Yum, that snowshoeing life. Snowshoeing is without a doubt a Type II kind of fun. This kind of fun is only realized in hindsight. In the moments in which the supposed “fun” is happening all you can feel is the exhaustion seeping down from your back and into the bottoms of your feet. Mix in a bit of negative temperatures, snow-covered potholes, hunger, a 9,900ft summit and you’ll have the perfect recipe for creating an experience both debilitating and freezing. Why go through all this? Why snowshoe Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park?
When you can experience going home and waking up to moments like these, it’s absolutely worth every single high-knee snowshoe step.
In March 2016 my friend Kevin and I decided to attempt to snowshoe up to Clouds Rest. Full disclosure: we did not make it. To date this was my most challenging backpacking trip due to traversing different terrains including going off trail and into different stages of melting snow. Kevin and I completely loaded our backpacks with enough gear and food to cover ourselves for 4-days in the wilderness. Strapped to the bottoms of our boots would be a pair of oh-so-exhausting and yet oh-so-amazing snowshoes. Kevin had a pair of MSR Lightning Ascents while mine were a pair of MSR Denali Ascents (the older version of the current MSR Evo Ascents.) Both pairs of snowshoes are meant for climbing and going cross-country in snow terrain. They feature a prominent front claw and teeth-like edges to sink and grip into the snow.
Since the traditional route starting from up to Clouds Rest from Tenaya was closed for the winter season we started from Little Yosemite Valley instead. This route took up Nevada Falls, around Half Dome, and then up, up and away to Clouds Rest’s summit.
Yes, all the M&Ms are necessary for a 4-day trip
Just to show you how quickly weather can change here is the site of camp on one of the days before our summit bid. The TN2 sitting on top of a blanket of fallen pine needles and surrounded by tall, wind-blocking tree. Snow is everywhere besides where we are.
Then overnight 4 inches of snow dropped and camp became a winter wonderland.
As I mentioned and explained in the vlog Kevin and I weren’t able to make to the peak of Clouds Rest –we were very close though! We made the decision to abandon our summit bid because the rate we were ascending was too slow. On the way up we ran into many obstacles. Since the floor was shrouded in snow we weren’t able to distinguish solid ground from snow on top of a river bed or snow between logs. We ended up falling and getting a leg or two stuck in random potholes in the snow. Snowshoeing during a winter season typically means racing against the sun. Thus as our hiking pace slowed down thanks to the many potholes in the snow we lost time and the sun started melting the snow. Ideally you’d get most of your snowshoe traveling down in the morning when the snow is nice and packed. Once the sun starts coming up it melts the snow into a slush and results in inefficient hiking. You’ll be forced to physically compensate for all the slipping and sliding on slushy snow. By the time we reached the false summit (~1,000 ft from the actual summit) it was too late in the afternoon to safely climb to the top. The snow was too slushy and even if we pressed and were successful we would be in a rush to safely set up camp, cook our meals, and melt enough snow for useable water.
Despite not reaching our summit goal, the multi-day hike wasn’t a complete loss. Near the false summit we set up came and got a gorgeous view of the Clarke Range.
Anticipating that this snowshoeing backpacking would propose new challenges and obstacles I decided to document the entire trip in a vlog format (see top video.) I wanted the video to feel personal by depicting the moments as they happened. To accommodate those needs I needed to use cameras that were easy to access, were weather resistant, and was easy to change batteries or recharge on the fly.
To my surprise a set of iPhones were the solution to my documenting needs. The footage of our snowshoeing trip was recorded on a GoPro HERO4 Black, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone 5s. With its included waterproof housing and action based designed the GoPro was perfect for capturing shots while strapped to my backpack shoulder straps. It gave a the direct perspective of what I was seeing as I hiked. For everything else (everything that wasn’t a wide-angle shot) I paired a set of iPhones with their respective Lifeproof cases (iPhone 5s/iPhone 6s Plus.) This allowed the phones to be protected from oncoming snow and rain. One thing that often gets overlooked when trying to capture footage is below freezing temperatures is the shorten battery life. In cooler temperatures lithium-ion batteries aren’t able to maintain a charge. The nice thing about using cell phones is that they’re made to fit inside pockets, which meant that when we weren’t recording Kevin and I were each able to store a phone in our jacket pocket. By keeping the phones close to our bodies this prevented the batteries from rapidly discharging.
In The End… Would I Attempt this Climb Again?
Yes, yes, and yes! Adventures like these are the kind that literally push you out of your comfort zone and make you stronger. Additionally I have a new photo I’d like to capture. After abandoning our summit bid we saw the most spectacular Full Moon rising over the horizon. I’ve never seen anything like that before. It was shining so bright that you’d mistake it for the Sun. As it rose the Sun was simultaneously setting, which create this awesome warm, orange glow that radiated off the snow-capped mountains. I took a snapshot with my cell phone of the scene, but the photo doesn’t do it justice.
I also tried capturing it using my main camera, a Sony A7r II, but since I only brought a 28mm/2 lens the resulting photo also couldn’t do the scenery justice. This camera and lens combination is great for walking around, but horrible for photographing something that is very far away. What I need for this situation was a giant lens.
Next year I hope to attempt this backpacking trip again and bring along at least a 400mm zoom lens or a combination of a 1.4x extender and 70-200mm zoom lens. The photo from the cell phone is much too pixellated and its digital zoom makes me want to vomit. The photo taken with the short lens doesn’t highlight the moon or the mountain range. A long zoom lens is ideal for compressing bring those two subjects front and center.
This means I’ll need to build my cardio endurance, tolerance to cold, and be prepared to carry extra camera equipment up a mountain. I can’t wait to try again!
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