This season has been crummy so far, like last year, but we finally got another storm (2-3ft, adding enough to have a somewhat safe natural base), so just as I was about to leave for the Xmas vacation, I decided to do a quick day trip to Tahoe the day before taking the plane.
My initial plan had been to go to Kirkwood, but just to make things "simpler", as I headed out on the freeway, I called the Caltrans number, and sure enough, hwy 88 was closed just before kirkwood for avalanche control. Quite frankly, that did not make sense to me because we had had very little snow so far and I didn't see how a 1-2ft dump could create an avalanche, but there it was "hwy 88 closed" at 05:10 when I headed out.
I thought about my options while driving, and ended up not going for kirkwood when I got to the 680/580 cross, and caltrans still reported 88 closed. Now, one could think that it was likely going to open eventually, but I've known days when they kept it closed until noon, and it was raining/snowing rather hard as I was driving up, so I went for plan B: hwy 50 to South Lake, and therefore Sierra @ Tahoe (which I had verified was opened by going on their web site on my cell phone).
Of course, 10-15mn later, 88 had opened, but it was just too late for it not to make much sense for me to turn around. Then, I got my first chain control at 2500ft, more than 30 miles from Sierra, and I basically just blew them off and kept going. Caltrans is very annoying in making everyone put chains on when there are are a couple of flurries, which is just total bullshit.
The second checkpoint, though, was in hindsight more worth it, but at the time there was still a track for my tires to touch the rode, so I elected to blow that one off too. However, soon after that, due to lack of traffic, my tires soon ended up not being in contact with the road anymore, but careful driving and traction control still allowed me to steer and brake as necessary.
However, I made the fatal mistake of stopping my car to take the picture of that sign. Doh, doh, doh! Once the car was stopped, it was too heavy to restart and get traction on the snow with my very non snow rated tires.
This was the sign that was the beginning of my doom. I should never have stopped for it. The problem was that I went a bit to the side of the road to put the chains on, and my chains are not only mostly a two person job, but also require moving the car back and forth. Luckily, I had some drivers stop over and help me put them on (they first offered to tow my car back to the middle of the road, which I didn't think was quite necessary, but it did help putting the chains on more easily, although it also blocked the road). With help, the chains indeed went on in 10mn or so, and I was back on my way, but the whole thing still cost me 45mn to 1h. In hindsight, I could/should have put the chains at the second checkpoint, but they had no one helping to put them on anyway, and I just have no way to trust the caltrans folks for being serious about the chains, or freaking out because there's a touch of white on the road.
Anyway, I did arrive at Sierra@Tahoe eventually, but the visibility was so bad that if it were not for a waypoint I had on my GPS, I would likely have missed the place, and even when I was there, I just could not see the road going there, and didn't want to turn into a ditch :) Luckily, I found a snowplow, asked the guy, he snowplowed me a route to the resort, and I was able to get to the parking lot. By 10:30, I was finally on the slopes, having left at 05:10...
The snow itself was deep powder, but it was tough to stay on top in many places due to lack of slope, or weird terrain (an probably the type of snow too). My back leg is still burning 3 days later, from trying to keep my weight back :)
Yet, it was still fun, and good exercise.
The way back, however, wasn't a piece of cake either. I left just a bit early because I was tired, and had to go home, pack, and go to bed early for my plane the next morning, but when I stopped past the checkpoint to take my chains off, I made the mistake of trying to get them off by myself (unlinking them shouldn't be that hard), and unlinked the wrong side first. In the process, 20-30mn later, I had one chain off, and I got one of the inside chains stuck to something in the frame. Because there is so little clearance in the wheel well, I could not see where it was stuck, or how, and could only feel with my hand that very barely fit. After a short while, I first thought it was doomed, and that I'd have to remove the wheel to get access to what's stuck and remove the chain, but my car didn't come with a jack since it didn't come with a spare either due to the size of the wheels and calipers.
Finding a jack I could borrow was not easy (I was right by a caltrans checkpoint with trucks and all, and no one had a jack). Eventually, I was able to borrow one from a car but due to the snow, all I did manage to do was to jack up my car, and then have it slide sideways on the other tires that had little traction, as soon as the car was jacked up enough. This only managed to slightly bend the frame where the jack point is, and got me no closer to getting the chain off (at least I'm lucky this did not happen while I had the wheel off). When I went to see caltrans again, they didn't even have a quick way to get me a tow truck (no cell phone coverage of course).
So, I gave it another shot, and tried to reach for the stuck chain the another way around (it looked like it was stuck on something inside the car, that I couldn't see), and was able to feed the chain bit in enough for it to came back out finally. 5mn later, I was dirty from having layed on the road in the snow/mud, a bit cold from having been outside for almost an hour in my before dry and clean street clothes, but back on my way home (that was after having left soon after 16:00, got home around 20:45.
What I learned: my Z chains are almost impossible to put on for one person, and need to be taken out very carefully. Obviously, my car is also not ideal for snow use, although I kind of knew that already :) Oh, and don't stop for pictures, just keep going :)
rest of the picts are here
, and the
Visible track of my measly day at Sierra @ Tahoe
, of which I'll paste a sample below: