Shredding on the East Side – High Sierra Snowcat and Yurt Trip Report
By TMS Ambassador Coral Rose Taylor
When you get an invitation from your friend and CEO of Coalition Snow, Jen Gurecki, inviting you to go on a hut trip with her and a bunch of girlfriends, the answer is a resounding YES!!!! Our destination was the High Sierra Snowcat and Yurt, located just south of Bridgeport, CA, off Virginia Lakes Road. High Sierra Snowcat and Yurt has been operating for six years, though the founders have many more years of experience under their belts in the Sierra and around the world.
The owners, Mike Deacon and Tim Robinson, met us at the trailhead on a chilly and beautiful Thursday evening in late December. When our conversation turned to snow and our hit list for the next day, they lit up with enthusiasm. Mike and Tim know the Dunderberg Peak/Virginia Lakes area intimately and have terrain options in mind for various levels of extreme and varied snow conditions – we were definitely in good, if not the best, hands.
Once our gear was organized and loaded into the truck, our guides took us to the yurt trailhead. There, they schlepped our beer onto a snowmachine to take to the yurt and left us guests to walk in.
Located in a clearing with a view of Dunderberg Peak and a babbling brook nearby, the view took my breath away. Our cozy yurt featured homemade furniture including bunk beds with pads (sleeping six humans), a communal dining table, a gas fired range, and a sink. This off-grid haven is powered by solar panels connected to dual Goal Zero charging stations and heated by a high efficiency pellet stove. The yurt is situated in the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest, and a clean pit toilet is a short walk away.
Once inside, the jovial atmosphere was enhanced by gourmet appetizers (shishito peppers and brie – yes, please!), a tasty dinner, and bananas foster, prepared by Z Chef. For our reading pleasure, copies of the inaugural issue of Sisu Magazine adorned the table alongside the whiskey, wine, and water. Our hosts got us situated for the night, then left us to our own devices. We slept well and woke to a brisk and blustery morning. After breakfast and coffee (FYI – the yurt has a dual pour over station and a moka pot espresso maker for 6 people), we got ready for the day. The gale force winds throughout the night had softened a bit, but our gear preferences still ran to putting on ALL the layers.
Mike and Tim met us at the yurt, then we made our way to the trailhead and the snowcat, “Lucky 13”. After a safety talk and beacon check, we clambered aboard. This beast seats twelve people and has a bumping sound system. Besides the Coalition crew, we were joined by a videographer (Ben) and followed by another guide, Chris, via snow-go. We lumbered up the mountain towards the northeast aspects, hunting for pow stashes and perfect lighting. The wind had slightly abated as we neared our first stop and got suited up, ready to shred. After a short boot pack up the mountain, we took our first turns, following Tim through the trees with Chris as our sweep. As our path lead us through the Ponderosa Pines, stashes of fluffier snow resulted in hoots and hollers from the group. The early season conditions required some adventure boarding around snow-covered sagebrush at lower elevation, but our goal was in sight – the inviting visage of “Lucky 13” and her heated interior where my tea was awaiting.
As the day progressed, we were gifted clearer skies and calmer wind conditions with each successive lap. Views of Mono Lake to the southeast and the Sierra to the west enhanced the experience. “Stunning” was oft repeated and yet never adequate to convey the beauty of this place. Shredding with some of my favorite humans, under the competent and fun guidance of the High Sierra Snowcat team, made for a great day! My legs were sore, my lungs were tired, and my face hurt from all the smiling. I could get used to not “earning my turns” and taking the snowcat assist to the top – especially at our elevation of almost 12,000 ft.
On our way back to the trailhead, tired and happy, we cat napped and planned our celebrations for the evening – it was the solstice, after all. A few of us were able to stay for an additional night to enjoy another delish dinner, play a round of Dunderberg Dice™, and get flexy with apres-ski yoga. After the full moon rose, it was time to head outside and gaze upon the sparkling snow, gleaming in the silvery light. We slept like the dead that night and awoke to drink fancy coffee before departing for our next adventures.
Even though the snow and weather conditions were not completely ideal, the company was all time and I will absolutely be heading back to enjoy the yurt and snowcat with more of my friends!
Sleeping bag, pillow, slippers for yurt life
Phone charger, journal, camera
Beacon, shovel, probe
Splitboard, poles, boots, goggles and helmet (NOTE: safety is a priority for the High Sierra Snowcat and Yurt team, so no helmet = no shredding)
Backcountry pack – I love the Ortovox Tour Rider 28
Warm base layers and socks, down vest, gloves, balaclava, beanie, facemask, bibs, jacket (make sure they’re waterproof – Nikwax wash followed by the spray works wonders)
Thermos of tea, rosé, snacks, lunch, summit chocolate
Sunscreen, windburn balm, lip balm
Special thanks to High Sierra Snowcat and Yurt, Coalition Snow, Sisu Magazine, Deso Supply Co., Strange Bikinis, Drink Coffee Do Stuff, Feat. Sock Co., Noso Patches, and Pantry Products for their support in making this trip happen.
Interested in more backcountry yurts?
Check out photos from Dave’s trip to the Bell Lake Yurt in Montana.