Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Yosemite Trip Report: 2-night Snowshoe Badger -> Dewey -> Ostrander -> Badger

Not satisfied with the fantastic but easy overnight snowshoe to Dewey Point in Yosemite, we made it the first leg of a fairly ambitious triangle hike: Badger Pass -> Dewey Point -> Ostrander Lake -> Badger Pass.

Once we got back to busy Glacier Point Rd we picked up the pace since it was already 12:30 and we had only done the 3.4mi/5.6km from Dewey Point of our planned 12.5mi/20.1km day to Ostrander.  Since we were short on time we opted for spending the most time on the road, which meant taking Horizon Ridge to Ostrander.  When walking along the road we overtook almost every skiier on the road, although to be fair most of them were beginners :)

Glacier Point Rd: a terrible snow year.  Our XC ski instructor from yesterday said it's the worst he's seen in 40 years.

Here we go: the climbing begins
The skies of Yosemite are cris-crossed with plane vapour trails.  Looks like the passengers on this plane had a somewhat bumpy ride...

Mount Starr King from Horizon Ridge
The early sections of the trail had really patchy snow, so much so that we were amazed to find ski tracks in it.  We left our boot chains on for quite a while and only switched to snow shoes when the real ridge climbing began.  In a good snow year doing this route on skis with climbing skins would be far easier than on snowshoes, but with these conditions we were at less of a disadvantage.



Great view! More climbing...

Oh god, we have to go down then climb up again

Still climbing

Hooray!  Ostrander hut! Made it in the daylight :)

Climbing in snowshoes through soft snow at around 8000ft/2.4km altitude for about 4.3mi/7km (on top of the easier distance from Dewey and along the road) with a full overnight pack was pretty damn tough.  Each step I sank about 5-20cm, and towards the end I was pausing for breath about every 30 steps.  My hip flexors were sore from hauling the snow shoes and I had some heel blisters from the extra heel-drag of the shoes.  The 12.5mi/20.1km took us 7:15.

We walked into the hut and were greeted by everyone inside: high fives and smiles all around :)  We threw up the tent right near the hut and rushed out with everyone else to cross the frozen Ostrander Lake and get a sunset view.

The first time I've walked across a frozen lake of any significant size

Sunset view from the ridge

Ostrander sunset crew.  Quite a contrast from our solitary viewing at Dewey the night before.  Lots of laughing, handstands and a platypus bladder of bourbon being passed around.

Bragging rights: extravagant dinner menus pinned to the wall in the kitchen

Top floor sleeping quarters: taken by 8 of the hut manager's family while we were there (I guess there needs to be some perks of being responsible for a busy remote toilet).

Ingenious heat exchanger and convection powered fans on top of the wood stove.

Lots more skis than snow shoes.  Ostrander is basically an alpine touring ski resort: the ridges surrounding the hut are all covered in beautiful linked turn tracks.

Frozen Ostrander lake (and ice fishing hole).  We were soon tasked to get water for the hut by breaking the ice on top of the hole, filling two giant buckets, and hauling them back up to the hut.
Ostrander hut is an amazing place.  There was a great sense of community amongst the strangers who had all made the long trip to get there.  We stayed up late drinking, talking, playing guitar and singing songs.  There was a group of Russians that included a great musician who had brought a travel guitar and a bunch of tin flutes.  Another guy had brought a big fat chord songbook. I played the travel guitar and the full-size guitar, which I assume lives at the hut.  Great times were had.  Having said that, when it was time for bed I was very glad we could escape the noise and the snoring by retiring to our cozy tent.

Dinner time

Revelry continues
The next day we had a 9.7mi/15.6km return hike via the Merced Crest trail.  Amazingly we were the first people to walk this trail all winter.  The rangers had it listed as "unbroken" and asked us to take note of snow conditions and lodge a report when we got back.  I think the reason this trail isn't taken often is due to the climbing at the Badger Pass end: you basically end up at the very top of the Badger Pass ski run, whereas the other trails are mostly flat after the initial descent from Ostrander and join up at the road or the carpark.

It begins
Probably the most challenging part of the whole Merced Crest trail was in the first kilometer or two when we traversed across a super steep (think black diamond ski run) boulder field, where putting a shoe down into a deep crack between rocks was a real risk.  My walking buddy was also carrying a knee injury, so this steep high-on-the-left terrain was just about the worst possible walking conditions for him.

