As we rolled up to the parking area, I shivered a little bit. I have this habit of leaving my house in sandals – we are in California after all. My toes were already cringing with the anticipation of the freezing temperatures. The sun hadn’t hit the small valley we parked in yet and I could see ice crystals on the tree branches. I put my truck into park and Astro, my dog, pawed at the door. He knew we were on an adventure the moment I turned down this road. I released the beast and he barreled out of the truck to mark his territory on all the faded yellow snow from a winter filled with adventurous souls and their pups rolling through.
I put down the tailgate and started gearing up. The snow had melted a good amount over the last few weeks, Spring obviously making its entrance into this icy world, but there was still enough coverage to ski from the parking lot. Moments after we turned off the highway, there was no phone service – something that I love about being in the Eastern Sierra. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to disconnect in life – literally – and here the mountains do that for you. But that doesn’t go without grabbing my InReach and sending out tracking to a couple of friends to know where we were at.
SPRING MISSION SAFETY TIP 1: Know your location and be able to communicate.
I have a few different map apps on my phone that I study before I head out and can download offline versions for when I’m in the backcountry. My current favorite is the Gaia app. If you have a Garmin InReach device, the Earthmate app is also a great resource and tool.
Everyone who goes in the mountains should have a GPS tracking and texting device. Whether you’re going on a short hike or a multi-day trip, this tool could save your life. The moment you step into wilderness, you become a needle in a haystack and having a way to send out SOS or messages with your coordinates is important.
Hoisting on my backpack, I did a mental double check that I had everything, whined a bit under my breath of how heavy my pack felt for just one night, and grabbed my skis. I looked over at my friend who had a smiled smeared across her face; we were ready! I called for Astro who popped out of the trees with a silly grin and tongue hanging out. The stoke was high and the day had just begun.
As we started skinning up, I breathed in that crisp air and let the rhythm of my skis keep the beat that was in my head. After a while, we broke off the track and went into the forest, searching for that perfect camping spot. We skied past old forest service cabins and small streams. The sun shone brightly through the trees, and we anticipated the temps to start dropping soon. We finally found a spot that gave us great views, tamped down a ‘platform’ and set up camp. This adventure wasn’t about how far, fast, or extreme we could make it; it was about taking the time to be in the moment. The conditions were stable, the weather was nice, and the company was great.
SAFETY TIP 2: Check the conditions.
There are so many insightful platforms where you can find snow and weather reports from your local mountain guiding company to social media platforms and websites. For example, in the Eastern Sierra I’m sure to check out the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Centre website or their Instagram page. I use a number of different websites for checking weather from NOAA.com to the Windy app. Knowing the weather is imperative before heading out – a casual overnighter can turn into a multi-day mission if a storm system rolls in.
That night as I snuggled into my sleeping bag, just my nose poking out, I smiled. I love these kinds of adventures where the day ends sandwiched between a good adventure buddy and your trusty dog inside a tent surrounded by beautiful mountains.
Planning an overnighter in the early Spring comes with its complications. Some years the snow doesn’t start to melt far into the Spring making plans for backpacking slightly more involved. My top gear items for this kind of adventure include the Battle Mountain 2 tent – a lightweight four-season tent that’s perfect for high altitude winter conditions. Along with that, I take the TwisterCane BioFoam pad – which is also a great pad for Astro to sleep on – combined with the Rapide SL Insulated pad. When there’s still snow on the ground, I take all the insulation I can get! In warmer conditions, I love the Women’s Sidewinder SL 20. As a side sleeper, these bags have changed my sleeping game in the mountains! But if it’s really cold, I opt for the Star Fire UL -20 bag. It’s all about staying warm and comfortable.
SAFETY TIP 3: Pack the proper gear to stay warm.
I’ve already touched on my preferred camping gear, but when it comes to what you’re wearing I’m a big fan of layers. Keeping your core warm is essential. After finding a great merino wool base layer, I like to bring along a lightweight synthetic puffy jacket like the Larkspur Jacket along with a heavier puffy such as the Luna Jacket.
The more you get into the backcountry, the more you develop your own trusty system. Be sure to add a first aid kit, delicious food, ways to hydrate to that checklist too! And as always, make sure you’re having fun. When I first moved out to the Sierra, a friend told me that the moment you stop having fun is the moment you should pack up and head home.