Snow Camping in Lassen NP

Once again this winter season called for some snow camping. The regular downhill skiing activities are not as interesting for me any more. They are a bit expensive and carry a good possibility to seriously mess up ankles and knees. So then we camp.

I missed the deadline to join Igor’s annual excursions. I mean, he said that I can come in my own car. But I couldn’t find company and driving on my own wasn’t looking like fun. So I went with my old Russian buddies. Those actually were the guys that got me into backpacking originally. I have to say that the times have changed since then. I can’t say that Russian style of camping is exactly my cup of tea. But I suppose it depends on the situation and one’s priorities.

Anyways, we left Saturday early morning. The best way to camp in Lassen, primarily due to 5+ hours drive there, is to leave Friday night. But that wasn’t possible because of some late Friday meetings (why have a meeting on Friday evening is beyond me) and some personal requests. Bu we were hopeful that the trail left by Igor’s group a week earlier will still be there and we would just blase quickly to the Cinder Cone. Well, not so fast.
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During some time after the previous group the nature dumped about 2 or so feet of new snow. As a result we had to make a brand-new trail.

It took us about 6 hours to ski about 5 miles. It was very hard grueling work. The temperature was also dropping quickly. At around 3PM even though the sun wasn’t completely down yet, the snow was already freezing. We set the camp in some small clearing between the trees right off the main road.

The camp was standard issue winter – tent (4 season at my insistence), some sort of kitchen and, of course, since it’s a Russian trip, a campfire. Now, I’m not against campfires if the conditions support it. On this trip the conditions didn’t support it. First it was the problem with wood that had to be axed (extra weights for an axe) or dug out from some snow. Second: you are essentially making a fire on water. There was about a meter of total snow. I dug a some sort of hole to start a fire closer to the solid ground, but it still wasn’t enough. As the fire burned, it melted the snow and was slowly sinking down and had to be constantly tended. So it was more pain than heat really. So, since the fire wasn’t coming, after some food (boiled buckwheat and sausages) and tea we just went to sleep basically wearing everything. I even used two of Max’s toe warmers. It was very cold. The temperature probably dropped down to -10C or so. You can feel it. You can hear the snow crunching under feet. Damn, I haven’t experienced this low temperature in many years.

The next day – Sunday – the plan was to start early, ski very fast without backpacks to the Cinder Cone, then summit it, and come back quickly on the already made trail. Good plan.

After some hearty hot breakfast we slowly started skiing towards the Cone. I can’t say I slept well. I wasn’t very cold, but still. You are kind of warmed up inside the bag and then you need to go pee. And you you start saying things that shouldn’t be repeated in public because it is cold to come out. But in reality I think it is all from laziness. Also, first night at some sort of elevation in a tent is never very good. Acclimatization takes time and there isn’t much one can do about it. I didn’t sleep the nigh before (because I had to get up at some ungodly hour) so I was seriously tired.

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And so we went. Beautiful weather – sunny and cold. It was still below zero in the morning. The speed of progress … was about as it was yesterday. It was the same 2 feet of fresh snow and we had to make the same trail. The lack of backpacks did make it a bit easier, but just a bit.

By about 1PM we scrambled to the base of the Cone totally exhausted, dehydrated, sun burned (well, I was), and out of time. I didn’t really feel like making trail up that mountain any more. So we took some pictures and turned around. By this time the temperature went up quite a bit. It was rather warm. Snow started sticking to skis. I visited the campground toilet on the way back which turned out to be open.

We made it to the camp within an hour or so. Cooked two cans of soup on the stove, packed up and started skiing back. It wasn’t going that well. Better to say it wasn’t going as expected. Yes, we didn’t have to make the trail. But I think all that dehydration really took hold. The guys (and eve myself) were struggling. At the end I think we were quite happy that this trip was over.


Photos are here.

The track for some reason didn’t come out well: the location data is correct, but the altitude is messed up – it looks like on the way back we took a different route. I don’t know why that happened, maybe batteries were messed up in the cold.

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