The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 131: California Snowshoe Trails

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Spring is acually a great time to explore snowy mountain landscapes, and California has some great ones. This week on The WildeBeat; California Snowshoe Trails

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one thirty one, made possible by your membership donations.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Hiking on show shoes is the easiest way to get started exploring the winter wilderness. Even though winter's officially over and we're now into spring, mountain areas will still be snowy for a couple more months. With the milder spring weather, it's a great time to explore the snowy landscape.

STEVE: Two weeks ago, in our edition number one twenty nine, I joined author Mike White to get some basics of snowshoe hiking. This week, Mike returns to talk about his favorite places to snowshoe in California. Mike wrote several guides to snowshoeing in California, including Best Snowshoe Trails of California.

MIKE WHITE: The sheer beauty of the winter landscape is just magnificent. If you're out on a day where there's a fresh powder, no tracks, the snow is glistening in sun. The snow is clinging to the tress. It's just a beautiful landscape to be out in. And we are blessed here in the Sierra with probably some of the best mountain weather in the whole United States. So, you know, it's not like you have to wait for the Donner Party conditions to go snowshoeing, you can pick your days and go out on a nice calm, clear day when the conditions are just absolutely beautiful and the scenery is just breathtaking. So just provides you with lots of peace and serenity and beauty and it's just a great chance to get out, get some exercise, enjoy the fresh air, and just enjoy the beauty of nature.

STEVE: When you set out to follow a snowshoe trail, like those in Mike's book, you'll find that they aren't quite as obvious to follow as summer trails.

MIKE WHITE: If you're a hiker or a backpacker obviously you're following trails that, under most circumstances are well-maintained and it's not something where you necessarily have to figure out moment by moment where you're going. In the winter time, what happens is the snow, obviously covers all those trails, and so you don't have those trails to guide you unless you go to a resort or unless you're following a marked trail in a state park or someplace like that. So, if you're going to go off the beaten path, you really need some good navigational skills. You need to know how to read a map, work a compass, and it's also good to have a G-P-S although ...having a G-P-S is not a substitute for good navigational skills. Because if your G-P-S does not work, for mechanical failure, or're down in a ravine and can't get satellite coverage, you want to make sure you can still get yourself out. So having good map and compass skills along with a G-P-S and you should be able to successfully navigate yourself through the backcountry.

STEVE: Mike has a list of favorite trailheads where he likes to explore the mountains on snowshoes.

MIKE WHITE: Up in the north by Mount Shasta one can drive all the way up to Bunny Flat. The state keeps that highway open. And so there's a big, huge parking lot there and that provides access to a number of different trails in the Shasta area. That's just up out of Mount Shasta City, so if you're looking for, you know, weekend accommodations or overnight accomodations there's a great little town there that's got motels and restaurants and all that.

MIKE WHITE: One of my favorite areas that I had not been to prior to the project was, became Lassen National Park. And you can go in from either the north entrance by Manzanita Lake, or the southwest entrance. Probably more trails available on the southwest entrance and it's right where the new visitor center's being built there. Some marvelously beautiful terrain, just gorgeous backcountry out of there. Not that many people there, so chances for plenty of solitude and serenity.

MIKE WHITE: A little further south of that, Plumas-Eureka State Park is a great little spot that's kind of in an out of the way place that not too many people get to in the winter. Lots of different hikes and trips you can take out of that.

MIKE WHITE: And then of course, probably the most popular area in California would be the ...Lake Tahoe area... There's probably fifty trails that you could probably go in that greater Lake Tahoe area. So lots of opportunities there. Plus the lake, very highly developed, so if you're looking for again restaurants, motels, stuff like that, the lake certainly has an abundance of those.

MIKE WHITE: Another one of my favorite areas that I hadn't been to until I started this snowshoe book project, is Yosemite. And Yosemite, probably, of all the places I went in the winter time has to be my favorite top spot. Simply because it's the antithesis of the summer experience. Summer time you know, if you've been to the valley, how crowded and congested it can be, and it really is somewhat of a downer if you're looking for anything close to a wilderness experience, which it can't provide unless you get way into the backcountry. But winter is a completely different story. It's quiet. It's peaceful. Usually you can find accommodations; even in the valley itself, and there's two or three different staging areas in Yosemite that provides good quality snow, and it's just a marvelous, marvelous area to get to.

