Ringing in the New Year by breaking trail on snowshoes

For 360 degrees it was a winter wonderland. It was like being in the middle of the Sierra with mountains as far as the eye could see.

What a glorious way to welcome in the New Year; a snowshoe just outside of the Lake Tahoe Basin in Alpine County, California. While this is the state’s smallest county, it has some of the biggest views for outdoor lovers.

For the group of us from the Tahoe area, distinguishable landmarks dotted the landscape—Elephants Back, the runs at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Little Round Top, Round Top, Hawkins Peak, and others. Meiss Meadow resembled a frozen lake; with one person saying the cabins looked like Monopoly board pieces. Caples Lake, covered in ice and snow, was uninviting. The view of sapphire-colored Lake Tahoe may have been what General John Fremont saw when he first laid eyes on this alpine wonder.

The Sierra Nevada mountains seem to go on forever

Five of us spent the first day of the New Year on an incredible snowshoe in the Carson Pass-Kirkwood cross-country ski area. Plenty of tracks could be seen, presumably mostly from backcountry skiers. For the most part, we were breaking the trail. We knew where we wanted to go, but there was no set trail to get us there. That added to the fun.

It was minus 7 degrees as we left the Tahoe Basin. At the trail’s starting point it was 10 degrees and had warmed to 22 by the time we were done. What a thermometer would have read on the ridge, where the wind howled to the point it seemed to take our breath away, well, it’s probably better we didn’t know.

That wind whipped ice formations onto rocks in what looked like works of art, especially with the orange lichen nearby. At times the snow was so hard our snowshoes made no indentation, while at other times it was like floating on pillow-like powder. In other spots, it was a crusty layer we punched through.

Without a distinct trail, snowshoers make their way through the wilderness

From the trailhead, we headed nearly straight up and then to the left toward the ridge we knew we wanted to trek along. Had we continued, Little Round Top would have added at least another three miles to our journey. We opted to drop down into a bowl. At the bottom, we hooked up with the groomed trails of Kirkwood Cross Country and Snowshoe Center before we made our way to the Caltrans maintenance station where we had left a vehicle.

In all, we went 6.55 miles. We started at 8,573 feet and reached a maximum elevation of 9,444 feet. With the up and down route, we gained a total of 1,654 feet in elevation and descended 2,267 feet.

It was the best way to welcome in another year.

Elephants Back sticks out over the pine trees