Winter in the Sierra is here (sort of)!

11:11 a.m. on September 20, 2004 (EDT)
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I was up at Donner Pass for a few days (helping out a bit at the Sierra Club's Clair Tappaan Lodge). Sunday, I decided to do a quick hike out to Anderson Peak (where the Sierra Club's backcountry hut, the Benson Hut) is located. I started in cool, breezy weather, with lots of overcast. The route heads south along the Pacific Crest Trail, where it crosses old US40, switchbacks up the side of Donner Peak, contours around into the upper part of the Sugar Bowl ski resort just below the upper station of the Mt Judah ski lift, then gradually climbs to Roller Pass, just below the summit of Mt Lincoln and the top of the Mt Lincoln ski lift. So far so good, even some blue sky and an occasional splash of sun. The 3.5 miles took 1 hour. Next the PCT contours around Lincoln to the ridge on the back side (should mention that this is the route the Donner to Squaw Valley back country ski tour takes). Then down the ridge and over a few humps for another 3 miles to Anderson Peak and the Benson Hut. As I looked to the west, the rapidly approaching clouds had a lot of wispy white stuff coming out of the bottom. Since it was now 2 hours out, it was time to turn back. Besides the temperature was 31F, and the wind at Anderson Saddle was pretty steady at 12 knots, and a few gusts to 22 knots (nice to have a real windmeter along, so I don't have to guess windspeeds - the Kestrel 4000 is my current one, although the new Kestrel 3500 has all the functions except logging for a whole lot less money). So I headed back. About a half km back, I met two guys with their dog who were planning to go the full distance to Squaw. We looked at the wispy stuff and debated whether it was rain or snow, a debate settled in a couple minutes when white flakey stuff started reaching us. Their decision was, like mine, continue to the hut, eat lunch, and bail. I headed rapidly back, meeting two more parties (also with dogs! what is this, the local dog run?), and snow starting to stick. By the time I passed Roller Pass, the trail was starting to be completely covered. Another mile, and my jacket arms were accumulating snow. After passing Judah, I met yet another party (yup, with dog), who were starting to mull over turning back. At this point it was no longer possible to even make out Summit Meadow and Donnser Ski Ranch (just across 40 from Sugar Bowl). On the last switchbacks I caught a couple of large groups who had decided turning back was the better choice. My car had about an inch of snow on it.

Yessss! Ski season is coming! Never mind that we still have Indian Summer and some hot weather ahead. This is a pretty early precursor. But anyone heading into the Sierra should go prepared for possible snow (as well as probable shorts and T-shirt weather). On the drive home, there was snow down to the 5500 foot level (some even hanging on the firs).

Ok, ok, it will be dry and hot for the next week. But my hopes are up.

9:18 p.m. on September 20, 2004 (EDT)
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Sure, get us thinking of winter...

...when it will be a solid three months before there's enough snow or ice to play on (here in the northeast, anyway). September and October I can usually still find plenty of summer-ish activities to keep me outside, but November is always the longest month -- cold, wet, and dark, but not quite winter yet.

11:45 p.m. on September 20, 2004 (EDT)
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hmm - maybe UL is over for the season

It sounds like my ten pound pack is not gonna happen till next Summer. Now its time for a heavier sleeping bag, a 4 season tent, Goretex shells, down coat, bibs, real stove, etc, etc.

At least the deep winter bag isn't required yet.

Dave - here in California the Fall and Spring are both off seasons in the Sierras because its not cold enough yet for skis and Winter gear, and you can get wet storms here too, and I HATE storms when its just above freezing!!!!!!!!!! Same thing in the Spring, You can be hit by a major surprise Winter storm, or by a warm storm that gets you wet. Our dryest seasons are summer and winter in the mountains, and its only dry in the winter cause it stays frozen. I guess thats an interesting point - its probably more dangerous to backpack in Fall and Spring from a weather/hypothermia point of view.
Now we can start all over on what is Winter Ultra Lite?
Jim S

4:41 p.m. on September 21, 2004 (EDT)
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a.k.a. Ian
Winter Ultralight

I think Jim S just openned another can of worms, :-). In my opinion, it's possible to go light in winter, too. Last season, my winter pack weight (including tent, bag, food and all the goodies) is 23lbs. I think that's quite light for a 2 days/2 nights trip. What about you guys, how much does your pack weight in winter??

7:25 p.m. on September 21, 2004 (EDT)
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Re: Winter Ultralight

Hi Ian,
Your pack is light cause you sold me the Moss pyramid...

I don't know where my pack will fall this winter. Your 23 pounds is probably without food or water or the clothes you are wearing. Does that include ski skins, snow shovel, winter stove, 4 season tent, winter bag, proper under bag insulation etc? I think the conditions that you go out in will determine what the winter pack weighs. So what are the conditions your 23 pound pack is set for? I think you should include a partial list if you really want to compare. You're probably saving weight by planning to dig a snow cave so I know you have ashovel, or maybe you are going to use a tarp and pray? Last winter a guy joined two of us and he touted his ultralight gear all the way in. Then he abandonned his alcohol stove and used my Coleman Xtreme to melt snow. Ever been snowed on in a bivy sack or a tarp? What are you concepts of ultralight winter camping.

Jim S

July 22, 2014
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