Subzero Chill and Iconic Views

Fresh snowfall beckons those who snowshoe and cross country ski to come explore the Yosemite landscape in its winter majesty. Iconic scenery is familiar and yet different under a blanket of snow. The hiking (or skiing) to Dewey Point is easy going and non-technical. This is a trip that anyone can do. For winter camping, an understanding of fundamental gear one should possess and the know-how to use it are necessities. Making the trip as a group is great fun and a good way for newbies to pick up some tips from the more seasoned crew, sometimes even vice versa.

A Yosemite Classic
A Yosemite Classic

The Particulars

Destination: Dewey Point, Yosemite National Park
Trail Head: Badger Pass (to Dewey, Crocker, Stanford Points)
Distance: 7 miles round trip, ~1200 ft gained/lost (~170 ft/mi avg)
Remoteness: Expect plenty of day hikers, possibly a few dispersed campers nearby
Motivation: Views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, El Capitan, etc…
Notes: Wilderness permits available from Ranger’s station across from the Badger Pass ski lodge. Do not camp on Dewey Point proper.

View Badger Pass to Dewey Point in a larger map

Elevation Profile

The Report from Our Trip :: Jan 11-13, 2013

I picked up a couple of friends in Modesto and we headed down to Merced to catch the 140 into Yosemite. Good conversation and mellow scenery made the 3 hour drive pass quickly. One of our first conversation topics was something that had been on everyone’s mind: the unusually cold weather that had been making us Californians feel sluggish lately. Depending on the source, we had the overnight lows anywhere from -5F to +15F. The general consensus was plan for zero, if the temps land on the low side of the forecast we’d at most have a couple of uncomfortable nights. As we pulled into the parking lot near the trailhead my truck’s thermometer read 17º outside. It was 2:30 in the afternoon and steadily snowing; we’d definitely have a cold night ahead.

After picking up a permit we bumped into Marc and Rick getting their pulks situated at the trailhead. Now we were 5 and expected that 2 more had already hiked in to await our arrival. Dave would be skiing, Kat, Mark, Rick, and I would snowshoe.

Pulk'n Around
Pulk’n Around

As we stopped to convene a trail congress, an angsty ski woman chastised either myself or Kat (maybe both of us) for stepping on one of the groomed ski tracks… “never, ever!…” she spewed. Evidently the tail of one of our snowshoes just clipped it, slightly disrupting the balance of the world. I mumbled some non sequitur to her as she schusted by, after which we sort of looked at each other and had a good laugh. “Let’s get off the road”… into the pow we plunged with just our backpacks and the love.

Passing Through
Passing Through

Travel was easy going but the mood was slightly uneasy. We knew it would be cold. It was already very cold, somber gray, still snowing, and sunset was approaching. We were all prepared and mostly adequately experienced with being in the snow; however, most of us slot into the ‘ultralight’ category, none really being into winter mountaineering nor having dedicated winter gear. So, the quiet walk allows time for the mind to toil with what-if scenarios that might yet materialize. How cold could it get? Would we find our friends before dark? Would we get our shelters pitched and stoves lit without trouble? Just how much snow would be falling that night? Was it perhaps a bad idea coming out in this forecast? It was certain that those questions would be answered soon enough.

I was the first to approach the point. Awesome sight. Then, written there in the snow was a welcomed sight meant for us: “BPL” with an arrow pointing West into the trees, and the only set of fresh tracks we’d seen all day. I headed up the hill and yelled “hullo!” a couple times before Rick and Adam called back “here!”. Cool, we’d all made it. Now we were 7. As the rest of the gang filed up, hellos and hugs were brief before able hands set to work pitching shelters in the falling snow. Familiar rituals restore confidence and the busy mind calms.

Around nightfall Kat, David, Adam and Rick took up the task of digging out a group kitchen in which everyone promptly hunkered down in. Sure as the snow was falling, liquid fuel stoves proved to the be rule, not the exception. I noticed a few funny looks when I showed up with my little Whitebox alcohol stove. I’d had it down to the teens before and didn’t really anticipate any troubles taking it down to zero… none to be had. I poured cold alcohol in, and lit ‘er up with a match… 10 minutes later I was grubbing on lemongrass noodle soup and chai tea; yum! The snow continued to fall, enough so that everyone was out clearing their shelter after dinner. Although it wasn’t mentioned at the time, the epic trip that Adam and Marc (and Jack and Brian who would join us the next day) experienced in the same spot just two years earlier wasn’t far from mind. They had several feet of snow dump on them, incurring shelter collapses and complete obfuscation of the trails and some of the trail markers. Thanks to their sharp thinking and tenacity they made it out of that no harm done. Before the mind started wandering again, it was time for dessert, conversation, and eventually… sleep. “Good night everyone, good luck!”.

