Hiking, Backpacking, Camping

Snow Camping on the PCT

This January I went on my first-ever snow camping trip! This is something I’ve always wanted to try out, but I was nervous to do it alone just because, well, snow and cold. Luckily, I have some pretty awesome co-workers at REI who are more experienced than me, planned this trip, and I was able to tag along! So, keep in mind this was my first snow backpacking experience, and I was in a group of 8 people. I’m going to talk about our planned route, my packing list (with some communal gear listed), and some lessons I learned! Hope you enjoy.

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The Route

We started our trip at the Carson Pass Snow-Park on Highway 88, just east of Kirkwood Resort near Lake Tahoe. Here, we crossed the highway and started our trip Northbound on the Pacific Crest Trail. It was nice to visit an old friend on this trip, and I couldn’t believe how different the landscape looked!

We didn’t really follow the PCT, instead, we immediately climbed up on the ridge and snowshoed about 1.5 miles to the base of a hill that leads to Meiss Meadow and the Tahoe Rim Trail Junction. We initially anticipated setting up a basecamp at Meiss Meadow, after the climb, but since we got such a late start to the day, and because it was super windy and about 20* F, we decided to set up camp at the base of the climb. This ended up being a good idea because we found a pretty awesome sunset spot nearby, had plenty of room around us for building up our camp, and we still were able to day hike up and over the ridge to the meadow on the other side.

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Snow Activities

AKA what the hell did you do for 4 days?

On Day 1 we snowshoed out to our camp spot, and set up camp. Thankfully, a group had left before us and there were some tracks in the snow, but we were still kind of breaking trail. It was pretty cold and windy during our hike, which contributed to our decision to end early, along with the fact that many of us had never been snow camping before. Once we got to camp, we stomped out a large rectangle for all of our tents to occupy, and set up our tents. It took me a little while to get the hang of the snow anchors and stakes, but we got our tent up eventually! Dinner time was a little rough since the temps dipped down to the teens and it was windy, the group Whisperlite stove decided not to work, so we were boiling water for 8 people on 2 Jetboils and a Windburner. Not very ideal. Eventually we all got dinner, boiled water for our hot-water bottles and went to bed.

Day 2 was a nice sleep-in and chill day. We decided to stay at our basecamp instead of move, so we built up some wind breaks with the snow and our shovels, and built a better path to our bathroom area and built a camp kitchen in a more protected location. We built seats and a table, and basically hung out there all day, talking, and eating! Some of the boys wandered off and found a sweet spot for us to watch the sunset at, so around sunset time, we ventured over there and it was gorgeous! And since the weather wasn’t as bad, we stayed up a little later hanging out at our kitchen.

Day 3 was also a sleep-in day, but after breakfast, we got suited up for our day hike over the ridge to Meiss Meadow. It was a nice hike and included lots of trail breaking since it had snowed overnight our first night and other’s tracks were essentially gone. We got to the meadow, made a giant snowman and hung out in the sun, then hiked the 1.5 miles back to basecamp, just in time to change into dry, warm camp clothes and watch the sunset! We then made dinner, and played the Oregon Trail board game that another member brought along.

On Day 4, we packed up all of our things and hiked back to the car! We tried to follow the PCT this time, using the GPS, and were breaking trail in fresh snow, so it was slow-going, and everyone was really ready to go eat in South Lake Tahoe. We eventually made it back to the cars, and our trip was over!

I was honestly really surprised how much fun was had. I love my co-workers, but there’s always a risk in going out on a 3-night camping trip with people you’ve never camped with before. I didn’t even have to listen to the podcasts I’d downloaded, because we had a blast the whole time!

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Lessons Learned

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  • Have a back-up plan for basecamp

  • Snow travel can be harder and take longer than anticipated, and you should plan accordingly

  • Hand warmers are amazing

  • Toe warmers don’t work that well

  • Your feet can still be cold in insulated boots (my boots were 200g insulation)

  • Hot water bottles are so awesome

  • Warm drinks are a luxury you should definitely indulge in

  • Bring more fuel than you think you need

  • Make sure your winter stove is in good working order

  • 1 snow shovel/ 2 people is a good ratio

  • Snow furniture is awesome!

