Slushpacking, a Snow Camping S240 Above Dog Valley, Henness Pass Rd

Late February 2022 Mark led us through the snow between Spooner and Marlette Lakes

Last year Mark Yakushev wanted to plan a snowpacking trip for our bikepacking club, BurritoPackingNV. Great idea! Mark has experience riding the trails out of Lake Tahoe State Park, and proposed a loop around Spooner Lake then climb to Marlette. It was a great trip but the recent snowfall made for slow going. Slow going is the name of the game, I call it slowpacking.

Steep and slushy above Verdi and the Truckee River Photo Marc Pfister

Lets get all the fun names out there: fatpacking, snowpacking, slowpacking, and slushpacking. Those sum it up. Our fat bikes run 4-5” tires, sometimes studded, at low pressures. For this trip we started on dirt, transitioned to muddy snow melt, then slurpy, slushy snow. We were under blue skies with warm Sierra sunshine. Double digit grades, off camber roads and loaded bikes for winter camping made for slow going. But our “goldfish brains” just register the beautiful views in the snowy Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

Dog Valley; a destination for everyone. Complete with campground and Crystal Mine Photo Mark Yakushev

Mark asked me for some route suggestions for this year’s trip. Dog Valley immediately came to mind. It is a popular destination year round. I knew of several accounts of it being a mid-winter bikepacking destination. I have ridden Henness Pass year round, including day trips and night rides, but only one overnight. The overnight was hosted by Jake Francis on a summer solstice ride and a superb route over the top of Peavine Peak. I imagined we could do a loop through Dog Valley, camp in a snowy meadow and ride on miles of packed snow over forest service roads.

Record snows were obvious at the Summit 2 kiosk Photo Marc Pfister

But this year was one for the record books. Our meteorologists have counted our cold days, snow days, snow fall, introduced Atmospheric Rivers to our lexicon, so it is no wonder our snow routes look so different. Every time roads were getting packed in by the 4×4 crowd or snowmobilers more snow would pile on. Eventually there was a good packed route for about 2-3 miles then not much else. The next hope is consolidated snow that goes through a hard freeze forms a rideable crust. Unfortunately the roads into the valley weren’t getting traffic.

Foggy and snow squalls obscured Dog Valley on our exit Photo Marc Pfister

After a series of weather and work commitment reschedules Mark landed on an April 1-2 date for the trip. I made a couple of route pre-rides. The lower portion of the road had melted out. Above that the road was tracked and slushy but rideable. I rode to Summit 1 and chatted with a Jeep driver whose tracks I had followed. He said it was untracked past his Jeep. I figured I could air down and break trail to Summit 2. That worked. So my thought was we could ride to Summit 2, setup camp, then see if there was any exploring to be done. I hoped that the intersecting roads north and south had been tracked or that tracks continued on Henness Pass.

Marc and Wyatt made good trail buddies Photo Doug Artman

We met where the pavement ended and the dirt began at 11 am on Saturday. Doug Artman and his dog Wyatt were in for the day. Then Marc showed up. The band was back together, we were the same four as last year.

At 5,200′ we started on dry roads

Snowpacking is a hard sell. Not everyone has a fat bike in their stable, not everyone has the desire to sleep out in the snow, or feels they have the equipment to do so. For those who are snowpacking-curious I think we have excellent conditions to give it a go. Our blue sky sunny days are quite comfortable despite cold air temperatures. Access is right on the edge of town. I have lead several snowpacking S24O’s from Reno. In the grand scale of winter riding conditions we tend towards mild not wild. I highly recommend the podcast Bikes or Death Ep. 143 ~ Winter Riding with Rebecca Rusch. Although there is plenty of discussion of dealing with the most extreme cold riding conditions the concepts can be applied to any conditions. What really spoke to me was Rebecca’s emphasis on snow riding is slow riding.

Despite the conditions, the climb to Summit 1 is always a challenge. You climb 1000’ in two miles, grades ranging from 5-15%, average 8% with no breaks. I have heard more than one account of date rides gone bad on this climb. With the sun on our backs it was everything to manage perspiration. The climb to Summit 2 is about a third of the climbing to Summit 1.

Doug and Wyatt turned back just before Summit 2. The wind was strong and forecasted to get stronger. Summit 2 is on a saddle formed between Dog and Hoke Valleys and between the Verdi and Bald Mountain Ranges. Rather than setting up camp on the exposed ridge, I suggested we descend Henness Pass toward Stampede Reservoir.

