Memorial Day Weekend: “Don’t worry, it’s not supposed to stick”

Before the storm: gorgeous morning in Granite Basin
Before the storm: gorgeous morning in Granite Basin

With several weekends of beautiful summer-like weather already behind us, we headed across (the often still closed at this time of year) Tioga Pass on the Thursday night before Memorial Day weekend. The snow has been melting fast but there was concern about a storm forecast for the Friday and Saturday – Sierra visitors were being warned of the potential for significant snow and winds. We were less concerned since we were heading two mountain ranges to the east, the Silver Range in Nevada. While the storm would most likely also hit us, according to forecasts it would be in the form of “30% chance of isolated thundershowers, with a snow level of 7800 ft (no accumulation expected)”.

Camping in the desert and hiking peaks with some cooler temperatures and refreshing rain? This sounded fine to me. When we pulled into our secret late night crash campsite along 120 the wind was howling but the skies were beautiful and clear. We snuggled up in the truck bed, toasted a beer, then fell asleep with the wind rocking the truck.

Obsidian near the CA/NV border
Obsidian near the CA/NV border

In the morning the sun was still shining and the wind was still blowing – the storm was still working its way inland. We planned on meeting up with our friends midday at our campsite in the Silver Range so we took our time exploring some rock hounding areas and picking up obsidian, agate, jasper, and apache tears. Around midday we stopped for a soak in Fish Lake Valley hot spring, enjoying the warm weather, calm breeze, and sunny skies. From here it was only about half an hour to our campsite through a gorgeous colorful desert canyon.

 

Red Mountain from camp - one of our intended climbs
Red Mountain from camp - one of our intended climbs

We arrived at camp and said hi to friends, and within a few minutes the wind kicked up again. The storm was still blowing in and we could see storm clouds off to the west. If they reached us they might drop some rain, but it was still pretty warm out. At least it was for a few minutes. Within about half an hour the temperature had plummeted and we went from shorts and tshirts to fleeces and hats. Half and hour later we saw some light snow flurries in the air. “Don’t worry, it’s not supposed to stick”, we kept repeating from the forecast we had all read.

 

"It's not supposed to stick"
"It's not supposed to stick"

By sunset the snow was starting to accumulate. There wasn’t much we could do besides stand around the fire to keep warm, and eventually we all just bailed to our tents and vehicles to get out the wind and snow. We were sleeping in the back of the Tundra, closing the gate and the lid like in the picture above (thankfully I’m not claustrophobic). But we learned something about our lid – you can’t get the corners latched properly from the inside (when you close it from outside you have to kind of push on each corner). We didn’t really realize it when we went to bed, but as the night went on the wind pushed snow through the gap.

When I woke up some time before sunrise I realized my sleeping bag was coated in snow. Snow was piled up around me, and as I had rolled around I had melted it and it had soaked in through the bottom of the bag. The side of my body that I was sleeping on was actually wet inside the sleeping bag. The snow on top of the bag had melted some but I still had some loft – luckily, in my I-am-always-cold paranoia I had brought along zero degree bag despite the forecasts for nighttime temps in the mid 30s.

As soon as it started to get light out we decided to make a run for the cab of the truck. When we popped the lid we were greeted by what looked like about a foot of fresh snow, with drifts even higher. Inside the cab we blasted the heater to dry off and warm up. It was 5 am, and for the next two hours we would make runs to pack up and coordinate with the group in between jumping in the truck to warm up. The snow was still coming down and I was concerned about the depth as I watched a drift reach the height of the hood of our Tundra.

 

Defrosting inside the truck
Defrosting inside the truck

Eventually we headed out, and once we pulled out of the campsite area we realized the snow wasn’t as bad as we thought. It was maybe 6-8 inches deep along the road and the cars (everyone in some kind of truck or SUV) did fine getting out. We reconvened down in Fish Lake Valley and decided to head south – weather forecasts showed that the precip was staying north of Independence, so our new destination would be the Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine (and in the shadow of Mt Whitney).

Not a bad view for a consolation prize
Not a bad view for a consolation prize

On our way south we stopped to hike Chocolate Peak, a desert summit in the Piper Mountain wilderness. It ended up being a perfect consolation prize for the afternoon; an easy hike, great views of the clearing storms, along our new route, and just the right amount of time. Soon I’ll be writing a post specifically about this hike. We ended the day under clear warm skies in the Alabama Hills, our campsite location at the site of the Gunga Din bridge (the Alabama Hills are a very popular place for movie sets).

 

Alabama Hills Camp
Alabama Hills Camp

The storm had not come this far south so the high country was still dry. Instead of our original desert peak bagging plans, we headed up to Horseshoe Meadow trailhead at 10k and hiked Trailmaster Peak, an over 12k summit just north of Cottonwood Pass. It felt so, so good to get out and do my first Sierra peak of the season. I was actually happy our original plans didn’t work out! Like Chocolate, I’ll be doing a post on this hike since it’s a great introduction to cross-country peak bagging in the Sierra.

 

Even better: view of Whitney and Langley from Trailmaster
Even better: view of Whitney and Langley from Trailmaster

This was one of those trips where I’m very thankful to have friends who have their @#$% together and are smart and flexible enough to make new plans. No matter what, I know I’m going to have a good time when I’m with this group. Thanks guys!

Full photo album here with detailed narrative.

Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Free range human. Mountain sports addict. Craft beer drinker. Tech nerd. The best days are those spent above 10k ft. Team OmniTen and Evernote Ambassador. Meet me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +