John "Snafu" Mueller...co-leader
Leaving Las Vegas...
In a very prepared fashion, a group of us from the Las Vegas Mountaineers Club set out to do some winter backpacking on the weekend of 3/9-3/11. A pre-meeting settled-up the business of major gear, supply sharing, tent arrangements, and carpooling (and allowed Steve to eat his hamburger).
In the early efternoon on Friday, March 9th, we all gathered at Jim's house and were good to go by the appointed 1pm departure time...everyone except Steve and those riding in Steve's truck, that is. Steve officially wins the pre-trip "Nathan Junior" (needs Huggies!) award, after getting out of work a bit late and setting our departure back to 1:19pm. However, the precipice was averted with a peaceful drive to Beatty, a stop at Eddie World for gas and gummy peaches, and then a rip-roar through Death Valley to put us in Lone Pine just after 5pm. I though it'd be funny to sit in an unoccupied handicapped parking space and have someone take my photo. The unfunny part of that is that I cut my hand with a rock getting UP from the handicapped space and it was infected by morning. It was no longer funny.
"Bob" (as he is to be called henceforth) is a friend of Steve's from the LA region...they apparently have this meet-up in Lone Pine so dialed-in that they repeatedly arrange to meet there and are generally within 10 minutes of one another. Frankly, it's a bit spooky. However, Bob is a genial fellow and father of two, and his sense of humor (and sled) were a blast to have along on the trip.
We grubbed at the Lone Pine Cafe (we reccommend the onion rings), and then set out for...ummm....the campground. Yeah...the campground. (cough...after a stop at the market for "supplies)
Once we'd procured the necessary supplies, we headed up to Independence, CA to secure our campsite for the evening to prepare for the 12+ mile drive in to Onion Valley the next morning.
It was extraordinarily warm that evening, so we all slept out under the stars after consuming "supplies" bought earlier in the evening. Ted went through a vast amount of the group's supplies and had to re-supply when Nathan arrived around 9pm. The good news is, Nate brought "supplies."
One side note is that we were able to build the world's smallest campfire, thanks to one of Ted's firestarters that he brought along. We're submitting it to Outside Magazine in case they ever have a "Most Laughable..." issue.
After sleeping under a full moon that turned the valley into an ampitheater for a late-night football game, we woke well-rested and headed-up to Onion Valley.
Onion Valley is appoximately 13 miles from the turnoff of the 395, and there's quite a bit of rockfall on the road that lead to our vehicles' final destination...kinda like on-road offroading. On the way in, we spotted a herd of deer roadside, and the views just got better the higher we got. As someone who's relatively new to mountaineering and winter camping, my horizons are broadened by every trip I take. The views from the road leading up to Onion Valley are simply breathtaking, and it beomces more and more difficult for me to go home each time I head out after seeing views like these.
We hit the parking area right around 9:30am and after gearing-up, we headed up, up, up! It was, by this time, already obvious that we were in for a VERY warm backpack, and all of us had shed down to base layers, shorts, and t-shirts. The snow was 7-11 special, and all you had to do was decide if you wanted cherry or cola flavored slushies in your snowshoes.
Admittedly, we camped after a 45 minute hike-in on the rationale that we would have more time for skiing, boarding, snowshoeing, and snow school if we set camp now. The snow conditions just weren't going to be very accommodating if we didn't get going.
We all set camp, and then Steve, Nathan, and "Bob" headed up the Valley to find some agreeable conditions for their skis and boards. Snafu, Walter, Ted, Jim, and myself grabbed a bite and then donned our snowshoes and headed out to find a good place to have our snow school.
We had discussed at our pre-meeting if there was any interest in doing an informal snow school, and there was plenty. We planned to go over glissading, self-arrest techniques, climbing with an ice axe, and anything else that might have popped-up in the right conditions. After about a 20 minute snowshoe, Snafu spotted a prime location above and we made our way to the starting spot for our self-arrest training.
Snafu's a great teacher, and if nothing else---blunt. "When you glissade, you take your crampons off. For me it's automatic, like taking a crap. Crampons come off."
Sooooo...Snafu set off down the hill first...setting off what we've dubbed the "Slab-O-Lanche." A 4" deep layer broke off when he started to glissade and followed him down the hill...it was humor incarnate. We then regrouped and started to practice self-arrest. I've never really glissaded before---and shoot howdy, is that good livin'! I kinda just wanted to keep skidding down the hill, axe be damned.
Steve and "Bob" showed up prior to our intial self-arrest practice and headed back to camp.
Unfortunately, Snafu had his own snafu when his left leg stopped mid-arrest and his body didn't. He took a breather while we all took a few more goes at it down the hill, and then determined he needed to head back to camp. He had a fair bit of difficulty on the hike back, but Snafu ain't much of a bitcher so we made the trail comfy for him by breaking ahead of him, got him hooked-up with some ibuprofen and a bag full of ice.
Snafu was back to his happy place in no time, and we had plenty of time to melt snow for dinner!
The theme for self-arrest is "AXE DOWN, ASS UP!"
It's during those time you share digs with those with whom you're not-so-familiar that we have the opportunity to laugh and learn.
While learning the ins and outs of MSR stoves (apparently, the "shizzat" for mountaineers), I was quite content with my Jetboil. Jim and I used it successfully for over 5 liters of snow melting, which met our needs for heating sleeping bags, drinking water, tea, dinner, and hot cocoa..oh, and some bowl washing.
I'll back-up my Jetboil and it's sassy orange neoprene cozy for the GCS till the day I die. However, I will say that it does need some "special" attention at colder temperatures. We found that the fuel canisters did get cold quickly, which thwarted our attempts for a "jet" speed boil, and could probably be remedied by using a chemical hand warmer to warm the canister...hmmmmm.
The Jetboil now has a few new names: "Bob" had dubbed it the stove of sport climbers. Snafu has dubbed it the "JetSimmer." I was just annoyed.
I like my JetBoil. Sooooo NAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
This evening, we learned much about life, stoves, love, and...OK, not love. But here are some pearls of wisdom gleaned from the evening's exchanges:
***Everyone loves salami
***It's not backcountry ANYTHING if you still have cell phone reception.
And the quote of the trip is:
"Things work until they break. Then they don't work anymore."
We settled into our tents pretty early. Nathan was testing his new bivy, so Ted ended up with the club NF behemoth all to himself.
The night blessed up with incredible skies, lessons on how to find the North Star, and a certain someone MacGyver'ing her sleeping system so that she was not sleeping downhill in either the vertical or horizontal directions.
The following morning, Snafu's knee was still AFU, so he packed-up and headed back to the parking area at 8am. We all agreed to divy-up his stuff and either carry/sled it down. Steve and I set to packing the sled, and with Bob's assistance with a trucker's hitch, got it all tied-down in a nice neat package.
Apparently, Steve and "Bob"'s tent got cold in the middle of the night so they gave the tent their sleeping bags to use...that was touching. very thoughtful.
Walter did a bang-up job carrying extra gear back down and Steve won the lottery for belaying Snafu's sled down. I headed out first at about 8:40am, and was down by 9am with the group not far behind me.
At about 9:30am, Steve and "Bob" were still nowhere to be seen...they were descending on skis and then Steve had the sled. Finally, Steve comes into sight, wrestling what came to be known as "The Pig" (aka, the sled). Snafu had me grab the radio and tell him to "Cut the b*tch loose."
(insert picture of sled skidding down the hill and Steve quickly skiing down...walking away from the sled...not looking back.)
(cut to picture of "Bob" skiing down...his sled in tow behind him...tumbling...turning...)
We all had a good laugh as Steve walked in, a bit speechless and justifiably exhausted after dealing with the sled. "Bob" dubbed his and Steve's descent as the "Hillbilly Breakfast," as with the shovels clanging around in the sled it sounded much like Jed Clampet had decided to take up skiing in a POS truck with loose hubcaps.
This is NOT what the sled looked like when he started out...
Nate took off early to get in some early boarding at Mammoth prior to meeting Special K up at Uncle Tom's Cabin for some backcountry action that evening and the following day. The rest of us followed about a half hour afterwords, and were looking forward to some grub action in Lone Pine.
All in all, we had a very enjoyable time. As a group we managed to:
* incur a hand injury before we even reached California
* destroy a complete set of knees: Snafu's left and Steve's right (and yes, Howard, they're filling out accident reports)
* lose and recover 1/2 of one trekking pole
* learn how to self-arrest safely without injury...ok, we learned how to self-arrest
* enjoyed some beautiful scenery in the Sierras, with 2 gorgeous nights and mornings
* try out some new gear, have some great laughs, and no one got killed.
We started the trip with 8, finished with 8. Always a plus.
And while traveling back home, I couldn't think of a better way to end the trip while looking out the window. Beautiful scenery lies between Beatty and Vegas, and Jimmy Buffet was providing the soundtrack:
The days drift by
They don't have names
And none of the streets here look the dame
And there are so many quiet places
And smilin' eyes match the smilin' faces.
And I have found me a home
Yes, I have found me a home
And you can have the rest of everything I own
'Cause I have found me a home.
We arrived at Jim's house right about 3:45pm.
We thanked Snafu for putting together the self-rescue...er, we mean, winter backpacking trip...and bid farewell to one another.
At least until our next adventure.