Sunday, April 16, 2023

Skiing to Stella Lake

As it became more apparent that the winter of 2022-23 was special for the frequent storms and large amount of snow, I wanted to head up to document what was happening in the Wheeler Peak Campground. Located at nearly 10,000 feet elevation, it's a gorgeous campground. In the winter, the only way to access it is via the Lehman Creek Trail, about 4 miles long starting at Upper Lehman Campground, or the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, about 9 miles starting at Upper Lehman Campground. There was almost no snow at the Great Basin National Park entrance (above). 

I opted for the shorter route. At first I thought I was going to snowshoe, but two days of fresh snow followed by cold temps made me decide to switch to my cross country skis, with skins on the bottom for traction. There was a lot of snow in the campground on April 5th, at about 7600 ft elevation.

The trailhead is located about 5-10 minute ski into the campground. 

The next sign is for Osceola Ditch, a ditch made in the late 1800s to transport water from creeks around the mountain to the mining town of Osceola to process gold. 

I admired some Douglas fir pinecones.

When I got to the big meadow, about half way up, it started snowing me, even though it was sunny on the mountains.

I smiled anyway, it was so good to be outside for the day.

By now the tracks had lessened from a stampede to a single ski track, made the day before. I was extremely grateful for these tracks, as the flagging up the trail ended soon after the meadow, and the trail location was not at all evident.

As I headed higher, the snow got deeper. Here's some on a log.

I was amazed that the skiers had managed to find this narrow bridge over a spring. The layers of snow were fascinating.

Before too long, I was getting awesome views of Wheeler Peak behind snow-covered trees.

And then, before I knew it, I saw a little bit of a building. Wait, what? It turned out I was in the campground. But all the campsites were so snow covered I didn't know it. And there were no signs or roads to be seen. But I could just make out the top of an outhouse.

As I looked harder, I could make out one of the roads. You see it, right?

Up near the Bristlecone trailhead I saw the kiosk with the intepretive signs.

I made my way past the bathrooms and sat down for lunch. It was a lovely view. (It took about three hours to get here.)

Here's the trailhead sign for the bristlecones and alpine lakes trails. 

I still had energy and food, so I decided to continue on. The skiers the pervious day had turned around here, so now I had to break trail through about a foot of fresh powder. It was hard work. I came across the water treatment building.

Then I spotted the NevCan installation, which measures weather. The camera here stopped working in December, but there's another one near Mt. Washington that I follow regularly to see just how much snow there is.

Then I came to the Snotel site, which was measuring about 107 inches that day. Wow! 

From there I headed in the direction of Stella Lake, using the Gaia app on my phone to help me. I eventually came upon a trail marker--about waist high!

Here's a trail marker about knee high. These are usually way over my head.

It was strange sking so high up the trees.

As I approached Stella Lake, it got so white. The big meadow in front of it was totally snow-covered.

And then I was there! Stella Lake isn't too impressive with all the snow. But the mountain sure is!

I skied out onto the lake to enjoy a different view and just for the fun of it. Then I took another nice break.

Eventually it was time to head back down. I took the skins off my skis as with so much fresh powder, I had plenty of braking power.

It was gorgeous.

I took a slightly different route through the campground, admiring another campsite.

And another snow-covered bathroom.

I encountered seven people on my way down, including three who were spending the night at the campground. They pulled a sled, which made for a very fast trail. I put the skins back on, and then when the trail narrowed near Osceola Ditch, switched to snow shoes for a bit. 

It was a truly wonderful day out in the backcountry.
Now we'll have the fun of seeing how all that snow melts!

Monday, April 10, 2023

2023 April First Snow Survey


One of the winter field activities I enjoy helping with is the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) snow survey. It's been done in Baker Creek since 1942. You can see some of my previous posts about it in 2011,  20122013, 2014, 2015 (March)2015 (April), 2016, and  2019

Thankfully Great Basin National park maintenance was able to plow to the Baker Creek Campground, where we found conditions pictured above.

We put on our skis and started up. Often we see marmots at the end of March, but not this year!

Three of us were headed up to 9500 feet for this snow survey.

At the Baker Creek trailhead, we found the outhouse about half buried in snow.

The route to the first snow survey was covered in snow, with not even any bushes showing. 

Contrast that with the view of the 2014 snow survey, where we had to figure out a way around all the sagebrush and rabbitbrush. The 8000 foot elevation sign was prominently showing.

We measured the snow at the first site and found we were standing at the top of the snow survey signs.

That's in big contrast to 2015, where there was bare ground at some of the signs!

For much of our ski, we were high up next to the trees. We skied right over most obstacles, but did find a few things a challenge.

We marveled at how the aspen inscriptions were partially covered in snow.

At the second site we used four sections of snow tube. Each section is 30 inches long. We had one measurement over 90 inches! Yikes!

Weighing the tube took some balance. The snow tubes are calibrated so that when you weigh the tube and subtract the tare (the weight of the empty tube), you get the Snow Water Equivalent, or the amount of water that is covering the ground if all the snow was suddenly to melt. We measured over two feet at the second site, at 9200 feet. We found that the snow depth was the highest ever measured, beating a 1952 record, and the Snow Water Equivalent was the second highest in the 81-year record.

We were at the top of the snow marker! We had to get a shot of all of us up there.

Here's a view of the same sign in 2014.

We continued up to the third site, and I marveled that we could neither see nor hear Baker Creek. It was so covered in snow. The photo below is where a spring starts on the hillside and flows into the creek. No sign of it either.

Meg was also delighted for such an epic ski day. It was sunny and mostly calm.

In places the snow was piled high on branches.

We were wearing avalanche beacons, just in case. The only place where we've seen evidence of an avalanche is in this aspen area.

In 2005, the avalanche came down the chute, across the creek, and up on the other side. We kept moving.

As we approached the third site, I again marveled at how covered the springs were.

An indentation was all that showed where the spring brook ran.

We got to the third site and found the sign just sticking out of the snow!

This relaxed pose ended up in the NRCS Snow Report!

For contrast, here's the same sign in 2015.

We started out by taring the tube, or weighing the empty snow tube.

And when the ten-foot long pole (120 inches) was put down into the snow, this is all that remained above the snow. Yikes! It turned out to be another snow depth record and third highest SWE record.

We couldn't even see the orange aerial marker, it was completely buried (photo below from 2014).

The ski down was easier than most years, as there were very few obstacles. We didn't have to take off our skis to get over snow-free patches.

It was a treat to see what truly epic snow conditions on the mountain are. 

The data we collected are synthesized into the NRCS Water Supply Outlook Report. You can find that and lots more on the NRCS Nevada Snow Page.

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