I zipped my pyramid shut and tucked into my sleeping bag, which was stuffed with a down quilt. Between the two I had a theoretical rating of about 5ºF. Layers of warm clothes would stave off the cold and a down air mattress would keep me from losing much heat into the snow. I put my water bladder into a dry bag and stashed that in the sleeping bag with me along with some camera batteries, first aid, and maintenance supplies. When the mercury dropped I felt it just a little bit, but sooner or later the usual dreams of really weird stuff set in, and before I knew it the sun was up. Woo hoo! No Popsicle death! Everyone made it through the night in good shape. We didn’t know how cold it got, the best thermometer we had quit working at 5ºF. The Ranger we saw the day before said -2ºF was the forecast, I later heard it could had actually been as cold as -5ºF that night. I can believe it.

A Very Light Setup
A Very Light Setup
Another Light Setup
Digging the Khufu Out in the Morning

The rest of the trip was a breeze. The next afternoon another group of 7 of our friends joined us and we shared stories of the previous night. The second night was not as cold but again the thermometer bottomed out at 5. Due to a few adjustments I made, plus the ‘warmer’ weather, I was very toasty, almost too toasty but wasn’t losing any sleep over it. In the morning I propped myself up and watched the sun rise over the valley. Good stuff. You really can’t beat a group trip like this for the cross section of people, experiences, and gear you get exposed to. I would like to return with a smaller group, or even solo sometime, but this was just a ton of fun despite the cold. The scenery is hard to beat, especially for such a minimal effort to get out there.

My Gear Used:

Backpack: Lowe Apline Zepton 50L
Shelter: Locus Gear Khufu Cuben, DIY Tyvek groundsheet
Sleeping Bag: Western Mountaineering Alpinlight (20º) + Jacks R Better Sierra Stealth Quilt (40º)
Sleeping Pad: Kookabay down air mattress rated at ~ R8, Gossamer Gear SitLight pad
Cooking: Whitebox Stove, DIY pine cook platform, Snowpeak 900 pot, REI plastic mug
Water Storage: Platypus 2L + 1L
Food Storage: Outsak Ultralight
Poles: Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork
Snowshoes: Northern Lites Backcountry
Shovel: Voile Light Avalanche Shovel


Base Layers: Icebreaker 200 top and bottom, synthetic T-shirt, SmartWool liner gloves, SmartWool balaclava, SmartWool heavy hiking socks
Mid Layers: REI Kimtah eVent, REI Ultralight rain pants, wool beanie
Insulation: First Ascent Downlight Hooded, Prana Zion synthetic pants (not insulated but worn over the others)
Footwear: The Northface Hedgehog GTX hiking shoes, Outdoor Research Verglas gaiters

What Worked & What Didn’t:

I never calculated my baseweight for this trip but my total pack weight including food, 2.5 liters of water, fuel, and my camera gear was right around 28 lbs. This carries really nice on the Zepton, no complaints there. The Khufu has fast become one of my favorite shelters, and as like most pyramids they’re great for using in the snow, so again – no complaints. For sleeping I decided to put my quilt inside my bag, which has enough room to do that. There was a little compression of the down, but I don’t think enough to matter. It worked great, putting the quilt over the bag has also worked ok in the past, but it tends to slip off as I toss around. The second night I used my SitLight pad under my hips (between the ground and my Kookabay) which removed the little bit of cold I could feel while side sleeping. Tossing some warm water in the Platypus bladder and putting that into a dry bag warmed up my feet and legs nicely.

My stove worked great, although I should have brought more fuel. Adam melted 1L of water for me, which is what I had left after we walked out on Sunday. I melted some snow also, but I didn’t drink enough and could have easily used twice as much fuel to better keep hydrated. For melting that much snow the alcohol stove would have been a pain to deal with after a while. I think I’ll add a DIY cone to it to improve the efficiency though. Rick had made one for using with his canister stove, seemed like a great idea. I also have to say, I continue to love my cheapy REI mug. That thing keeps hot drinks warm forever, even in the cold that we had.

My clothing worked fine. If it had been wet snow I probably would have had to put my down jacket under the rain jacket, compressing it and losing some warmth. The pants would have got rearranged also, but I don’t have any insulated pants at the moment, so it would have not made much difference. I’d really like to get a pair of insulated pants, those who had down pants had mixed feelings on theirs. I’m thinking WM Flight Pants, or maybe the lighter Flash Pants. The other issue I have is cold feet. I have no complaints about my shoes in snow when I’m moving, but sitting around camp the cold creeps in after a bit. Cold and dry weather is one place where I think a Gortex shoe can be justified, but I may need to revisit Skurka’s thoughts before making any brash decisions in changing up my footwear. The guys who were wearing Forty Below Light Energy overboots seemed really happy with them, maybe that’s my solution.

Aside from forgetting to bring a memory card for my camera (doh!), the only gear failure I had on this trip was the bite valve on my drink tube. It ripped when I bit into it to de-ice it (maybe not the best idea). It’s a good thing I had the dry bag to put it into, otherwise I would have had a wet sleeping bag (I forgot to bring a standard cap for the Platy and had to leave the drink tube attached). I should have just left the drink tube at home as it was frozen most of the time anyway.

View from Dewey Point
View from Dewey Point

In Summary…

Easy hike, great views, bring a camera AND a memory card, awesome trip! -JD

Jacob D Written by:

Dad, Runner, Student, Berserker, Questionable Partner... on my path to living an exceptional and real life.