I got back to San Francisco a few hours ago after spending the last three days in Yosemite on a snow backpacking adventure. While I’ve been backpacking for over twenty years now, snow backpacking is a new challenge that I just started last year.
What I really appreciate about snow backpacking is all of the hardships you have to overcome to do it, and the reward – the opportunity to really get out into nature at one of its most peaceful times. On top of that, I’ve been backpacking with the same group of friends for two decades now and it has become such an incredible experience to share together.
Okay, but let’s get real here. When I tell most people “I’m going snow backpacking this weekend!” They look at me like I’m crazy. And yes, it is a whole different adventure than regular backpacking. With snow comes a lot of new challenges like making water without the use of filters or iodine, building camp without, well, anything but snow, setting up a kitchen, and the list goes on.
For me and my friends, these little challenges are a lot of fun, overcoming them feels triumphant and to experience almost complete solitude on top of a mountain in Yosemite, it’s absolutely magical. Of course, you do need to have the right gear, and missing even one element can make a trip completely enjoyable. For example, a normal cold weather sleeping bag goes down to 15 F which isn’t going to cut it for snow camping, you need a 0 F bag, period. As for camping mats, one won’t do – you need two since you’re sleeping on snow and the cold will cut through your first mat.
The list goes on and getting prepared for a snow backpacking trip takes time and careful planning. Hiking with a heavy backpack is already a good challenge for your legs, adding snow and snowshoes to the mix is a whole different story…and as you can probably tell, I love it.
I’m feeling refreshed, recharged, and yes, my legs are sore. If any of you are interested in seeing a bit more about the snow backpacking process, here’s a few photos from the journey:
This is what most of the hike to the campsite looked like with varying levels of tree density. Some areas were more open like this, others were more densely populated, we weren’t the first on the trail which made our hike quite a bit easier since we could walk on an existing snowshoeing trail.
Unlike normal backpacking where you can usually find a logical spot to setup camp, with snow backpacking it’s up to you to find a suitable place and make it your own. The first step in setting up camp is padding down the ground with your snowshoes so that eventually the ground will be hard enough to walk on without snowshoes. This can take a while but is well worth it since it takes a lot more work to walk with snowshoes on so taking them off when you’re at the site is pretty darn important.
Making water while you’re snow backpacking is a bit of a full time job, you’re kinda doing it all the time. Unlike normal backpacking where you usually have a spot near a river or lake where you can quickly and easily filter water, when you’re snow backpacking you need to melt snow to turn it into water, the boil it. Since there were five of us, we started making water once we got to our site and didn’t really stop until we went to bed. Water is priority #1 when you’re backpacking.
While you can use a wide range of tents for snow backpacking since most tents doing a decent job of waterproofing, getting a tent that’s meant for more extreme conditions doesn’t hurt. My tent (the one on the left) is called the Storm Breaker 2 and is meant to be able to withstand a heavy rainstorm without letting any water in…which also makes it a good candidate for snow backpacking. No matter what you want to make sure to have a cover that goes over your tent as freezing cold wind is, well, freezing cold!
Okay, enough blogging for today, time to take a bath, eat a big dinner, and get a good night’s sleep. Yosemite never ceases to amaze me, it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth and I always feel so lucky to be able to spend time there. I’ll leave you with one last photo from sunset on Saturday night…on the left you’ll see the one and only El Capitan.