MIKE WHITE: And then further south, of course, Sequoia and Kings Canyon much like Yosemite offers some extraordinarily beautiful type of terrain and not too many people in the winter.

STEVE: I pressed Mike further to get him to actually reveal his favorite places in all of California for snowshoe hiking.

MIKE WHITE: Well one of the easiest places to get to, but yet one of the nicest areas I've found was at Donner Summit off of Interstate Eighty in the Castle Peak, Castle Valley area... There's a snow park south of the freeway where you can easily park at and then trails radiate out from that snow park. If you go to the north toward Castle Valley you'll find a nice thin little meadow area that is really beautiful that provides a nice little loop. If you're looking for something more adventurous, you can go over Castle Pass over down into Round Valley and to Peter Grubb Hut, and also for the really adventurous a winter ascent of Castle Peak is something that a lot of people like to do as well... And if you don't want to break your own trail, chances are, unless you get there right after a storm it's popular enough that you're going to find a beaten path to most of your destinations.

STEVE: So what's somebody going to experience on probably your favorite of one of these trails off the Donner Summit snow park?

MIKE WHITE: Well the trip into Peter Grubb Hut and Round Valley is a nice little trip. It's a good length. You have to work your way from the snow park over to the north side of the freeway, going under the underpass, and then once you get to that side there's a snow-covered road that you can follow. Takes you through the trees and eventually along side beautiful Castle Valley. There's nice, long meadow there that you stroll along side, and kind of work your way mildly up through the trees. And then after a bit, maybe two miles or so, you get to the slope below Castle Pass, which requires a little bit of steep climbing, but it's not too terribly difficult, and it's fairly short. Once there, then you traverse along the ridge and get to an area above Round Valley, drop into Round Valley, and you can find the hut on the left-hand side of the big open meadow in Round Valley. And from Peter Grubb Hut, then if yopu have reservations to stay there, you could go on additional forays further afield and find lots of other alternative trips to extend your stay for.

STEVE: We did a program about staying in these backcountry huts, and described it as a beginner's way to get a taste of snow camping. We called it Indoor Snow Camping. So these huts do require reservation, right? And they do require that you carry almost all the overnight gear you'd carry camping.

MIKE WHITE: Correct. And they're all run by the Sierra Club, so you need to make reservations through them. They charge you a nominal fee, it's not much at all for what you get. And yeah, it is a good way to be able to go out, experience some winter camping, and not have to do the whole, out in the cold tent sort of thing.

STEVE: So briefly, what are the extra things you're going to need if you're going to do a hut trip like that?

MIKE WHITE: Well, you're going to need a good backpack to carry all your gear, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food, and the usual things that you would take on a backpack, except that you don't need a tent or a stove.

STEVE: Finally, I asked Mike to pick his number-one, overall snowshoe hike in California.

MIKE WHITE: If you make it into Yosemite National Park, which does require a little bit of effort for most people no matter where you come from. But, up at Badger pass, which has the distinction of the first ski area in California you can set off on a two to three mile hike to the valley rim at Dewey Point, and you travel through kind of open forest, and patches of meadow, and then you come upon the valley rim at Dewey point. You have this magnificent glorious view across the valley of El Capitan. It's just, scenery-wise probably one of the most scenic trips in the book. The terrain is not particularly difficult, and again much like Castle Pass, ...unless you're the first person after a storm you're going to be able to follow their marked trail and follow ...somebody else's footprints, so it's not like you would have to break trail.

STEVE: We'd like to hear about your favorite showshoe trails, or your experiences on them. You can share your stories by calling our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You can find a link to Mike White's book, to maps of his favorite areas, and an extended version of this show, on our web site.

STEVE: This edition was produced with funds provided by listeners like you. For a limited time, become a WildeBeat member and receive up to five books from Wilderness Press, including a couple by Mike White, as a thank you gift.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. If we helped you get into the wilderness, could you help us do the same for others? Just click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Insitute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one thirty one. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- Flying Backpacks.

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