Tag: old mammoth

laurel lakes road

I sometimes refer to Mammoth as “outdoor Disneyland”. Minus surfing, the Eastern Sierras has nearly iconic status for anything set in the wilderness. Racing down snow covered mountains, climbing up ice shoots, fishing in gurgling creeks, and mountain biking through beautiful forests: you could do it all in the same day if you had enough time.

So today for lunch we headed over to one of the nation’s best skate parks here in town, then hit the dirt roads cutting through Sherwin Creek Campground and made a left towards Laurel Lakes.

Laurel Lakes Road apparently has earned a designation as a “dangerous road”, and fair enough: if you don’t have a fairly decent vehicle and skills to match you very well may end up dead. In fact, the latest fatality was about two years ago.

laureldrop
Yep, miss a turn or slide out and it’s a loooonnnnnnggggg way down.

Fortunately for me and the kiddos, we we had a nice drama free time. In fact, I only drove up halfway yesterday by myself and traversed the rest on foot to get a sense of what was going on. Satisfied it was within my and my truck’s ability range, I thought it would make a great lunch stop.

laureltruck
There are worse places in the world.

An advantage to going places that are a pain in the ass to get too is that there’s less folks there and the people who do make it happen tend to be more experienced and thus more responsible. There was barely any trash and minus some tree-trunk carvings from local kids it was in perfect condition.

laurelcreek
Fire ring past the giant “don’t drive through here” boulders, creek behind the kids.

I’m not sure of the camping restrictions up there, but there are some tastefully laid out fire rings. If you get up there, please be responsible and treat the place with the respect it deserves.

This is also the road you can take to Bloody Mountain, although we stopped before the final switchback sets: there is still too much snow.

If you have a couple of hours to kill, a high clearance 4×4, off road tires, and a locking dif or two, head on up. Alternatively you could mountain bike or hike the one-way ~4 miles: there’s little traffic on this route and it’s pretty easy to see folks coming ahead.

laureltrashbag
It matters.

As a final note, the first thing I set up these days for any kind of backcountry stop is a trash bag. Not only do you have a quick spot to toss your own things, but having a big bag around makes you more likely to pick up existing trash that someone else didn’t address.

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the art of getting high centered in snow

In sailing, a joke exists that there are three types of sailors. Those who’ve grounded, those who are lying, and those who will soon. Much the same exists for driving offroad and getting stuck.

YJoPpWQ
My friend here is not having a lot of fundra. Me in the background, my FJ80 Land Cruiser behind with the lights on, the tiny car way back is discussed below.

If you drive graded dirt all the time or limit yourself to mall crawling, “recovery” can seem like a worst case scenario. But at least for me in the 16/17 winter up here in the Sierras I’ve pulled three vehicles free, shoveled out half a dozen, and high centered myself thrice (counting today). I have a winch, strong attachment points, big ass shackles, a real no-shit shovel, two recovery straps, some chains, and traction pads. None of that keeps you from getting stuck but it will give you a fighting chance to get out of it.

Things get snow-stuck in all kinds of ways, but usually the most pain-in-the-ass is the high center. Simply put, you compact so much snow underneath the bottom of the vehicle that you create (via the pressure of your axles/difs/undercarriage/etc) a solid block of ice that is supporting all the vehicle’s weight.

This of course is a problem because if the cool new made-of-compacted-snow jack stands under your truck are holding you up guess what isn’t? That’s right, your tires. So your tires sit there spinning happily in the air, laughing at you and all your locking differential technology. In fact, the more the tires spin, the deeper they make their little holes, compressing the snow further and further under the vehicle. It sucks.

pixelatedsnow
After getting through a rather horrible patch. Note the streaks in the middle. That’s the differential and axles dragging across compressed snow.

When high centered, your options are limited. You can attempt to shovel out the snow which is fully caked under your vehicle, but remember it is highly compressed to the point that you are nearly going at ice blocks. Plus, you’re coming at it from the sides and will have a hell of a time getting an angle. I’ve only seen this work when one axle is stuck. If both are, which means the entire undercarriage is, read on.

You can use a winch or a buddy’s truck with a strap, but basically you’ll need to drag the vehicle where it’s got to go. As a bonus you can toss some traction pads under the tires (the orange things strapped to my spare tire in the picture above). An upshot with snow is that for the most part it’s fairly slick so once you get out of the augered holes that your tires have made, you should be able to move.

UPSTug
Mid winter, I got a chance to yank the UPS guy out of a snow bank.

The third mechanism falls into road-building albeit no dynamite required. If you have a hi-lift jack (and bumpers/sliders you can attach to) then you can lift the vehicle up and off it’s high centered mess, jamming rocks/dirt under the tires to make a solid track for the wheels to travel on. Likewise, you can shovel out the part in the middle (ahead of the vehicle) where you would get high centered again. This is grueling multi-hour work to even make it 100′, depending on the snow conditions.

If you’re dangerous, stupid, and lucky, you could always try using a blow torch to melt the snow. Make sure you film this so if you ignite the gas tank the video can go on youtube and make a lot of money for your family.