Horrible boulder-field traverse

Bear tracks.  We encountered bear tracks on three very different sections of the trail: i.e. at least 3 bears out and about.  
This was a great little story told in snow tracks.  A small rabbit (or similar) was running for its life from what appears to be a cat (I guess either a bobcat or a mountain lion).  The rabbit tracks disappeared into a small hole in the snow, and the cat gave up and wandered away.  Score 1 for the rabbit.

More great views of Mount Starr King on the way down.  The section between the boulder field and the creek would have been amazing on skis.  Untracked beautiful soft snow all the way.

Route finding on the Merced Crest was easy for the most part, i.e. you could see the next marker from the previous one.  But there were probably about 2 or 3 times when the next markers seemed to be missing, likely due to fallen trees as below, so we pulled out the map and compass to keep us on track and eventually picked up the trail again.

Fallen soldier
This section near the creek crossing: not so great for skiing.  Another couple of feet of snow to cover the logs and it would be fine.
EXTREMELY DIFFICULT.  Looking back up the slope this definitely seemed harder than horizon ridge (in terms of climbing steepness) but the snow cover was much better.

The top of the lift at Badger Pass.  Just enough daylight :)

Walking down a deserted ski run felt...weird
Completing the 9.7mi/15.6km took us 7:45 hrs.  Overall the 26mi/42.1km Badger-Dewey-Ostrander triangle was amazing, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone.  One day I'd like to head up to the hut again on skis (in a good snow year!) and spend two or three nights up there hanging out and skiing the surrounding area without a pack.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Yosemite Trip Report: Overnight Snowshoe Hike to Dewey Point

According to SFGate, the 8mi/12.8km round-trip snowshoe from Badger Pass to Dewey Point is the best snowshoe trek in California.  It's easy to see why: the distance makes it achievable in a day and the walking is reasonably easy.  We were looking for a challenging two-night snowshoe trek in Yosemite, but couldn't pass up the views of Dewey so we decided to make it our first leg.  We spent the day XC skiing around Badger Pass on old glacier point road, then set out for Dewey around 3pm.

View from the top of Old Badger Pass Summit, easy XC ski from Badger Pass
We started out with just boot chains on Glacier Point road because the snow was fairly packed.  These (YaxTrax, but there are a number of brands) are a great compliment to snowshoes on any snowy or icy hike.  They are super-light, don't take up any room, give you great grip, and are much easier to walk in than snowshoes when the snow is hard-packed.  Some people made it all the way to Dewey just with these, but we could see they struggled at the other end by the deep post-holes they left in the snow.

While we're on gear...I wore my waterproof trail runners and a set of short OR gaiters.  The trail runners were great, and did a good job of keeping water out.  If I was choosing again I would take my full size gaiters: keeping the snow out of your shoes is essential for staying dry and the snowshoes kick up a lot when you are in deep soft snow.  These little gaiters occasionally let in small amounts of snow from the sides.

There's two ways to get to Dewey, we went out by Dewey Point Ridge and came back along Dewey Point Meadow.  The ridge is harder (more climbing) and gives you some views, but nothing like what you get from the point.  I don't think you're missing much if you take the Meadow both directions.

View from Dewey Point Ridge

Waterfall from the junction with the Meadows trail

We arrived at Dewey at 5:40pm, so 2 hrs 40 mins of hiking with plenty of photo stops and a couple of gear stops.

The views from Dewey Point are immense, fantastic, epic.  The best part of doing this as an overnight was that we had it completely to ourselves at sunset on a Friday night.  Bathing in El Capitan's reflected glow at sunset is well-worth the extra effort to lug a tent and sleeping gear out there.

Looking East down the valley towards the Wawona tunnel

El Capitan

Left to right: El Capitan, North Dome, Cathedral Rocks, Clouds Rest, Half Dome (side profile)

The view from 10m in front of our tent

Around 9am the next morning the first set of day-hikers made it out to the point.  On the return trip through the meadows we probably met 30+ people day hiking, but not a single one doing an overnighter.  We set out around 10:45am and were back at Glacier Point Rd. by 12:20pm so the meadow trail was a fair bit quicker, especially since we took the snowshoes off and walked with boot chains for the last couple of kms.

Piss-coloured pools near Dewey Point Meadow: tree sap maybe?

Dewey Point Meadow

Weekend crowds of people on Glacier Point Rd.
Next up: the real challenge begins as we continue on to Ostrander Lake.