Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

A Wet Year – But California Still Has Water Issues

An article in SF Gate reminds us that California’s water issues are not just related to the periodic drought years. In this year of above-normal precipitation the point is clearer as some areas still have to worry about insufficient water for all projected needs.

In short, California has several issues that can’t be fixed by a good rain year. They include the fact that much of the state is a desert or near desert, that the state relies (too much, in my view) on very expensive systems that move water tremendous distances, and a huge and growing population.

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June 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off on A Wet Year – But California Still Has Water Issues

Over Tioga Pass on Opening Day

When I heard that a) the Merced River was about to reach its peak flow and b) Tioga Pass Road was scheduled to open on June 5 I quickly put together a one-day quick trip to Yosemite last weekend. This is a bit of a tradition for me – to get up there for at least a quick look at the spring waterfalls and to try to get over the pass as soon as possible after it opens.

For a one-day up-and-back trip (amounting to a bit more than 20 hours on the road, all told) I have to start early. So, long before dawn I was up and in the car and on the road in the dark. The sun comes up – duh! – a lot earlier this time of year, so it was getting light by the time I stopped in Oakdale for a quick on-the-run Starbucks breakfast and got right back on the road. In order to arrive in the Valley by sunrise I would have had to be driving by 2:00 a.m., and that didn’t happen, but I did arrive relatively early and before the really big crowds were out and about. I spent a few minutes at my favorite first view on El Cap and Half Dome along the road just past the turnoff to Foresta and then headed down into the Valley to make my traditional first stop for a thorough drenching under Bridalveil Fall.

I spent a bit more time in the Valley before realizing that the crowds were growing way beyond my comfort level. I don’t blame folks for flocking to the Valley for a scene like this: all of the waterfall in full flow, the sound of falling water everywhere, seasonal falls that aren’t usually seen, new green growth everywhere, flooded meadows, and a warm and clear spring day. But since I can come back on less crowded days, I decided that the drive over Tuolumne would be at least as special and much less crowded.

As I started up 120 I soon saw significant amounts of snow, and by the time the road rose to 8000′ of so the snowpack was pretty continuous. The higher peaks appeared to be in full winter mode still, and I was surprised to see lakes like little Siesta Lake completely frozen over. I’ve been over Tioga before soon after the road opened, but the amount of snow remaining from the cold and wet May and the generally wet winter was quite impressive. Tuolumne Meadows itself was completely covered with snow, excepting the large areas flooded by the surging Tuolumne River. (The entire meadow area just upstream from the bridge by the campground entrance was completely flooded and there were only a few inches between the rushing water and the underside of the bridge.

I continued on up to the pass with a goal of grabbing an early dinner at the Whoa Nelly Deli in Lee Vining. At the pass there were still several feet of snow with plow cuts being five to six feet tall in places. Tioga and Ellery Lakes were almost completely frozen over, and quite a few people were still going back-country skiing in the area. After stopping for dinner in Lee Vining (and grabbing a quick espresso at Latte Da) I headed back up the pass to shoot late afternoon and evening light before heading home.

Ice and Snow on Tioga Pass and Tioga Lake

Ice and Snow on Tioga Pass and Tioga Lake

I made this photograph at Tioga Lake as afternoon shadows from clouds and nearby peaks stretched across the frozen lake surface with Tioga Pass and Kuna Crest looming beyond. (Photograph © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.)

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Sierra Nevada, Trips, Yosemite | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Over Tioga Pass on Opening Day

Memorial Weekend – Glacier Point? Yes. Tioga Pass? No.

The most recent update at the Yosemite National Park web site confirms what many suspected, namely that Glacier Point Road will likely be available over the upcoming holiday weekend but that Tioga Pass will not open quite yet.

Glacier Point Road:
The Glacier Point Road will open on Friday, May 28 at noon, conditions permitting. Expect 30-minute delays between Chinquapin and Badger Pass Sunday night through Friday afternoon (except Memorial Day).

Tioga Road:
The Tioga Road will not be open for Memorial Day weekend; there is no estimated opening date.

Plows have reached Tioga Pass and will now be working on widening the road. Plowing continues Monday – Saturday. Average Snow Depth is 4 to 6 feet. Plowing operation will continue today.

As I have mentioned before, this has been an unusually cold and wet May. Just this morning I heard that chain requirements were up on Interstate 80 over Donner Summit. As of today, Ebbetts, Sonora, and Monitor Passes are reportedly still closed. You can be pretty certain that Tioga won’t open before them, though it frequently opens perhaps a week or so after they open.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | Sierra Nevada | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Memorial Weekend – Glacier Point? Yes. Tioga Pass? No.