Obviously the easiest thing is simply to avoid the problem in the first place. If the snow is more than a foot thick (or taller than the bottom of your axles), don’t go into it. Remember that snow cats exist for a reason; wheeled vehicles can only do so much in snow.

Additionally, be careful about driving around early morning. The snow is harder then so you’ll float a little better. The same route when tried a few hours later could prove impassible. In the first picture above, way in the background there’s a subaru; it’s not going anywhere for weeks. I’m assuming it got out there on a cold icy night, and is now surrounded by soft spring snow.

For more information, feel free to read up from folks who’ve done this much more often than I have: it’s not like there’s one way to get stuck or unstuck. Open your mind, brother.

old mammoth loves the snow

oldmammothlol
Guess which car is from Old Mammoth.

Weather in Mammoth is tricky for a few reasons. First off, it’s in the mountains and more than once I’ve seen snow materialize from a 0% forecast and a foot of snow vanish on the forecast vanish to a clear sky.

Also, there’s the altitude. Down near the 203 and 395 intersection, the altitude is around 7,000. Where I live (Old Mammoth) is 8,000. Main lodge is 9,000, McCoy station (gondola mid-point) is 10,000 and the summit is 11,000.

So between the 395 turnoff and the top of the mountain is 4,000′ feet of difference in elevation (4/5 of a mile). An inch of rain in town can easily be a foot of snow at my house and four feet at the summit.

If you move to or are staying in Old Mammoth, find a good snow shovel. Learn to love it.

social media in mammoth lakes

Before I moved up here, I did what any Internet savvy citizen would do: tried to creep on Mammoth Lakes and learn everything I could. Confusingly, Mammoth denied Internet norms: there is no Craiglist, just Reno, “Gold Country“, and even some junk on Bakersfield. The messageboard is broken and doesn’t allow new members. The subreddit is a digital ghost town.

hikingdudesmartphone
What’s the point of doing anything if you can’t post a photo of it on social media to get recognition from others?

Paul Oster has a blog that’s somewhat current, and there’s a lot of info on there especially for anyone who’s looking at buying real estate.

But in general I had to learn all this the hard way, so with no further ado let me key you into Mammoth’s social media:

  • Mammoth Buy Sell Trade. This is the facebook group that nearly everyone with a phone or computer uses to buy and sell in Mammoth or Bishop. I’ve bought bikes, furniture, and tires from here. Likewise we’ve sold a car seat, storage racks, and housewares. Also, this is where up-to-the-minute town drama happens. Did you hear an explosion? Did a bear get into someone’s house? Did the police cite a guy for picking up trash? It’s all on Mammoth Buy Sell Trade.
  • Mammoth For Rent. Unable to figure out where the hell the rentals are? Well, here you go. Before the snow season starts, this is 10% listings and 90% people with $500 a month looking for a place slopeside that will take them and their dog.
  • Butt Hurt Owens Valley. This is primarily for folks who love along the 395 as there is a distinct difference between Mono residents and those down in Inyo/Kern/wherever. In general this is full of people from Bishop complaining about homeless people the Vons parking lot sleeping in their cars.

As an interesting note, I believe social media allows us to connect with each other (big shocker!). When you live in a small town, however, you end up being really connected. Very quickly you end up knowing everyone and everyone knows you. This also forces a large degree of civility because you either will get along with neighbors who are on different ends of the political and religious spectrum from you or you will shut off half the town and retreat to a very small group of like-minded individuals.

In Manhattan, you can easily fill a high school auditorium with raw-food vegans whose favorite color is green and share the first name of Ben. In Mammoth, just finding some folks who like the same movies as you might take a lifetime to discover. As such, there’s a lot of getting along going on. Not the echo chamber kind, but the kind where civility and neighborliness is prized. There’s just not enough people around here for you to only associate with the kind you agree with. Honestly I find it a refreshing change of pace from the larger city life.

the town loop: old mammoth area

One subtle aspect of Mammoth that doesn’t get enough love by visitors is the Town Loop. Basically, it’s an asphalt trail for walking, running, skateboarding, and bicycling. In the winter, large sections hand themselves over to cross country (nordic) skiing.

The practical impacts of the trail are shocking: you can navigate around the already-small town without a car and don’t have to worry about cars except when crossing the few roads that pop up.

MammothTownLoopTrailBridgeMammothCreek08192016
Two happy kids bounding across a bridge in Mammoth Lakes, with the Sherwin range in the background.

But like all things in Mammoth the beauty is striking. Plenty of places in the world have trails and handy pedestrian routes. But none that I’ve seen are nestled in forests, crossing streams and creeks, ringed by mountain ranges so close you feel like you could touch them.

Old Mammoth has somewhat close access to the trail, but if you’re south of Old Mammoth Road you’ll find yourself walking a bit on the roads to get there. Armed with a bicycle, you’ll make quick work of the whole ordeal. But if you can get yourself over to Sherwin Street and head north, you’ll T-bone the trail and see the 0.5 mile sign to Eagle Lodge.

Something like that makes me want to seriously consider a split board, or at minimum popping some snowshoes on with my board on my back.