Friday, November 15, 2013

A Snowy Mt Rose

Last April I went on a hike to Hunter Falls with a local meetup group, I was still super new to Reno and thought it would be a good way to find more local hikes. Luckily enough I met a recently retired gentleman who was getting ready for an Appalachian Trail thruhike (he flew out less than a week later!) So my first meetup was filled with trail talk and a new trail, not a bad start. I didn't know the other hikers trail name (since he didn't have one yet) so I never did find out how his hike went. That is, until I saw that this months Sierra Club meeting would be a presentation of his hike, I was glad I remembered his real name! I'm pretty much always up for photos of trails so Thursday night I found myself at Bartley Ranch vicariously enjoying the Appalachian trail. The talk was long and filled with that special babble that is trail talk, like any inside joke about half of it is lost but the photos were fun and I found myself leaving the meeting feeling restless as usual. Surprisingly the talk did not make me want to immediately head out east, if anything it fueled my CDT dreams even more. A dangerous place for my mind to dwell, so whats a self pitying former thruhiker to do? Go hiking of course.
I've lived in Reno almost a year now and still haven't made it up Mt Rose. Plans just always seem to fall through, and with winter quickly approaching I decided Friday would be my day. I got hung up on seeing sunrise, I'd heard the trail was pretty much all open views. So 5 am dawned and I started to get ready, the summit looked socked in but the weather said just clouds so I decided to trust my luck and headed up Mt Rose Highway.
It started out clear, and as the road snaked up the mountain the way was increasingly shrouded in fog, and then after the first turnoff for Mt Rose Ski Resort the snow started. I crawled the last few minutes up to the summit parking lot and alone in the predawn snow I cursed my stubbornness. Well I had made it this far right? My biggest fear wasn't hiking the snow, rather it was that the snow would get worse and my car would be stuck on the summit, the trials of driving a 100% nonsnow worthy car in snow country...

The trail was easy to find and within minutes I was making fresh tracks and walking along in a giant white haze of freshly falling snow.

not surprisingly frozen fingers make for blurry photos

pretty much all I saw the first few miles was hazy white
Within a half mile of the parking lot I discovered that along with the fresh snow the majority of the trail was pretty much all hard packed old snow, which in 30 degree weather means ice. Some tricky footing for sure but I managed with a minimum of flailing and cursing. I passed Galena Falls, and after 2.5 miles of fairly flat trail I finally started to see a bit of elevation gain. But more exciting than the start of the climb was my first peak of sun! Soon enough it was more than just a hazy streak of blue in the sky, now it was a full fledged hole in the cloud cover. Thank goodness, I was starting to fear my beautiful views from the top would be solid white.

entering Mt Rose Wilderness

only about a mile to the top from here!

and finally some real views

so excited to see the sun I took about 30 pictures directly staring at the silly thing

As I climbed I finally got a glimpse to the west

absolutely everything was covered in white

getting close...

view from the final ridgeline

looking north

the top, view and all!

wind shelter on top
And then it was time to head back down, clouds were rolling back in and it was much to cold to linger for long.

a meadow I hadn't been able to see on my way up
Galena Falls is much prettier in sunlight

The best part of heading down, maybe 5% of the trail was not solid ice!
All in all a fantastic morning. The hike is only 10 miles and on very easy to follow trail. Although maybe next time I'll skip the ice and aim for wildflower season. Although pretty much nothing beats snow covered mountains in my book. Another benefit to starting when its snowing and completely white, the trail is almost empty. I saw no one until I was already heading back down.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I headed up to South Lake Tahoe with grand plans but the coziness of a couch and a fire sucked me in. I didn't go on any grand treks, or even mildly exciting adventures.
Monday morning dawned gray and snowy. The one or two inches I was expecting turned out to be a fair but more and instead of anything ambitious the dog and I went wandering a mile or so into the fresh powder only to be smacked in the face by more snow falling and one cold ass wind. Nope, no thanks. Back inside we went, to enjoy the views from my cozy couch with warm fingers and toes.

Two days later the sun finally appeared and I got to see blue sky again...

