Finding a crowd-free Tahoe | The things they carry
Special to the Tribune
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – It’s now been around two weeks since our last real storm, but there are still turns to be had in the backcountry that make it seem like we got hit just a few days ago. Tahoe has been in a wonderfully consistent cold pattern with high clouds blocking much of the sun’s radiation. The result has been longer-lasting, quality snow in many of the pockets on our backyard peaks.
Despite these stashes, I have noticed that people are beginning to get a bit antsy about the weather and have begun to talk about the next big dump – which is just speculation and conjuncture from bored weather forecasters. As far as I can tell, we are experiencing the annual January thaw that so often thwarts the appetites of skiers hungry for more storms like the ones we regularly get over the holidays. In reality, this kind of weather pattern isn’t uncommon at all. I can recall several Januarys in recent years in which we actually grew some winter corn.
Ah, but I digress. I am not in the forecasting business and for good reason. So I’ll try to stick to what I know.
Last week I talked about some basic backcountry safety tips and some quick fixes to common events that would otherwise stymie a perfectly pleasant day. I would like to augment that info with a brief look into the backpacks of some regular ol’ backcountry folks willing to let us in on the things they carry.
Instead of redundantly listing all the common items that almost everyone carries, I will just list those first and then get into the unique items that illustrate the different attitudes, concerns and, at times, superstitions that cause people to pack certain articles with them on tours.
Six things that almost every experienced person carries are a shovel, probe, avalanche beacon, down jacket, food and water. Additionally, depending on the time of year and the prevailing temps, there are several clothing combinations to regulate the body’s temperature that are either left at home or piled into the backpack as needed.
That being said, let’s get into the more interesting stuff. First-aid kits and helmets are often take-it-or-leave-it kinds of items that depend on a person’s backcountry philosophy. Some will say, “If I take a helmet, I’ll need it.” Or, “I don’t plan on doing that type of skiing.” Meaning that they will ski more aggressively if they have more protection. The same goes for first-aid kits. In some cases, people have whittled down their first-aid kit to duct tape, sun screen and ibuprofen. On the other hand, some people like to prepare for the worst and strap on the brain bucket and lug around a large first-aid kit every time.
For some, emergency gear ends with the above two items. However, others imagine more dire situations and think in terms of having to leave someone on the side of the hill in an effort to gather additional resources to make an extraction. In this case, it isn’t uncommon to see people carry an emergency blanket, or even a Gore-Tex bivy sac and a short foam pad. The pad certainly comes in handy in keeping one’s butt from freezing when there’s nothing to sit on that isn’t covered in snow.
Finally, many of us are skiing aspects on peaks that face the lake at one point or another. This means that you will likely have cell phone service. It might seem contradictory to the reasons that you’re out in the backcountry to begin with but, in a traumatic situation, every minute counts. The time saved by contacting the authorities ahead of time may make the difference between life and death. At the very least, if for some reason your plans change and you’re out longer than you expected, you will be able to easily contact a roommate, spouse or partner who might be worried.
Well, that pretty much covers safety gear, unless you want to get a bigger pack. Most people like to keep it as simple and light as possible, but there is still room in even the smallest day-packs for a few items that add to the good time. Many people carry a camera to capture the day in a more permanent format. Still others like to bring along a toy of some sort just to keep things fresh. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t seen a few games of balero being played out on the top of our South Shore peaks.
Whether your pack is bulging with gear or hanging loose with empty space, let’s keep it safe and, as always, let’s have some fun.
– Nicholas Miley is a freelance writer living in South Lake Tahoe. He spends his free time exploring the Sierra Nevada and writing about his experiences.