Saturday 9 February 2013

Is that a snowmobile track on the roof?

A year later, and it was time to return to Tahoe for a very similar trip (ski heavenly, stay at Harrah's), but with much better snow conditions than last year. Unfortunately the Sky Express was closed due to wind, so I worked on improving my mogul skiing on Little Dipper and in Aries Woods off the Comet express. I got a lot better at riding bumps and dodging trees by the end of the day.

Nevada desert on the right

It was pretty cold in the wind, and some heavy snow dropped visibility to basically zero, so I was grateful for the bank-robber-style facemask and chemical handwarmers that helped me keep skiing until the lifts closed around 4pm.

On the second day I jumped on a snowmobile for a 2 hour tour in Hope valley with Lake Tahoe Adventures.  It was heaps of fun.  We were kitted out in super-warm 80s fluro onesies, thick boots and helmets, and rode an Arctic Cat sled each.  Really easy to operate, just turn the key and squeeze the throttle.  We covered about 30 miles of snow covered roads and trails through some great Sierra scenery.  Our top speed was around 35 mph (56 kph), but most of the time we were going probably half that speed.  No crazy jumps, steep descents, or forays into the powder for us beginners :)

Hopping on our sleds, they had heaps available, no man-hugging necessary

These buildings and surrounds apparently featured in Stephen King's movie 'Misery'.  Note the sled track on the roof (it wasn't us).  According to our guide, every major car manufacturer in the world has visited to shoot 4WD scenes in this area at various stages.

I have to admit to feeling sorry for the lone snowshoe hiker we encountered, who then had 30 noisy snow mobiles blast past them.  I've been on the other end of that equation.  If there was a super-silent snow mobile it would be the perfect way to explore alpine backcountry.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Glacier Point: Yosemite in Winter

A friend from Australia mentioned he was interested in doing some snow hiking in Yosemite, and I soon talked him into doing the ski trip I'd been eyeing off for a while: Badger Pass to Glacier Point, inspired by this blog post.

We did some quick planning, bought food, and hired first a 4WD, then XC skis, boots, and poles at Sports Basement in Sunnyvale on Friday night.  This was super-slow and they had little choice of gear, but at least it meant we were ready to go the next day.  A 4:30AM start got us to Badger Pass at around 10:30AM with breakfast and last-minute food shopping (sandwiches for lunch) in Mariposa on the way.  The 4WD was necessary to fit the skis inside, but we didn't need it for the road: it was ploughed and there were plenty of 2WDs in the Badger Pass carpark.

While in the backcountry office at Badger Pass there was a nervous moment when the ranger asked if we'd thought about food storage, because we'd read that a bear barrel was required in Yosemite year-round...and we didn't have one.  But apparently bear hangs are fine from December to March in the backcountry, and we were ready for that.  We asked the ranger if he'd seen any bears and he said 'tracks but no scat'.

Armed with a backcountry permit we set off around 11AM, and made sure we fell over immediately after we put on our skis.  Getting the balance right with a full overnight pack was a little tricky, but we got the hang of it soon enough.  The road was groomed and fairly icy in parts so it wasn't the softest landing surface.

Trailhead at Badger Pass
There were plenty of day trippers skiing along the road, some going as far as Glacier Point and back in a day - much better skiers than us.  There are also a bunch of other ski and snowshoe trails off the Glacier Point road.

It's 10.5 miles (16.9 km) one-way along the Glacier Point road.  The terrain is fairly flat, tending towards downhill for the first few km, before starting a long sustained climb up to shortly before Glacier Point, when it turns to a steep series of downhill switchbacks, leaving you at basically the same altitude that you started with.

There is a cosy hut that you can pay to stay in, that includes dinner and even sleeping bags if you want them, but we were tough and carried all our gear for snow camping.  Not that we had the option to stay in the hut, Saturday nights were booked out months in advance (some people we spoke to booked in November) and I was probably never going to be that organised :)  It looked like there were bunk beds for about 10 people.

Lunch at Clark View
Icicles at Clark View
Typical view of the trail

Beginning the steep-ish descent to Glacier Point

Fantastic view from Washburn Point. Half Dome looking a lot more slopey than it does from the valley floor.
View from Washburn Point.  From left: North Dome, Basket Dome, Half Dome,  Mount Broderick, Liberty Cap, Vernal and Nevada Falls
An even more fantastic view from Glacier Point.  Clouds Rest visible just to the left of Half Dome.

The hut at Glacier Point
We got to Glacier Point around 3:30PM and spent a long time marvelling at the view.  You could easily hear Vernal and Nevada falls hitting rocks hundreds of metres lower and across the valley.  We walked the requisite few hundred metres away from the hut and set up camp on the western side of the hut, sheltered from the wind, and in great position for a sunset view.

Our snow camp at sunset
Saturday had been fairly overcast, but not particularly cold.  Overnight temperature was just below freezing, and we were toasty in our tent.  The next day was quite warm, and we skied in T-shirts for most of the day.

View from Glacier point the next morning in brilliant sunshine, the shadow of Half Dome hitting North Dome

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls from Glacier Point
The climb up from Glacier Point was hard work, we ended up taking our skis off and walking, which enabled us to slightly beat the people who skied up.  After that we had a great downhill run past Clark View and gradual uphill for most of the rest of the way.  It took us almost an identical amount of time to ski back to Badger Pass.

Badger Pass ski area carpark