  • When you’re just sitting around at night, putting some sticks between your boots and the ground really increases warmth

  • Down booties that can be worn around camp are a good investment to make (unfortunately I can only wear mine inside the tent. Feathered Friends makes good ones)

  • Bring a pair of really warm gloves. Also, mittens are warmer than gloves

  • Make sure you have multiple fire-starting options

  • Bring and wear sunscreen

  • Closed-cell foam pads are very versatile and you should bring one

  • Clif bars freeze

Gear List

Pack:

  • Osprey Exos 58

  • Thru. Pack Summit Bum

  • Trash Compactor Bag as liner

Sleeping:

  • Enlightened Equipment Enigma 10 Quilt

  • Kammock Bobcat Quilt

  • Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Sleeping Bag Liner

  • Therm-a-rest Z-Lite Sleeping Pad

  • Therm-a-rest X-Lite Sleeping Pad

  • Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow

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Clothing (Active Wear):

  • Prana Hallena Pants

  • Smartwool 250 wt. zip top

  • Patagonia R1 Fleece

  • Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX Jacket

  • Arc’teryx Beta AR Rain Shell

  • Patagonia Bra

  • Icebreaker Merino Wool underwear

  • Smartwool Beanie

  • Liner Socks (Injinji)

  • Pair of socks (Injinji or Darn Tough)

  • REI Co-Op Waterproof Alpine Gaiters

  • Montbell Liner Gloves

  • Mountain Hardware Waterproof Snow Gloves

  • Thermal Buff

Clothing (Stationary/ Camp/ Sleeping):

  • Smartwool 250 wt. Base layer bottoms

  • Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Hoodie

  • The North Face TKA 100 Fleece Pants

  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants

  • REI Magma 850 Down Jacket

  • Western Mountaineering Down Booties

  • 2 extra pairs of hiking socks (Darn Tough) = 3 total

  • 1 pair knee-high Ski socks (Smartwool) for sleeping

  • 1 extra pair underwear (Icebreaker)

  • Montbell Lightweight Balaclava

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Kitchen & Water:

  • Jetboil Flash

  • 8 oz canister fuel

  • Sea to Summit Alpha Long Spoon

  • Sea to Summit collapsible cup (8 oz)

  • BV 450 Bear Canister

  • Aqua Mira water treatment

  • Smartwater Bottles (2): 0.7L & 1L

  • Nalgene Bottle (1L)

  • UCO emergency matches

  • Bic mini lighter

  • Gallon Ziploc Trash Bag

Electronics:

  • Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

  • iPhone 8+ with earbuds, charging cable

  • Garmin Fenix 5S Plus (worn on wrist)

  • Sony a6000 with charging cord

  • Anker 20,000 mAh powerbank

    • All in ZPacks small dry bag

Toiletries/ Bathroom:

  • Wag Bag (1)

  • Kula Cloth

  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste

  • Contact Lenses

  • Meds

  • Toilet Paper

Repair/ Safety:

  • Repair kit: Therm-a-rest repair, needle, safety pin, duct tape around trekking poles

  • SOL Emergency Bivy Blanket

Extras:

  • Therm-a-rest Z-seat

  • Hand & Toe Warmer packets (4 pairs each)

  • Ziploc (2)

  • Small Tripod (Ultrapod)

  • Card Deck

  • Sunglasses (non-polarized)

Snowshoeing Gear:

  • MSR Revo Explore Snowshoes

  • KEEN Revel III Insulated Boots

  • Black Diamond Alpine Cork Trekking Poles w/ Snow Baskets

Shared Gear:

  • Mountain Hardware Tangent 2 Tent (w/ 2 MSR snow stakes (small) & 4 REI snow anchors)

  • Snow Shovel (BCA brand?)

  • Radio Transceivers (2 guys carried on trip)

  • Garmin inReach (another person carried)

  • More canister fuel (I ended up using another 8 oz from a friend - for my own cooking and some communal snow melting).

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Overall, this was a super fun and beautiful trip! I’m making a point to do an outdoors trip/ accomplishment every month this year (2019), and this was a stellar way to kick off the new year, and I can’t wait to go snow camping again.