Thursday, February 26, 2009


Trip Report - Snow camping at Shasta and Transceiver clinic
Mount Shasta
February 13 - 15, 2009

We finally did it. We went snow-camping. It turns out snow camping is a lot colder than you think, but Shasta was beautiful. We took the long drive up to Shasta and stayed in a very nice hotel on the first night, called the Cold Creek Inn. Eric, Kenneth and I decided to take a transceiver workshop up at the mountain. I didn't realize how close we were going to be the mountain but Shasta stood proud above us the entire time we were there.

Shasta in all it's glory!

The Cold Creek Inn was quaint. We stayed in a suite that had two rooms and everyone was comfortable. We got there really late at night, so the hotel having late check-in was very helpful. The hotel provided an interesting breakfast of oatmeal, Nutri-grain bars, fruit cups, boxed juice, and tea. I'm pretty sure we still have a V8 in the fridge from the hotel as well. After our morning "meal" we headed to a mountain gear shop named The Fifth Season, and met our workshop leader, conveniently also named Eric. After meeting at the store, the group there for the workshop drove caravan style up to Bunny Flat.

Walking on Bunny Flat

Bunny Flat sits at the foot of Shasta. Shasta appears intimidating at first, but it's beautiful features are the real dominating factor. The workshop was a lot of fun. We had to use our transceivers to find other buried transceivers in the snow. They were buried a few hundred feet apart, but not to deep. It seemed like a really easy task, but I can only imagine how nerve racking using a transceiver could be if there was an actual life attached to the other end of one. It's an important thing to learn if one wants to travel in back country snow.

Kenneth searching for a transceiver.

After the workshop was over, we enjoyed some tuna sandwiches and Bugles by the car. Over lunch we decided it would be a good idea to get camp set up before the sun started to go down. We piled all of our gear into backpacks and onto the sled, and went to go find a spot to camp. At first, Kenneth was going to snowshoe, and Eric and I were going to ski. Eric had some trouble going up hill on his Telemark skis, so we ended up going back and getting our snowshoes also.

Our wonderful sled.

We found a spot not too far from the car, and started to set up camp. Snow camping is hard. Usually it takes us about 5 minutes to set up a tent, but I'm pretty sure this tent took almost two hours to set up. First you have to pat down the snow with your feet. You have to wear snowshoes though, or you will sink into the snow. Then you have to figure out the snow stakes.

The stakes we had weren't working so great at first, so we had to reassess the situation, and start over from scratch. After figuring out the stakes, we had to prop up our A-frame tent with a pole. That took forever because the pole kept sinking down into the snow. OK, so we have a tent up, now we need to build a trench in the snow floor of our tent. We went to a snow camping talk at REI, and Zoo (the guy giving the lecture) told us that you build a trench so that the cold air drops into it, while you sleep above it. I don't know if that worked or not, I couldn't tell the difference, but I know it took a long time to shovel out the snow.

Time to build a kitchen.

Great, we finally got camp set up just as the sun started to go down. We were looking forward to a beautiful moonlit night, and hoping to eat something soon. Next, we had to dig out a kitchen. Snow camping requires a lot more digging than regular camping does. It just kept getting colder while we were setting up the kitchen, and Eric and I were starting to feel the absence of our puffy jackets. Some how I managed to forget them, but we had enough layers to survive. I will never make that mistake again, though.

The sunset was marvelous.

Making dinner was interesting. You can never leave your mitts off for too long on a cold night near Shasta, so we had to do things quickly. It was uncomfortable, to say the least. It took forever to boil snow for water and most of the time we just sat there, cold, staring at each other, wishing for hot food. The good thing was that our food only took about five minutes to make once we had boiling water. We feasted on a ramen spaghetti recipe invented the night before, and hot chocolate.