We dropped 475’ into the Tahoe National Forest following a snowmobile track. It is always nerve wracking descending a snowy slope knowing you have to ascend it tomorrow. It is easy to lose track just how far you have descended. To set yourself at ease I recommend keeping track with your GPS. After 2 miles we found camp, 6.8 miles from the start.

Marc and I camped on an island of pine needles Photo Mark Yakushev

Marc and I camped on a bare patch of pine needles under a couple of trees while Mark wanted the full experience of pitching his tent on snow. Mark slept in the MSR Advance Pro single wall 4 season tent. It was the same tent he brought last year. I don’t think you can go wrong with MSR products. Marc had the opposite setup, he had a versatile rectangular tarp from Amazon. He started out the night just sleeping on top of the tarp but at some point in the night he pitched a corner of the tarp and slept in the envelope. I slept in the “coffin”, North Face’s 1 person, 3 season Storm Break tent. I picked it for its small footprint and overall comfort. I am glad we all had something because most of the night there was a dusting of snow.

Mark camped on snow and woke up to a little more

Hearing the snow hitting the fly all night, and occasionally hearing accumulation slide off the fly, made me wonder what we would wake-up to. But it was just a dusting. We all slept well, and long. Winter camping is great for catching up on sleep. Breakfast was had, we packed up, and on the trail by 8. Five minutes on trail my rear tire came off the rim. A little too low of pressure. My tires are tubed, and it ripped the valve stem. Luckily Mark had a spare tube. I made sure to put enough air in the tube to keep the tire on the rim. Note to self, make tubeless happen.

A favorite overlook Photo Mark Yakushev

The climb to Summit 2 was about 50% hike-a-bike and 50% pedaling. Pedaling behind Marc pushing didn’t really close the gap. Once we regrouped at Summit 2 we were excited for the downhill. But we took the time for photos. Dog Valley was fogged in but we finished in bright sunshine. We all agreed it was windier at the bottom than what we experienced the whole trip.

BOHC: Breakfast of Hairy Champions

We had breakfast at the Sasquatch Grill. Good food, great conversation. I think we will all be back together in June to do some bikefishing in the Granite Range. Hope to see you then.

I have started a monthly newsletter to include topics that don’t necessarily make it into these trip reports.


The Meriweather Long-tailed Fat Bike; it can carry everything everywhere

How fat is too fat? I get the same question every time, “How much does that thing weigh?” Fine I will tell all, the bike with frame bags, seatbag, stem & feed bags (Bags by Nuke Sunrise Bike Bags), flask and cages: 46.6 lbs. Packed for this trip, including food and 3.5L of water, 74.4 lbs. Even though it is an overnight on snow, I planned for a temperature range 15o-40o F, I would only add food to extend the trip indefinitely. So what does the pack list look like?

  • Misc
    • Snow Shovel
    • Sit Pad
    • Candle
    • face cloth
    • Sunscreen
    • XL Bar Mitts Pogies
  • Kitchen
    • small Ti pot
    • small fuel canister (new)
    • Coracle instant coffee
    • Bic lighter (x2, tested)
    • Gas One Ti Stove
    • small folding knife
    • Ti spork
    • Silicone bowl with lid
  • Sleep Kit
    • Thermarest Z-lite pad
    • Thermarest Neo Air pad
    • Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner
    • Patagonia Hybrid Sleeping Bag
    • OR Helium Down Jacket
  • NF Storm Break tent
  • Clothes
    • Lobster claw gloves
    • Patagonia Dirt Roamer Jacket
    • Sleep socks
    • Down camp booties (bulky/heavy, I will replace)
    • Marmot Sherpa Shirt
    • Hat
  • Electronics
    • Phone (test)
    • Garmin (test)
    • Headlamp (test)
    • Battery Bank/cable (test)
  • Food/Water
    • 3.5 L Water (2x 1L water bottles, 1.5L Nalgene)
    • Instant dinner and breakfast
    • Snacks
    • Apple juice box
    • Bourbon flask
  • Repair (Daily Carry)
    • First Aide
    • Repair Kit
    • Lezyne pump
    • Wolf Tooth multi-tool
    • extra straps

2 thoughts on “Slushpacking, a Snow Camping S240 Above Dog Valley, Henness Pass Rd

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