Kaweah WTC Snow Camp 2018 Goes Negative!

  • Updated: March 18, 2018
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

March 16th to 18th, 2018

Each year the 10 week Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course builds up to a three day two night winter backpack outing into the Sierra Nevada.  And each year the staff nervously watch the snow forecast hoping we don't have a repeat of 2015 where we barely had enough snow to set up tents on.

This year it looked grim until right before the snow travel outing at which point a series of storms starting hitting both the local mountains and the Sierra.  By the week before snow camp we knew we were in for something memorable.

Even if the weather fizzled (which it didn't) this was looking to be the coldest snow camp in years!

After a frenzied week of prep everyone met at the local transition station Friday morning.

But not before turning the parking lot into a temporary hobo town practicing setting up all the rental tents.

The ride up passed quickly as we enjoyed the cinematic classic Vertical Limit.  Aka the greatest climbing movie of all time.

We had a stop in Bishop for a last meal and supplies before waving goodbye to the other two groups heading up the hill towards Rock Creek.

The excitement was palpable!

The storm reached us before we even turned off at Tom's Place.

About a mile and a half up the road things started to ice up and we stopped to add chains to the bus and the emergency vehicle.  When it turned out that was insufficient to drive the rest of the way safely that meant only one thing, time to hike!

After a slightly chaotic unpacking of the bus we strapped on snowshoes and set off up the road!

The road feels surprisingly steep when you're not driving it and the wind and falling snow didn't make things particularly easy.  After about 4 miles the temperature was still dropping and people were starting to flag a bit.

We elected to pull over at the Big Meadow Campground and spend the night before it got too much colder.  Setting up the tents was a bit of an adventure between gusts of wind and the still falling snow but soon everyone was gratefully wrapped away in their sleeping bags.

The next morning we awoke to find it clear and several inches of new snow on the ground.

After a chilly breakfast we packed up and got moving further up the road.

The road was plowed by the time we reached it but we had to watch out for icy patches.

By the time we reached what had been our original dropoff point the day before the pavement was mostly melting through and there were a fair number of cars driving up to enjoy the fresh snow.

And from here we had solid snow coverage on the road.

We could see the promised second storm blowing in ahead but it didn't seem to be making much progress down the canyon.

After another 4 miles of (relatively) gentle incline we reached the lake and found virgin snow leading around to our campsite on the western shore of the lake.

Unlike last year where everything was buried we could make out all of the park benches and had easy access to the bear boxes.

Everyone had plenty of snow to set up on though the vestibule pits weren't as deep as some years.

Also unlike last year we could make it down into the stream giving us easy access to water.

After setting up tents we started happy hour and everyone broke out the food and drink they'd packed in to share.  Afterwards the temperature was dropping rapidly so no one stayed up very late.

The next morning we awoke to what was probably the coldest snow camp in years.  Someone in one of the other drainages measured -6 degrees.  I don't know exactly how cold it was for us but it was somewhere between really really cold and really damn cold!

Pretty much everything not in a sleeping bag had frozen solid leaving people chipping away trying to get into water bottles.  Many of the stoves weren't working either unless the cannisters had been protected.

This was our last day but before heading for the buses we set off on a dayhike to find a place to glissade.

After that it was back to camp where we packed up and headed back to the road for the final few activities.

The student selected theme for Kaweah Snow Camp 2018 had been A Day At The Spa and we had come dressed appropriately.

The Kaweah World Championship Snowshoe Races consist of several heats.  The winner of each heat then goes on to the victors circle where they get a chance to rest.

To give the last winner a chance to rest we run a staff heat after the last student heat.

This year the staff heat was won handily by Alex Hunt leaving the others in the dust.

Which brought us to the winners heat!  It started aggressively only to have Frank drop out due to stepping wrong leaving Dylan and Danny competing for the prize.  They were neck and neck until the turnaround where Danny pulled ahead.

The prize was a WTC medallion and the adulation of his peers!

And with that we hiked out to the bus.

Which made everyone slightly happy...

A short drive down the mountain and it was time for everyone's well earned reward, pizza and beer!

After gorging ourselves (and waiting around to say hello to the other two groups who arrived later) we set off on our traditional coffee / beer crawl across town.

A quick stop by Mountain Rambler Brewery led to a pleasant surprise, Black Kaweah beer was back!

Back on the bus and doing our best to rehydrate using a few growlers we watched another cinematic classic that was practically made for snow camp: Cannibal the Musical.  Followed by enduring classic Cliffhanger.

And we even had a break for staff to celebrate having survived.

We made it back to OC at 10:30 pm and disgorged our tired but accomplished participants.

We had one more classroom session after this but after snow camp everything is down hill.  And then it's off to summer experience trips!

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