Running in the Snow to Mammoth Rock | Eastern Sierra

Yes, another “running in the snow” post because one time suffering wasn’t enough! As someone who properly never learns their lesson so that they can keep doing stupid (but fun!) stuff again and again, I headed to Mammoth Rock only a few days after my previous ordeal in snow.

The upper access to the trail was closed — more specifically, the road to it was closed because of a few feet of snow that still sat on it. It should have been enough of a warning — but down in the valley, the trailhead was completely snow-free, so how bad could it be, right?

Turns out, quite bad!

I parked the van near the trailhead, changed into my running clothes, thanked the gods that my shoes dried out since my previous adventure, and headed out. The trail was the definition of joy. A little sandy, which made it soft and nice for the legs, but a little rocky too, which made it fun and interesting. The scenery was heaven; tall mountaintops covered in snow towered right in front of me, and I was headed towards them. The occasional evergreen here and there, the patches of hardened frozen snow that started to slowly turn the trail and land around into a frozen kingdom.

What more can I say; it was a trail runner’s paradise.

Soon, I was going to be proven otherwise.

I passed a trail marker which marked a trail that very obviously wasn’t there — or, better yet, was somewhere below the snow that started to gain depth. There were still enough footprints for me to follow, so I took to trusting the locals who I was sure knew what they were doing and where they were going.

I ended up somewhow leaving the trail only a half-mile later. There were no more footprints, and the few ski tracks left in the snow went off in all directions.

Now I was no local, but I was no idiot, either. I brought a map. A short consultation with said map suggested that the trail was only a few feet next to me — but those few feet were to the right of me where a steep — and I really mean steep (even though it doesn’t look like it in the short video) — escarpment separated me from the trail.

By then I’ve already wondered once or twice if the right thing to do would be to just turn around and come back later. (Little did I know that a global plague would prove this impossible for the next many months to come.) But did I turn around?

No. Don’t forget. We’re talking about someone who loves snow and who is idiotic enough to voluntarily spend extended periods of time in it. This was my jam.

Except for the fact that maybe, it shouldn’t be.

You see, I came horribly unprepared.

I don’t own spikes (because who has the money to spend on them being a student in America), so the hard, icy snow was not great.

But I also don’t own any snowshoes (because, again, who has the money to spend on them being a student in America), so deep snow isn’t great either.

What I found on the bottom of the escarpment after I slid down on my butt, having scratched my legs and back on the frozen top layer of snow, hit my shoulder against a tree stump, and collected snow even in places we don’t talk about, was a combination of conditions that were definitely starting to look a little less than ideal. (I mean, they totally were ideal up until that point, right?)

The valley was hidden in the shadow of tall evergreens. This meant that the snow there hasn’t melted almost at all.

I ended up waist-deep, slogging through it at a glacial pace. After another 2,395 miles 13 feet trying to make it through it hoping it would get better (but knowing quite well it wouldn’t), I had to make the call. I turned around (well, as much as one can turn around if they’re just laying in a heap tangled in some invisible branches under the snow) and started my way back out, following what might have been the trail, relying on the few visual points I’ve established on my way into this predicament.

I had to get back to my van and leave in time to get across the Sierras before a snowstorm that was forecasted for later that evening came, and there was no way I was going to make it if I decided to dig my way all the way to Mammoth Rock and back. (Also, the prospect of falling through the snow into a sleeping bear’s den didn’t sound exaclty safe, altough it might have been a type two fun.)

After about an hour later and less than half a mile, I finally made it out from the valley and onto a runnable surface. After the joys of the truly deep snow, everything else seemed easy as flying.

I made it back to the van, changed into dry clothes, wrapped myself in blankets, and headed north, leaving Mammoth and its beautiful snowy “trails” behind. I’m glad I didn’t know that the world was going to go into a lockdown for months to come, glad I didn’t know how long it would take before I would be able to come back to the Eastern Sierras. Leaving would have been so much harder.

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