Dan's Outside

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

A Strange Sierra Spring

During a typical May we would be making our first drives over Tioga Pass and wondering if there might be enough snow left to keep Mammoth open until July 4th. The past two years were more typical and even drier/warmer than usual. However, this year is shaping up to be unusual. The overall precipitation for the season was (yes!) above normal – which is especially welcome after a few years of below normal precip. On top of that this has been a very cool and wet spring. During a typical May it usually feels more like early summer in the Sierra, but this year it has been more like an extended winter. The storm fronts have continued to pass through and even now in the latter part of May there is a string of cold, wet storms lined up to pass across the Sierra.

So, when will Tioga Pass Road open? I don’t have any inside information but I do know the history (average historical opening date is May 29) and I follow the current reports at the NPS and elsewhere. The road was reportedly plowed through recently, but this does not mean that it is yet ready to open. There is always a lot of additional work to take care of including clearing side roads and parking areas, patching road damage, and so forth. My hunch is that the NPS would like to get it open for Memorial Day Weekend in another week, but that this may be a challenge this year – especially if the forecast of another cold week with the possibility of snow pans out.

While the delay in “opening the high country” can frustrate some of us who want to get up there early, there are compensations. When the road does open, it is likely that we’ll see a lot of snow still in the high country – not like a few previous years when it seemed all too much like summer all too quickly. Even better, the heavy snow fall and late melt promises a long, green summer season and tons of wildflowers. (OK, and tons of mosquitoes, too – but let’s try not to think about that, OK?)

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May 22, 2010 Posted by | Commentary, Sierra Nevada | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Help with a wildflower ID?

Late-Season Corn Lilies

Speaking of my Ten Lakes Basin pack trip, I wonder if anyone out there can help me identify the white flower that appears in this photo? I’ve just spent a half hour staring at some wildflower ID books that I own and looking at internet resources, but I just can’t quite find the match – which seems odd since this flower is something I’ve see frequently in the Sierra.

As the photo shows there are small clumps of little white flowers in groups at the end of stems, and each of the stems holding a group of flowers splits off from the same point on the single main flower-bearing stem of the plant. There are – I think – a few very thin leaves along the stem. I do not know what the plant looks like below the portion that we can see here.

I saw many of these on the Ten Lakes Basin trail in Yosemite earlier this week. These were photographed between 8500 and perhaps 9000 feet among corn lily plants at the edge of Half Moon Meadow. Being around the corn lily plants, it is obvious that there is a lot of moisture in this spot, though it was no longer all that wet. I’m pretty certain that I also saw this flower in drier areas.

Your help is greatly appreciated!

Dan

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A few day hikes in the Tuolumne Meadows area

In an online discussion group I read and post to someone asked about hikes in the Tuolumne Meadows region of Yosemite. They were going to be there for only one day, and wondered what some of the options might be. Since I wrote up a reply and posted it to that discussion group, I figured I might as well share it here as well. Here goes…

You’re talking about MY country now! ;-)

There are, of course, a ton of interesting day hikes in the Tioga/Tuolumne region. Which one is right for you depends a lot on how much time you’ll have, your preferences for terrain and other features, what time of day you are there, and so forth. I’ll just mention a few to get you started.

1. If you are only there for a very brief time, a minimal hike is simply to hike out across the meadow to the Soda Springs area. You’ll enjoy this more if you do it in the morning or late in the day. This is an easy and essentially flat walk – and there are several alternate routes – that takes you across the meadow and the river and into the edge of the forested areas.

2. Another short walk can take you to the the bridge across the Tuolumne on the John Muir Trail as it starts up Lyell Canyon. You can start this at any of the parking areas along the spur road to Tuolumne Lodge, though I think the route from the main campground is more scenic.

3. To get just a _bit_ more flavor of the backcountry, you could hike the one mile trail to May Lake and its high sierra camp set beneath Mt. Hoffman. (This is not all the way up to Tuolumne – e.g. it is further west along the Tioga Pass road.

4. The relatively short hike from the back of the Tuolumne Campground to Elizabeth Lake is scenic and gets you to a wonderful, meadow-surrounded sub-alpine lake. There is plenty to explore there.

5. If you want to get to a high place with great panoramic views of Tuolumne and the surrounding peaks (especially the Cathedral range) the hike to the top of Lembert Dome is a classic. Some find sections at the top a bit exposed for comfort, but it is not really dangerous at all – hundreds of people climb it every day. I prefer to start this hike from the “dog lake trail” parking lot between the wilderness permit station and Tuolumne Lodge.

6. To quickly get to true high sierra terrain, the hike from the Tioga Pass entrance station to the Gaylor Lake Basin can’t be beat. The route is short but steep. There are tremendous views of 13,000+ Mt. Dana across the meadow, and the basin itself has plenty to explore. You can even visit the remains of the old mining site at the head of the basin.

7. If you have a good half day, the hike out to Mono Pass is spectacular. You’ll get all the way to the Sierra crest on foot, you’ll travel through wonderful alpine terrain, you’ll get to see more historic remnants of log cabins near the pass. If you are a very aggressive hiker you can work nearby Parker Pass and/or Spillway Lake into your hike as well.

8. Another classic day hike – of roughly the same length at the Mono Pass hike but at somewhat lower elevation – takes you from T-Meadow to Cathedral Lakes.

There are more… many more.

Enjoy.

August 3, 2009 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Young Lakes Information

I just replied to an email from future European visitor to Yosemite who wanted to know a bit about visiting the Young Lakes region in the Yosemite National Park high country, and I thought it might be useful to share the message with others who may want to go there. Here is the text, slightly modified: Continue reading

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Trails | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Car Story

Since my outdoor adventures involve a significant amount of travel, and since the price of gas and environmental concerns make it more and more necessary to think about the impacts of such travel, I thought I’d write something about the car we bought last year. Yes, a Prius. Continue reading

July 29, 2008 Posted by | Commentary, Environment, Equipment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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