Category: mountaineering Page 1 of 2

First cross country skiing of the season!


Sadly, conditions were mostly crap. We got a little snow on Monday and Wednesday, but I guess most of it blew away by yesterday leaving a mostly icy surface with pockets of powder. Also, we only went 2½ miles before Bella was completely exhausted (she slept all afternoon). She’s not really very old but she is definitely slowing down and I can’t bring her everywhere if I want to get a good day of physical activity in (I was thinking about getting up early this morning and doing my first winter ascent of Mt Rose without Ingrid or Bella, but it’s way too windy up there right now; next weekend it’s not going to get above freezing, and I don’t think I’m ready for that, either. I’ll have to do it some other time).

Until Friday we’d planned to get Zuly up there for her first time on skis, but she begged off at the last minute. It’s just as well, because I’m sure she would have had a lot of trouble with the crappy conditions.

Tahoe Meadows again

Moar snowshoeing:


Last week I downloaded an Android app called Gaia GPS. It’s a GPS mapping app, sort of like a smartphone substitute for a dedicated GPS unit. It has a lot of good reviews. I downloaded a similar app soon after I bought the phone and it was crap, but that was almost three years ago. This Gaia GPS app is really pretty good.

I don’t know how well it works if you are out of cell phone coverage area, but I have Verizon and anyway we weren’t that far from civilization so I had good coverage all day yesterday. With Gaia GPS you don’t need to carry a map. It has a built-in compass and you can also use it to lay out routes. I’m not sure how useful it would be for me in the summer, since I typically follow trails everywhere, but for snowshoeing cross-country it’s great. We used it to route-find over a hill into the Tahoe Meadows area and to check our relationship to the Ophir Creek trail which we were interested in following for a while. At the same time I was recording the hike to a GPX file I could load onto a Caltopo map:


It was only a 3.6 mile hike, but it was fun. I wouldn’t mind doing a similar hike on skis. We’d have a little trouble getting down that hill in the center of the map, but probably could traverse more widely and get down that way. But the rest of the hike would be great on skis. And easier. If we had skis (and we left the dog at home), we could have got much further down the Ophir Creek trail.

I’ve always liked the idea of collecting GPX tracks, partly so that I could follow in the winter tracks I made during the summer. About ten years ago I bought a GPS unit and it really didn’t work very well for this. The antenna wasn’t very powerful and it had a hard time seeing the satellites through my body when it was in a pocket, so the tracks looked like shit. And it was difficult to use in any case.

The Gaia GPS app had no difficulty maintaining a very accurate track of our hike. Now I honestly don’t know whether smartphones really use the GPS satellites or if they simulate GPS by triangulating from multiple cell towers. I had always assumed it was the latter, since for GPS to work as well as it does the smart phone would have to have a very sensitive GPS antenna, because while cell phone towers are no more than a few miles away, GPS satellites are hundreds of miles away. So I figured the GPS wouldn’t work if you had bad cell coverage. But I don’t know. For now, hiking around not far from the highway and not far from Lake Tahoe, the Gaia GPS app seems to work very well indeed.

Two other things I was worried about was battery usage and phone memory. I thought maintaining a track would use up the battery and the track itself would take up a lot of storage. But I had no problem with either (it was a short track, and a GPX track is nothing more than a text file, a list of coordinates, easily compressed). So clearly this works well for day hikes; I’m not sure I would want to depend on it for overnights and longer hikes.

Packing up after lunch:


Ingrid got herself some snowshoes

Ingrid got herself some snowshoes, so we went for a walk around the Mt Rose Campground, on the south side of the highway from the Mt Rose trailhead parking lot (there was new snow up there on Saturday).


Just beyond that toilet at upper left is the Mt Rose Ski Area, lots of folks skiing and snowboarding down.

