down to a flicker and dying fast. I had enough heat to finish melting enough snow for my next-day's water needs, but not enough to boil fluid for a hot brandy and cider New Year's Eve beverage, making me a little cranky and concerned about what I would do for the rest of the trip if my new stove continued its bad behavior. Add to this my very cold and wet toes, I decided it was time to retire and crawl into my sleeping bag at about 7:30 p.m.

My MSR Whisperlite test run in the kitchen.

Hotty New Year!

I woke up in the night too hot, looked at my watch, and it was midnight! How's that for a snowcamping happy new year? I checked my little thermometer and it was mid-forties in my tent making my zero-degree sleeping bag a little hot, and falling back to sleep a little tricky. But I'm not complaining, any night spent too hot in the snow is a good night.

The morning was sunny, bright and lazy. After a short morning walk to greet the sunrise at Dewey Point, I decided to give my stove the ol' college try and it decided to work like a charm. My New Year's Day Pecan Cranberry Pancakes with Maple Syrup and Bacon breakfast was the envy of the group and my hot cocoa was just that: hot.

Self-portrait. New Year's Day morning at Dewey Point.

The rest of New Year's Day would also be pleasant and relaxing. Some of the group wanted to go skiing and some were talking about snowshoeing to Stanford Point. I was still being lazy and decided I wanted an easy slow day. I would go on a little solo snowshoe to Dewey and Crocker Points and practice my navigation skills along the way. Turns out most of the group would only do Dewey and Crocker Points as well.

Self-portrait. New Year's Day Crocker Point.

A Change in the Weather

Fireman Mike brought his radio, which not only could he use — as Sarah pointed out — to call some YoSAR guys to "rescue" one of us <wink-wink>, but also receives the NOAA weather report. It forecast some rain coming in Friday morning turning into snow in the afternoon and temperatures to drop considerably Friday night and Saturday morning.

Sure enough, at 4:30 in the morning I heard the pitter patter of rain drops. I put my boots and shell on and jumped out to gather my stove. I didn't want it to freeze after getting wet in case the temperature dropped considerably. The rain would come and go throughout the morning. I crawled out of my tent at about 8:00 and the consensus was to pack up and go rather than stay one more night. Packing wet gear is one thing, packing frozen solid ice cube gear is another.

The hike out was misty at times. At others the sun looked like it might poke out of the clouds just briefly, but to the west and north the sky was darker and meaner and the snow would start on our drive home.


Self-portrait. Mist and rain on the hike out Friday morning.

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