Staying Found with the WTC: “Snow” Travel

As a kid, I spent many frigid Wisconsin winters happily plunked down in fluffy mounds of snow, carving out lopsided angels and rolling around like a snowpant-clad walrus; as an adult, I live in Los Angeles and shiver uncontrollably when the temperature dips anywhere below 70 degrees.

I’ve never skied, I’ve never snowboarded, and I own one real winter jacket, which I bought a decade ago and refer to as The Wisconsin Coat. However, while armchair exploring via countless mountaineering books, I started warming (ahem) to the idea of spending completely voluntary recreational time in the cold. Upon realizing that the Sierra Club’s Wilderness Travel Course (WTC) tackles an overview of snow travel and camping, I knew it was time to face my winter aversion head-on. Several lectures, classroom sessions, and reading assignments later, by the time last weekend’s field trip rolled around, I was actually excited to pile on the layers, strap on my glacier glasses, and motor up to the surely Himalayan extremes of Mt. Pinos in the Los Padres Forest, where I would prance around like a snowshoe-clad princess in her frosty kingdom.


Oh, right – drought. There was no snow, there was no winter wonderland; just infinite amounts of disappointing dust and gravel. Sigh.

Ever the living examples of that timeless mantra “Adapt, Improvise, Overcome,” our trusty WTC leaders turned our snowless sadness into an action-packed afternoon. During our hike out to Mt. Pinos, we stopped for drills where we had to do things like quickly build a fire and MacGyver a shelter using a tarp and whatever we found in our bags and in our surroundings. Both activities proved that while the “10 Essentials” are, um, essential, you often need to think outside the box and go beyond the usual suspects to be truly prepared – I, for one, will always toss some lightweight paracord in my pack from here on forward!

We also revisited our old pal Navigation, with frequent stops to hydrate, snack, and answer the perpetual question: “Where are you now?”



The summit of Mt. Pinos was a bit anticlimactic in its lack of wintriness (especially since we could see the snow-dusted Sierras in the distance), but the views and conversation were fantastic as we broke for lunch. As I sat and contemplated the deliciousness of cheddar cheese, I noticed something glinting just past my feet … One small chunk of snow! Could there be more?

YES, THERE COULD BE! Much to my childlike delight, one of our leaders found a shady swath of crunchy bliss down a nearby hill, so after some practice in traveling across a (pretend) snow slope, we hiked down to our winter paradise for a lesson in crafting snow stakes for our tents. Naturally, things escalated into a (fairly civil) snowball fight. Naturally, we also built The World’s Tiniest Snowperson:


So there you go: I walked in snow and I did not die. In fact, I might have actually completely loved it. In fact-fact, I might be really, seriously, excitedly looking forward to our final field trip next weekend – a 3-day backpacking trip in the much-snowier, much-colder, much-wintrier Eastern Sierras.

Between now and then, if you have any tips on things that will make snow camping more enjoyable, let me hear ’em!

(“Don’t go snow camping” doesn’t count.)


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