Annual Tradition – Predicting the Opening of Tioga Pass Road

Sierra Nevada fans, especially those trying to get to the “east side” from the Bay Area and those on the east trying to get to Yosemite Valley, watch eagerly each spring for the opening of Tioga Pass Road, the trans-Sierra route through the park. The opening date varies from year to year based on a range of factors: the amount of winter snow fall, late storms, the condition of the underlying road, and so forth. Over a period of many decades the average opening has been very close to the end of May. However, I’ve been up there earlier in dry years, and during one memorable wet season in the mid-1990s the pass did not open until July! (I drove over shortly after it opened and was amazed by the amount of remaining snow and by the unbelievable amounts of runoff water everywhere.)

So, when will it open this year? If anyone knows, they aren’t telling – and, in any case, Mother Nature has a way of throwing surprises at us. The NPS does offer periodic updates, and sometimes you can “read between the lines” and get some idea of when the opening might be. (And I understand from some friends who know about these things that the word does start to get out informally a bit before the official announcement. For example, it might help if you knew someone working on the road clearing…)

This winter produced a somewhat above normal snowfall, though not anything record-breaking. The season has lasted a bit longer than usual, with new snow still arriving as we approach the beginning of May. Both of these factors suggest a somewhat later opening than in the past few years. Some work on the clearing is already underway, as per the link above. However, it isn’t enough to simply plow across the pass. Various kinds of debris (fallen trees, rocks, etc.) must be dealt with, turnouts and side roads must be opened, and avalanche dangers must end.

I have no inside information on this at all, but I’m going to guess that we’ll see an opening fairly close to the historical average day of May 29.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Interesting Bodie Story at SF Gate

I just came across an interesting story about the ghost town of Bodie at SF Gate. Bodie is the abandoned mining town (and California state park) east of the Sierra Nevada between Bridgeport and Lee Vining in a particularly inhospitable part of the high desert. The story does a fine job of relating the difficulties of living there in the winter, claiming that by some measures it is has some of the roughest winter conditions in the lower 48 states.

March 23, 2010 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Interesting Bodie Story at SF Gate

Drive to Fix California State Park Funding

A Tom Stienstra article at SF Gate reviews an initiative to fix the gross funding problems with California State Parks. The governor and the legislature have used this California legacy as a gambling chip for the past couple of years, and it has to stop. The parks are too valuable to the state in so many ways to risk their health.

February 21, 2010 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Drive to Fix California State Park Funding

Left is Right. Up is Down. In is Out. And Schwarzenegger to be honored for protecting state parks!

According to the LA Times California’s incompetent lame-duck governor who threatened to close most state parks, later backed off and only wanted to close some, and eventually played a huge cut in park funding as a positive thing…

“… will be honored Oct. 29 with the National Park Trust’s Bruce F. Vento Public Service Award in Washington, D.C. He won “for his leadership and innovation in the protection of public lands in California and his lifelong commitment to children’s health and to connecting them with the outdoors,” according to a statement by the group.”

How tremendously embarrassing for everyone concerned.

October 13, 2009 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

"Perfect Time to Beat the Crowd"

A Tom Stienstra piece at SFGate reminded me about a September truth: at just the time when fewer and fewer people head to the outdoors, the outdoors is becoming a more and more attractive place to be in many ways.

School is (mostly) back in session and after this Labor Day Weekend (which the news reports like to call “the unofficial end of summer”) is over most people will be back at work full time. But if you can break away now, especially during the week, there is hardly a better time to do so in much of California.

Although the start of the cool and rainy season is likely still at least six to eight weeks away, the likelihood of extreme summer heat starts to diminish. Even the Sierra sun and heat can be intense on some mid-summer days, but by mid to late September many days will be comfortable and feature warm, golden light. Here in Northern California we get some of the best coastal weather of the year – the fog is less constant and the winter storms are a long ways off.

And the people pressure starts to decrease at many places that have been extremely crowded for the last few months. As a Sierra fan – and someone whose work schedule provides some free time in September – I love the post-Labor Day period when the number of people in the mountains diminishes greatly. Heck, I can show up on a weekend and get a wilderness permit on the spot for just about any place I want to go!

September 6, 2009 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ten Lakes Basin – a quick photographic pack trip

Earlier this week I spent a few days in the Ten Lakes Basin area of Yosemite National Park. Although I’ve backpacked widely in the high country of the park over the past years – OK, decades… – this was actually the very first time that I visited this popular backpacking destination. I think I had shied away from it for a couple reasons: it seems perhaps too popular and accessible, and I tend to prefer somewhat higher and more alpine terrain. But it was time, I visited, and I’m glad I did.

I managed to get to the park fairly early on a Monday morning and pick up a wilderness permit without problems. (Congratulations to ranger “Elizabeth” who issued her very first Yosemite wilderness permit to me… ;-) It was less difficult to get the permit than it might be under different circumstances: school has started for many and the midweek backcountry “traffic” begins to decline near the end of August. Although I had permit in hand by 9:00 a.m. or so, for a variety of reasons I did not hit the trail until about 1:30.

