Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

A Sierra Nevada Submersion: Hut-to-Hut Snowshoeing in Yosemite National Park

January 25, 2011, 10:31 am

John Muir said that going outside for a day is akin to “going in.” According to the famed conservationist and explorer, backcountry endeavors are about submergence. On a three-day, hut-to-hut snowshoe trip in Yosemite National Park, two friends and I get in deep – real deep – with the wilderness and each other.

One thing we do not do, though, is sink into snow. The Sierra Nevada mountain range is a granite wonderland stretching north to south through most of eastern California. Every few weeks in winter, moisture-laden storms march off the Pacific Ocean and blanket the range in a foot or four of powder. Bring a snorkel if you seek to snowshoe in these squalls. Between storms, high-altitude solar radiation and California’s mild temperatures manipulate the snow into what locals call “Sierra cement.” Think of our snowshoe trip in Sierra cement as a supranivean exploration: We move atop the snow rather than in it.

We click off the 10 miles to our first night’s destination, the Ostrander Ski Hut, with a combination of snowshoe running and powerhiking in just a few hours. A 1941-production of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Ostrander Ski Hut sits nestled in a glacial cirque at roughly 8,500 feet above sea level. The hut’s rustic charm is best revealed in its kitchen; pinned to the walls are notes, journal entries, and menus that tell tales of the 70 years worth of adventurers who preceded us. This is a do-it-yourself hut with solar-powered lights, squeaky bunk beds, a hole cut the nearby lake for fresh water, a wood stove, and a kitchen filled with cooking pots and utensils. An on-site hutkeeper ensures that visitors to this historic structure care for it as much as he does.

The hutkeeper does a fine job of entertaining, as well. Into the night’s wee hours, we 15 or so overnighters sing and sometimes dance, led by the hutkeeper’s musical talent and instrument collection. I learn that Gretchen has a sweet set of lungs and agile fingers. When the hutkeeper offers up his guitar, she picks and sings a pretty folk song.

Morning’s first light finds us sipping fresh-pressed coffee and watching the sky turn sunrise-pink then daylight-blue. A solid breakfast in our bellies, we don packs and set off on our second day’s journey: Another 10 miles across Yosemite’s winterscape to the Glacier Point Ski Hut.

We take a mostly leisured pace, meandering along the rolling Horizon Ridge. This ridgeline is well named, providing views to the highest reaches of the Sierra Nevada. I notice that, as we top a hill with a view, Bryon moves a bit faster. Scenery, it seems, is his rocket fuel. Here and there in the trees, in places that remain sun-obscured, we find leftover powder. Knee-deep and buttery, the snow makes us squeal and leap with joy. The last mile to the Glacier Point Ski Hut is a steep descent along a groomed track. We, literally, smell the barn as wood smoke from the hut wafts upslope and makes us dash downhill.

Read more at snowshoemag.com.