Each winter, I organize a group of 40-something guys (between four and ten of us) on a winter hike. For the past 10 years we’ve been doing this in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, always with a guide service to help us deal with equipment and emergencies. But this past Spring I visited Yosemite with my family, and I’m intrigued at the idea of having the group fly to Yosemite to hike.
We would most likely have just two days to hike – a weekend. What can you recommend as a hike for us? If we hike two days with an overnight in the middle, are there any shelters – heated? – where we can spend the night? I know Half Dome is a famous hike, but is it accessible during Winter? And do you recommend we use a guide service, and if so who?
I sent David’s email over to Tom, Instructor at Badger Pass and a resident Yosemite to see what he had to offer. Here’s what he had to say:
Loyd elected me as resident winter guru, which is a bit exaggerated, but I do spend a lot of time outdoors in winter (22 days this February. Yeah Baby!). It sounds like your preference is to have a hut. Unlike the Northeast, where huts are the norm (though not heated), there aren’t many in Yosemite. There are, however, three options.
1 Glacier Point Ski Tour with the Yosemite Mountaineering School. This is a nice trip, but you can only do it with a guide. You are, of course, welcome to head out there on your own, but the hut has a full commercial kitchen, supplies for the summer retail and so forth, so you can only get in with a guide who has a key. It’s fairly plush – gas heat plus a fireplace, full kitchen, stocked fridge, bunk beds. They also groom the road for every guided trip, so it’s friendly for folks who aren’t necessarily strong skiers. It’s 10 miles one way and you can do trips with either one or two nights at the hut. It runs somewhere around $160 to $250 dollars depending on whether it’s one night or two, weekend or not. I don’t know exact prices since that’s my wife’s job. Call the Mountain School at (209) 372-8344 for info on prices. For info on the trip itself, you can see a description on my site
For a set of images, click on the link to the associated gallery.
2. Ostrander Hut. This is a tougher ski and a more rustic and much smaller hut. It’s also much cheaper ($30/night). I’m not sure how to get reservations because I’ve always just either gone for the day or camped, but I can look into it. If you want to stay in the hut, you have to call the Yosemite Association (209-372-0740) for information. They hold a lottery for reservations every November, but realistically it’s easy to get reservations during the week most times. If you want some more description of the trip, you can again check out my general page on the Ostrander trip and then go from there to the gallery (there’s a link on the description page).
3. Trans-Sierra trip through Tuolumne. This is probably beyond the scope of your trip since you would want several days for this. Basically, you go to Tioga Pass Resort on the first day. Another day gets you to one of the two huts in Tuolumne (either the park service free hut or the Yosemite Mountaineering School hut which has meals and heat, but requires a guided trip. Then it’s usually a couple more days to get down into the Valley. At that point you’re faced with trying to get back to your car on the east side.
If you want to camp out, that opens a lot of possibilities. If you want just a short hike/ski, Dewey Point is fantastic, but that’s more of a one-day thing (http://yosemiteexplorer.com/ski/dewey-point). Heading up Snow Creek from the Valley is a grueling start to any hike, but you could do a sweet hike out to May Lake and possibly summit Mount Hoffman if you’re a strong group. That’s definitely something to consider.
Half Dome is a much more serious outing in the winter and I have to admit that I have not done it myself. Basically, the cables are present, but the stansions are removed, the cable is lying down. Risk of avalanche can be high if there’s snow on the Dome. Much easier would be to go up to North Dome, but of course it’s not a famous tick. I would say that Half Dome in winter is a mountaineer’s summit, not a hiker’s peak.
Thanks for all the great information Tom. I hope that helps you out some, David. Be sure to visit Tom’s site at http://www.YosemiteExplorer.com
Photo courtesy of BigPhilUK