After dinner, everyone pretty much just wanted to get into their warm sleeping bags and sleep. Eric managed to take some beautiful night shots of our surroundings, but that was about it for the night's activities. There was no campfire, no singing to a guitar, no drunken conversations, no s'mores. It was cold and boring. I think Kenneth might have had a sip of bourbon but that's about it. The night was beautiful though, it was a full moon and the snow glistened. It looked like a million diamonds were spread all around us in a meadow of white. The night was still too cold to enjoy for long. The temperature dropped to about 18 degrees Fahrenheit, and we were feeling it.

Eric's night shot.

It was a long night. A cold long night. I actually fell asleep, which still amazes me now. I slept with my head in my sleeping bag all night and with my booties on. When morning finally came, I was so relived. It was crazy to see all of the people coming down from the mountain that spent the night up there. We thought we were crazy for snow camping, but some people climbed half way up the mountain just to camp! Everyone that stopped by our camp said it was very windy. I'm glad wind didn't play a factor in our experience.

Morning at Shasta was also beautiful, and cold. We took a second to enjoy the wildlife visiting our site, but then immediately tore down camp and proceeded to find the nearest, warmest, yummiest breakfast place in town. We found a restaurant in town called Lalo's, and their breakfast was the best part of snow camping. Boiling water again for two hours to make oatmeal wasn't going to cut it for this crew. We needed hot tea, coffee, omelets, and bacon. It was crucial to our sanity levels.

Our little snow camping friend.

Shasta is a very magical place, but I would only snow camp there again if I was planning on climbing it. Snow camping just for the hell of it doesn't make sense. It's cold, uneventful, and well, COLD! I can't wait until we go car camping again. I'm going to cook a hot meal on my propane stove, have a nice warm fire, and enjoy some drunken banter with a dripping s'more in my hand. Nothing compares to it really. I would definitely go back to Shasta, hopefully to ski next time, or to snowshoe around. Although we will probably find ourselves at a nice hotel (or motel) that night, were it is nice and cozy.

It sure was a beautiful morning.

Photo Gallery:
Shasta Snowcamp

Friday, February 6, 2009

Free Your Heel and Your Ass will Follow

You don't always need a lift to enjoy good skiing. Nordic skiing offers a number of ways to enjoy the snow covered wilds without the cumbersomeness of snowshoes or the trudgery of postholing. The unifying concept is that in one way or another, your heel can pivot free and allow forward motion under your own power.

There *was* a trail here at some point!

Amber and I took up cross-country last season.  Even though in some ways it is more challenging, Amber preferred it as an introduction to skiing since she could work on balance and technique without the mental stress of always being pointed downhill.  In the process we've fallen in love with Nordic skiing.

The Summit Lodge at Royal Gorge, a large, groomed, Nordic trail system

For one, Nordic skiing can be very economical.  A trail pass for a groomed cross-country center typically costs a of fraction of the price of a lift ticket at a downhill resort; there are even nooks and crannies where you might find free groomed skiing, and the savvy can leave the Visa Card at home and cut their own trails through the virgin white.

A variety of Nordic skis

While the more downhill-oriented Nordic equipment, like telemark, can rival the cost of high-end alpine gear, the price of a high quality cross-country or backcountry touring set-up is comparable to a bargain basement alpine ride.   But enough about money, it's the skiing that is so freakin' fun!

One side-effect of Nordic skiing is the strange, sudden growth of antennae

They say going up is half the fun, and it's just that part that seems so boring to some folks and attractive to others.  When you get a good rhythm going, and you have good form, gliding forward in a continuous motion seems almost effortless (though in reality it takes a surprising effort to maintain such a smooth stroke).  Climbing steeper hills can require interesting techniques or special gear, but just when you're peaking, then comes a downhill portion beckoning you to relax your lungs and take a free ride down.

Snowbound roads make great ski highways (Glacier Point Road, Yosemite National Park)

It's a total interval workout, whether you're touring over rolling hills, or alternating climbing and carving.  I find it really gets my juices flowing, and while alpine skiing is exhilarating, Nordic skiing has its own special rhythm and harmony that I think, is an even better high.  Plus, after a long day in skis, getting your tracks on the up and the down, you'll sleep better than any chair lift ever did.