Although I carry a map and can do a fine job of finding my way around in the mountains with or without a trail, these days I sometimes don’t obsess over “knowing everything” (as if that were even possible!) about the route ahead of time. That was the case on this trip. I was familiar with the trailhead, having driving past it many times, and I had often looked up the valley into which it goes. But beyond that I initially had almost no idea of the actual terrain – in fact, I had long be under the mistaken impression that the Basin is on the south side of the ridge. Wrong.

Before I actually hit the trail I did consult the map more carefully and discover that the lakes are actually on the other side of the ridge… and a few hundred feet below the high point of the trail on a ridge that divides Mariposa and Tuolumne counties. I was starting to catch on that there might be a bit more climbing on this trip than I had really imagined – I sort of intentionally did not measure the climb… which turned out to be about 2000 feet. Now a 2000 foot climb is not a giant one, especially compared to some of 3000′ to 5000′ that I’ve done in the southern Sierra – but neither is it exactly a happy little afternoon walk. In the end, what with stops for photography and food and water along the way, it was close to 7:00 p.m. by the time I arrived at my campsite at “lake three,” the lake to the left of the trail when it arrives in the Basin. I basically set up camp, fixed dinner, did a bit of reading, and went to sleep.

Day 2 was fairly lazy. I did not get up early, so I missed some possible early morning photo opportunities, though I used the better part of the rest of the morning to scout out shooting locations for later. In the afternoon I wandered on up to the next lake and did a bit of photography, especially on the way back down when shadows from the cliff to the west were starting to create some interesting lighting conditions. I also visited the main lake (“lake two”) and found a couple scenes that I returned to photograph later in the evening.

By the end of this second day I was thinking more about the tremendous panorama I had seen as I crossed the high ridge above the lake on the way in. I was stunned by the wide open views, especially toward the peaks of the Sierra crest from Dana and Gibb past Conness to other high peaks far to the north, all set off against the rock-strewn summit of the ridge, tree covered ridges below, and below all of that the depths of the Tuolumne River canyon. I started to make a plan to do a “dry camp” on the ridge on the next night and try to photograph the evening and then the following morning.

On the third day I still had this plan in mind in the morning. But first I did more photography around lake three, including near the outlet stream where I had found some still-fresh vegetation and flowers. (By this time much of the summer plant life is starting to show signs of going dormant. Many flowers have blossomed and gone to seed and some very early hints of fall color are already starting to appear.) After this I decided to explore further up this creek and by a combination of use trails and cross-country scrambling I managed to get up to lake five. I returned to my camp by about 2:00 – hungry for lunch! – and soon packed up with the plan of doing that “dry camp” on the ridge for the photography.

Late in the afternoon I started up the trail and I reached the ridge by about 4:45 or so – but I was somewhat disappointed to find that a very large wildfire was burning to the west and sending quite a bit of smoke my way, and also generally adding a lot of brown haze to the scene that had been so clear two days earlier. I poked around a bit and found a potential camp spot for my bivy sack in a clump of trees on the ridge, but in the end I decided that the photographs I had in mind just weren’t going to happen in these conditions – and I decided to head out and drive home that night. (One often doesn’t know for sure whether such decisions are right or not – but I think this was the right decision given that the fire continued – continues, as I write this – to grow and shortly forced a closure of the Big Oak Flat road into the valley.)

So, at about 6:00 p.m. I started down from the ridge, having resolved to make a beeline for the trailhead. Most of the trail is conducive to fast downhill walking, with the exception of a few steep and rocky sections near the beginning and end of the descent, and I made good time. I arrived at my car before 8:00 p.m. – still enough light to see well, but fading fast – and was soon on the road back to the Bay Area.

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Trips, Yosemite | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ten Lakes Basin – a quick photographic pack trip

El Niño? Time for weather junkies to begin speculating!

Starting about this time of year, many of us outdoor types are susceptible to speculations about the upcoming winter weather. Most of us are looking for something “interesting” – as in record-breaking rain/snow, an unusually early start to the season, and so forth.

Those who enjoy the seasonal speculation will appreciate the reports that El Niño conditions are returning for the upcoming season. Adding some uncertainty – but making the speculation all the more fun – El Niño can bring anything from above normal to below normal precipitation to the central/northern California area where I live. Apparently a weak El Niño can bring reduced rainfall, while a strong event (like the one I recall from the mid-1990s) can produce record-breaking conditions.

The current prediction? Conditions are still evolvomg, but at this point it looks like a weak to moderate event.

August 20, 2009 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on El Niño? Time for weather junkies to begin speculating!

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