After a two hour flight delay, my flight left San Diego for Reno, and I scored a brand-spanking new RAV4 rental car. Fortunately (for me) it was really warm, so there wasn't any snow or ice on the 60 miles to South Lake Tahoe, and I got to the friendly Motel 6 around 1am.
We met up with Ned and my other four classmates around 9:30, and were on our way, stopping briefly at the Lake of the Woods outfitters so I could get 100g of JetBoil stove fuel that I couldn't carry on the plane.
I did a not-so-quick repack at the Carson Pass trailhead--I had rented a spiffy 3 man, four season tent, and between that and the snow shovel and the ice ax and the foam sleeping pad (I will be sleeping on snow tonight), I just had no idea how it should all be arranged. And my pack is brand new, I ditched my 1988 era North Face Inca Trail pack, with its disintegrating foam padding, for something three pounds lighter, a ULA Catalyst.
Yes, this is a shakedown cruise--it's not just snow camping basics class, it's "see what works and what doesn't for the PCT." Already I've decided I definitely don't need some things, so this is good.
The conditions this late January weekend should be (oddly) roughly equivalent to the spring conditions I'll encounter in May heading north from Kennedy Meadows, so that's also good. The weather forecast says highs in the 40's, lows around 25, with wind and partly sunny to mostly cloudy. Great!
We put on snowshoes and were on our way--except for a little piece of advice from Ned on crampons. He didn't care much for the microspikes--they don't catch sideways traverses along slopes, because they don't have sides. Try and find some actual crampons with side spikes, and with toe spikes that go down, not out. The toe spikes will be good for going uphills and digging in.
We followed the PCT south, making our own path (along with cross country skiiers and a few other snowshoers) and Ned pointed out some things about how to use snowshoes, what trees grew in the area, how to spot dangerous humps of snow and avoid them, and other goodies. We weren't going far, but it was good.
After a couple of miles, though, my 40 pound pack (that damn 3 man tent!) weighed on me, and some weird undiscovered glute muscles started demanding I slow down. I was also getting real tired of tripping--I'd trap my right snowshoe under the back of my left snowshoe. I had to remember to concentrate to walk with toes pointed straight ahead with snowshoes, and not devolve into my typical goofy left-footed stride.
The weather also got a bit more windy, so we took a lower route and then made it to the outlet of Winnemucca Lake, where we setup camp on the snow. I learned that yes, you can secure a tent in the snow with stakes--by the odd "dead man" anchor technique (dig a trench, bury the stake horizontally, pack snow on top. The stake will freeze with the snow and secure you.)
The blowing tiny ice crystals and wind chilled and annoyed us, so we retreated into our own individual tents for dinner. I cooked up a tasty Backpacker's Pantry Santa Fe Rice WIth Chicken (201g dry weight, 760 calories), which took about 25 minutes to rehydrate, giving me ample time to write this blog post. It's spicy and filling and hot.
As far as gear and clothing goes, I'm pretty pleased. Boots (Sorel Paxton) and socks (Darn Tough ski socks) kept me mostly warm, I'd add another pair of socks. Legs were toasty with REI silk base layer, REI fleece leggings, and Mammut Trelinka (?) snow pants, no complaints at all. Torso was covered with REI silk top, REI midweight base layer, Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer jacket, and North Face Mountain Light parka. Warm there too! Hat was this odd fleece hat from Kathmandu in Sydney ages ago, sunglasses were Julbo Dolgan Spectron4, which were a bit too dark for the dark clouds scooting by; we were almost never in the sun. Gloves were just adaquate--not super-warm, but not chilly--they were REI Gauntlet.
A good and interesting day, one of the days where there's definite "clarity of purpose". Even though today was just a learn-some-stuff and see-how-your-gear-works, there really wasn't much time for idle thought or outside distraction.
And now, time for bed!