Man, I love snowshoes. Such freedom,

Tahoe Rim Trail winter death march

We hiked what I call the Galena Creek Waterfall Loop. This is where you start at the Mt Rose Summit trailhead and instead of taking the Tahoe Rim Trail to the waterfall, you cut west to connect with the Relay Ridge utility road and take it a few miles up to Third Creek Pond, then catch the trail north up to the Galena Creek watershed. Then you hike down from the top of the waterfall to connect with the Tahoe Rim Trail and take that back to the car. It’s between five and six miles and I first did this hike in September.


Ingrid gave me shoeshows for Christmas, and we brought them up with us to try them out. We figured if the snow got really deep Ingrid could wear them and I’d just power through postholing. But since it hasn’t snowed in a couple weeks, we didn’t think there would be much deep snow, we assumed it would be pretty hard from freeze/thaw cycles. Boy, we still have a lot to learn about this place.

We got a very late start because we had to deal with my mother first. I forgot to bring a map (again), so once we left the road we were sort of on our own. I had assumed that by this time there would be lots of boot and ski tracks guiding us from the road to the waterfall, but I was sure wrong about that. Fortunately, by now I have a pretty good idea of how the land lies, so we were able to make it down to the waterfall. The snow was deep and we traded the showshoes. Poor Bella had a rough time in the deep snow.

By the time we got to the waterfall, the entire east facing ridge was in shadow and I was starting to get worried, not so much about me and Ingrid as about Bella, who seemed to be getting exhausted and maybe cold. We experienced another miscalculation that slowed us down: since the waterfall trail is so popular in the summer (it’s really a mob scene on weekends), I assumed there would be an easy to follow trail back to the car through the snow, but we found only a few sets of boot tracks around the waterfall. So routefinding back to the main trail was tricky and it was very slow and miserable going (since we had only one set of snowshoes between us). Of course, we did find our way before too long and Bella, bless her, seemed to get a second wind.

We got back to the car 30 minutes before it got dark. Fumbling through the snow in the dark really would have sucked.

Lessons learned:

  • Get an early start.
  • Carry a map.
  • Always carry snowshoes, no matter how good the trail is near the trailhead.
  • While the showshoes were about right for me, they were too big for Ingrid, so she needs to get smaller ones.

My feet got a little damp and were numb by the time we got to the waterfall, but other than that I felt fine in a thin polypropylene undershirt, wool shirt, polypropylene long underwear and jeans, plus two pairs of wool socks. I wore glove liners for most of the hike. Ingrid was comfortable too. I carry warm clothing and accessories, and would have been fine (though not happy) if I had to spend the night out there.

Bella was probably okay as long as she kept moving, but we could tell her feet hurt by the middle of the hike. We carry dog booties, but deploy them only in emergencies, especially in the snow, since I think they would keep her feet damp and cold. We also carry a sweater and a sort of insulated windbreaker for her, but again she probably doesn’t need anything in these kinds of temperatures as long as she’s moving and there’s no significant wind. I’m not sure she would have survived a night on the mountain without shelter.

Once we were home and snug we forgot about how miserable much of the hike was and we agreed it was a fine winter adventure.

Remembering Lloydie

Just learned a one-time climbing buddy of mine died over the weekend when he fell from the Devil’s Backbone Trail on Mt Baldy.

I notice he was interviewed by the OC Register when they were asking why people climb: … climb.html

At the end of our Mt Whitney Mountaineers Route climb I gave him a Mesa Tactical cap:


I would never take the Devil’s Backbone Trail in winter. I just avoided it. Almost all the fatalities (maybe all of them) in the last few years on Baldy have been people using that trail in the winter.

This is what it looks like in the summer:


There are safer ways up or down.

A little winter hike

There’s been snow on the high mountains around here for a week, so I decided to take Bella on her first hike up the Mt Rose Trail to Galena Creek Falls (she’s only been living with me since Labor Day):


Got to the trailhead at about 7:30, just as it was getting light. There are sure a lot fewer people on the trail this time of year. That view of Mt Rose is from the south; from Reno and Sparks (that is, from the northeast), you can see there is still a lot of snow up there.

I think next weekend I’ll go for the summit.