Okay winter lets do this, I'm hoping for a good one...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Day 6, And then it was done

I woke up in the dark, wide awake and chilly but still dry as can be. I crossed my fingers against oncoming weather and called out to the other tent. Apparently Anna wasn't feeling well and we debated having her stay tucked in the tent while we went and got the car, but she said she wanted to hike, so soon enough we wandered out into the dark and onto what we hoped was our trail. 
One of the beauties of hiking in the dark is that trails are even trickier to find. This area seems to be particularly hard. I was lost last time I was here and we had met multiple hikers who were lost, or at least heading the wrong direction when we had been there two days before. Needless to say we were not on our trail, maybe 5-10 minutes later our upwardly sloping trail started to cut down and we found ourselves at Red's Resort. Oops, a few more circles and some snapping on my part (not proud but being cold and not on our intended trail makes me cranky) and I decided a side trail looked promising and we headed back up the mountain. This time the trail continued to head up and soon enough we had a real junction, success we were actually on our way to Mammoth Pass (Thank God)! 
Soon enough I was able to strip off some of my layers and other then the very creepy glowing eyes my headlamp kept coming across the trail was uneventful. However I was soon to learn that this was going to be a very tough morning for me. It was cold and the trail was well graded and I wanted to book it to the top. Instead we were stopping constantly. Anna had to take breaks very frequently, so instead of forward motion it was one constant stutter step. And as we gained elevation it just got colder, I got crankier and was actually starting to hate this trip a bit. Basically I wanted to walk and I wasn't being allowed too for group safety. Needless to say those were an incredibly long few miles. I recognized the defeat in Anna's voice when she would ask how much farther and I tried not to snap that I had no better idea than her, darkness blocks landmarks and we all had looked at the same map. I was not a happy camper, and to be fair I don't think either of my companions were either. Everyone had misjudged their capabilities. Anna was out of her league big time hiking wise, Diana's hopes were still bigger than what her feet and body could handle and my patience with less experienced hikers was simply not what it should have been. The others were popping Ibuprofen like candy over the last few days and I found myself constantly frustrated. Standing still in the darkness sure gives you time for self reflection (and plenty of self pity). 
Despite the drama we finally neared the top and as the sky started to lighten and Diana shouted "Yes!" I thought she had seen an intersection and was excited we were actually at the top but no, it had started snowing. I did not feel like it was time for rejoicing, instead I tucked my hands farther into my pockets and hoped we could pick up the pace. And then we really were on the top and swiftly cutting down towards paved roads and only a few short miles from the car. We hit the first real road and took off. 

We sped down the road, the snow picking up in intensity when we where less than a mile from the campground. Heading uphill with our heads tucked against the snow I was getting worried about driving and I was emotionally done. Reno seemed much too far away.

My car sat all alone in the parking lot, soon enough we were inside with the heat blasting and on our way to Mammoth. Yet again tempers frayed and finally after a few circles and zero decisions we decided to eat some breakfast and see what the storm was going to do. I didn't have chains and food sounded delicious so it seemed like a good plan. Breakfast was pretty good, even if we picked the one spot that seemed to have their heat broken (I was not happy to wear my down jacket through breakfast) and the snow petered off. I think we were all pretty done with each other, everyone wanted to be home. We hit the road, hoping for good weather. A beautiful if uneventful drive had us back in Reno and going our separate ways a few short hours later.

This entry took me a pathetically long time to write. The thing was every time I started it all came out so very negative and that's not what I was going for. The overall trip was not a bad thing, just like most trips it was one giant learning curve. Overall I really enjoyed it. I loved exploring a corner of the Eastern Sierra a little better and getting to know two other hikers a bit better as well. I just think that for my own sanity and enjoyment I might take a bit of a break from backpacking trips with fairly new folks to backpacking/longer trips. Good thing its winter and I have only day hiking plans!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Day 5, Back to the Postpile via the PCT

Garnet Lake was one windy cold place, and then the sun set and it was beyond lovely. We had actually been warned by other hikers that it had been so windy the night before it had been hard to sleep, thankfully that was not our experience. No wind and no frozen water, and then a beautiful sunrise. The start to a good day, hopefully. Anna and Diana had agreed that getting as close as we could back to the trail head was ideal. Snow was supposed to roll in on our last day and the closer to the car the better. Our plan was to head towards Thousand Island Lake, catch the PCT and make it back to the Devil's Postpile/Red's Meadow area which would only put us 6 miles from the car. The only tricky part, this would need to be a 16-18 mile day. However the topo showed mostly downhill easy terrain so I was crossing my fingers.

