Snow Camping in Yosemite


March 15th, 2002 | United States, California, Nature | 2363 views
Snow camping in Yosemite National Park

While I was planning a two week business trip to California, Boss Bill mentioned that he wanted to go snow camping before the snow was gone, and asked if I wanted to join him.

Naturally I said sure, but what does "snow camping" entail? "Well," said Boss Bill, "its pretty straight forward-- we'll just cross country ski 5-10 miles to where we want to camp, and either build an igloo or a snow cave (depending on the snow conditions), and in general just have a great time!" Oh. Sounded like fun to me, even though I had never been on skis before. Boss Bill didn't seem to think that this would be a problem.

Thursday afternoon I went to Bill's house to pack our gear and eat pizza, and then we headed out toward Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. After several hours of driving, we stopped at a hotel about an hour from Yosemite and spent the night there, so we could get a very early start the next morning.

We arrived at the trail head and Bill gave me a quick lesson about skis. This is how you put on skis. This how you stand up. This is how you fall down. This is how you get back up. This is how you go. "Okay, but how do I turn?" Oh, that's an advanced lesson. For now, just fall down, point the skis in the correct direction, and stand back up. "Oh." (Need I point out that memories of Ray Conrad's Cotton Pickin' Ski Lift Tower Blues kept running through my head?) So I donned my 40+ pound pack, and slid along the trail trying to follow Bill, and trying not to fall down too often. Bill counted my falls. Twenty-two in all, before we reached our campsite at Dewey Point, five miles out.

Entryway, Snow Cave I

Once there, we proceeded to dig a snow cave. It took hours. Eventually it was done, and had enough room for both our sleeping bags and gear, but not enough head room to sit up.

Inside Snow Cave I

But by the time it was completed, it had gotten quite dark, and I was exhausted, dehydrated, and not feeling very good at all. (Note to self-- if this is altitude sickness, then I need to get into better shape. And drink more water. And get more exercise. Oh, and stay warm when sleeping on snow.) Plus my feet had gotten really cold. So I just bundled up in my sleeping bag with a couple of bottles filled with hot water, and tried to get warm. Time passed. Eventually I fell asleep.

The next morning we had a light breakfast, followed by a morning outing.

Then I crawled back into my sleeping bag to get warm again, took a nice nap, and worked on my travel journal. During this time Bill decided to dig a better snow cave, and he did a fine job of it. The new one had a submerged entry way, such that it dropped down below the floor of the cave. And inside there was plenty of head room so we could sit up in it while sitting in our sleeping bags. And he carved little scallops in the walls for candles, creating "recessed lighting", as well as carved out a spot for the stove, complete with its own little chimney. I was quite impressed. We moved all our gear over to it, and then it was time for dinner.

Entrance, Snow Cave II

The next morning we had another light breakfast, took our time waking up, and then packed up, and skied back to the truck. This time I fell only once, but it was a "good" fall. By "good" I guess I mean "bad". I was coming down a hill, doing a fine job balancing on the skis with the pack on my back, when I hit the bottom and leaned too far forward. I fell forward, head first into the snow. And about a half second after my hands hit the snow, my pack, following rather closely behind me, arrived, slid up over my head, and ground my face into the snow. Ouch! Then it took a little bit to get the pack off my head. Next I had to wipe all the snow from my mouth, face, eyes, and glasses. Oh well, at least I had only ONE of those falls. When we got back to the truck, we had to dig it out from under 18 inches of new snow. So, I'm sure you're wondering what I think of snow camping. Honestly, I think I don't like sleeping in the snow. And I don't like getting very, very cold. But, given a little time, and armed with my recent experience, I'd probably go again. But I think I'd like to learn to ski first.


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