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Snowcamping Trip - Feb 18

Our group consisted of Mike P., Bruce G., Mylene M., newby Carolina B. and me. Our original plan was to ski out of Kingvale on Highway 80 up towards the Loch Leven Lakes, to explore the area I backpacked to in Dec. 2012. But with rain predicted, and after much hand-wringing, we cancelled the overnight and the low elevation tour and opted for two days of day touring out of Tragedy Springs, at 8,000' on Highway 88, where we've done many successful trips before.

Sunday we did a beautiful tour out along the ridge, staying at the Days Inn in Sutter Creek, since our usual "Psycho Motel" in Pioneer was closed for renovations. Mon. we had an equally fun tour down to Shealor Lakes, where Bruce and Carolina discovered hidden talents for ski jumping off cliffs. They both did fantastic until the landing, but hey, it's all about getting started, right? Snow conditions were near perfect--solid and heavy, so you only sank in an inch or so, with a sticky surface powder that provided pretty good edging. A far cry from our attempted snowcamp some years ago, when we had powder up to our thighs and had to abort the trip. The sun was out and we only needed a couple of clothing layers. The first day I ripped a binding out of one of my skis but was able to make an ok repair with fiberglass tape, which I suggest nobody tour without. Mon. I wore snow shoes, which worked pretty good, though the side edging on the undercrust wasn't as good as skis. Mike and Bruce checked out the ice fall above Shealor Lake and decided it was too low angle for ice climbing. All told, a very fun and satisfying trip.

A note on ski rentals: Outback Adventures, a small ski shop in Larkspur, was the only place Bruce, Mylene and Carolina found to rent X-C skis and boots, both Telemark and Randonee.

For anybody thinking of going up, here are snow conditions along 88:

  • Snow level is 6,000' at which the first patches appear, and solid cover begins about 6,500'.
  • Reliable back country touring begins about 7,500' with 2-3 feet of snow, and 3-4 feet at 8,000', which allows you to go just about anywhere. We saw no evidence of avalanches anywhere around our 8,000' elevation.