Past Ruby Lake, one of my favorites
Thousand Island
I hiked with Anna for the the next little bit chatting about all things thruhiking, shes debating hiking the Appalachian Trail this summer and we were having a great time. The folks back home get sick of trail talk so its always fun to find people who aren't sick of one of your favorite subjects.
The trouble happened unfortunately soon. Lets start with basics. Since I was a little kid hiking with groups I've had one rule drilled into my head, when you hike in groups you stop at intersections. This is a really big safety thing and just isn't negotiable with groups. After Thousand Island Lakes there were three intersections each about 0.5 miles apart. We found Diana waiting at the first one where she sped ahead as soon as we arrived. That was fine, I knew exactly where we were going. The next intersection found Anna and I alone. I didn't think much of it as it was so close but I did get a little irritated that Diana hadn't waited. The next intersection found Anna and I alone again, okay what the heck? There was one more close intersection and then nothing for over 5 miles, I figured we should just keep going and check the close intersection. Maybe 5 minutes later we startled a herd of deer. Alarm bells started ringing, we shouldn't have startled a darn thing because Diana should have been only 5 or 10 minutes ahead of us max. I quickly started searching the ground, watching people's footprints had become a habit of mine on the PCT and after 5 days of hiking with her I knew Diana's shoe's and they weren't there. Anna was in no shape to be traipsing around in circles and I had the only map. We went the 0.7 to the next intersection in hopes that I just hadn't seen her footprints but no Diana. What then commenced was over an hour of me cursing and running back and forth and calling out into the woods. I finally heard someone calling back and Diana appeared back at the intersection right before the deer. She was looking upset and saying where had we gone, she was on the PCT. No my dear you were not, I know this silly trail and you most definitely were not. We headed back up the trail to where Anna was waiting (next to a PCT sign I might add). After a lot of nervous energy we decided with a big storm rolling in the group would walk 100% together for the rest of the day. I was amped up and angry, Diana was pissed and Anna was the calm force trying to hold us all down. Have I mentioned my next big trip is solo? Because despite the good times I was over this group thing.
Okay big deep breath, the hiking was spectacular along the ridgeline. Gorgeous vistas, golden aspen everywhere and way more water than I expected at the end of the season.

trail or creek?

looking across at the Shadow Lake Outlet, crazy we were there just yesterday

Then it was down towards Agnew Meadows and our bear box picnic table. We were getting closer but Anna was starting to look tired...

We then followed the river for what felt like ages but was actually only 5 miles.

Only 0.4 miles to the monument!
 Originally we had the best intentions, skirt the monument sticking to forest service and the legally open trails. But it was late, Anna looked wrecked and we decided to take the bridge to the road rather than cross countrying across a meadow just to avoid a park we had seen a ton of people in earlier that week.

never saw the postpile up close but the rocks are still pretty darn similar
It's probably less than a quarter mile from the bridge to the road, but right as we crossed into the parking lot we heard a truck backing up, and then we were face to face with a ranger. Panic, utter panic flitted through me, I am not a good rule breaker. In unison a quick look pathetic memo seemed to be telegraphed across our faces. We muttered something about being out for a week and just cutting through to the road because we were worried about the weather and my friends feet. The very nice ranger than asked if we knew that snow was coming and that the road we were on went all the way to Mammoth, and lastly did we have a ride. After nervously mumbling we knew about the snow and that we had a car we went on our way. Thankfully no more tickets had to blacken this trips memories.

Then it was down the road, and finally to Red's Meadow Campground and one last set of hot springs. I had remembered these from my PCT hike and helped use them to spur on my cold weary crew.

We had made it about 18 miles, and it had been no where near smooth sailing but we had made it. The plan was to set out super early and hopefully beat the snow to Mammoth. The skies were darkening and with no desire to hike or drive in heavy snow I was plenty motivated to set my alarm.