Stuck in a rut?

Walked to the top of Mt Rose again this morning. Maybe it looks like I’m stuck in a rut, but mostly I’m doing this for conditioning anyway. Edgar refused to go because he’s already been there, wants to do something new. I intend to walk to the top of Mt Rose many times, in all seasons.

I got a couple books on the local mountains, I’ll be checking other stuff out eventually.

I started about 6:50am, got to the top (five miles) at 9:00am. That’s probably as fast as I ever want to do it. When I go with other people it takes longer because they generally have a better pace. My pace is always too fast, beats me up. Back to the car by 11:30am, and home at five after noon.

Horrendous smog layer on the California side of the mountains. Lake Tahoe is down there somewhere:


These three people left after five minutes, and I had the summit all to myself while I munched on breakfast for fifteen minutes:


As usual, ran into a bazillion people coming up as I was going down. Lots of dogs. A few UNR hotties, too, apparently hiking in their underwear. Go Wolf Pack!

Avoid the Conga line

I hiked Baldy yesterday. This was the Conga line heading up the Bowl:


But I don’t typically climb the Bowl, I take the trail up the ridge to the west I call 9,000 Foot Ridge and then head up via the western spine of the mountain.


But I was done in by the deep snow!


That doesn’t look bad (it’s at the base of the Bowl), but on the ridge I was postholing the whole way up and it wore me out. I was the first person up there that day, but a lot of folks came after me and I’m sure it would have been much easier going a little later once all those people left a boot track.

Not that I didn’t have a great time out there anyway. This is Cucamonga Wilderness from my turnaround at 9,000 feet:


Lots of people at the Ski Hut, on my way up and on my way down.


On the way down I met a couple coming up who spoke German. They had not been on the trail before. When I mentioned there was a ski hut ahead, they perked up and suggested they could get something hot or cold to drink. I said, no, it’s not like a European ski hut.

Oh, those Europeans, they’re so cute! Sometimes I just want to pinch their cheeks.


Manker Flat (the trailhead) was an unbelievable zoo. I’d never seen anything like it. It’s always crowded with families on snowy weekends, but nothing like this. I haven’t been there in the winter for a few years, so I don’t know whether it has just got more crowded, or I was seeing bigger crowds at 12:30 when I got back to my car than I would have in the past, when I would have got back two or three hours later.

It took me 20 minutes to get down to Mount Baldy Village (four miles), but the traffic going up was incredible. It was completely bumper to bumper for three miles below Manker Flats, and then for about four miles below the village (past the tunnels). The worst of it was, all those people inching up the mountain had nowhere to go. There was already nowhere to park anywhere near Manker Flats or along the road by the time I started down, so you had hundreds of carloads of families spending maybe an hour or more in their cars before finding out all they could do was drive back home again. There were CHP units up at the Flats, but I really think they should have had a roadblock down near the tunnels just to warn people there wasn’t any more room. I remember Newport Beach PD used to do this on Balboa Peninsula in the 1980s on Saturday nights.

Boy, I can’t wait to move to Reno!

This is the first thing I saw when I got back to the Flats:


Most of the people up there playing in the snow are Hispanic. I was thinking about how this scene would look if it were in, say, Italy, where people would invariably be mobbing the kaiboes instead of standing patiently in line.

Sartre was right

Hell is truly other people. The day after Christmas we took Ingrid’s co-worker’s family up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a winter hike. Because we were inviting a family along, we left the house at 8:30 instead of pre-dawn like we normally do. When we arrived at the tram around 10:30, the line to buy tickets snaked outside, down the stairs and along the sidewalk. I’d never seen anything like it:


Once you finally got your ticket, it was for a tram two and a half hours later. So we spent three hours at the valley tram station, literally standing around because there is fuck-all to do there.

A symptom of the primary reason I am fleeing to Reno.


Still some snow left from this month’s storms up on the front face of San Bernardino Peak. This is at about 7,500 feet, in the shade of the forest:


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