Sunday, January 28, 2018

Kings Canyon: January 2018

(Remember that you can click on the photos to see a slideshow; hit "escape" to get back to the text.  As always, both Felice and I took these photos.  I do the editing on Lightroom, trying to reproduce just what we saw.)

We had a free week just before the start of school, so off to the mountains!  Rain and snow were predicted, which was good news; our "winter" had been dry and warm for weeks on end.

January 7:  It took us only six hours to get to Azalea Campground.  We chose the most out-of-the-way spot we could find, and for most of the week there was no one nearby.  That evening, after setting up the trailer, we hiked up to Buena Vista for the sunset:

We brought headlamps and (for once) actually used them on the way back down the mountain.  It was surprisingly easy to see the trail, but of course this was not a very difficult route.  Still, this means that we can theoretically stay out past dark, if we really want (or need) to do so.

January 8:  As expected, it started raining before dawn.  After a leisurely morning (why rush into a downpour?), we hiked through Redwood Grove.  For some odd reason, we saw no one else, all day long:

With the ponchos, and the waterproof hats, and the knee-length gaiters, it took us several hours to get really, really wet.  Not a great day for photography, but we had fun.  The huge Sequoias looked like they were enjoying the rain, soaking in the moisture.

That evening was exactly what we had been hoping for:  the rain tapping on the roof of the trailer, a hot shower, soft cotton sweatshirts and sweatpants (not the synthetic hiking fabrics), hot chocolate with a little rum and eggnog, cold and dark and wet outside, warm and dry inside.  The very definition of hygge (it's Danish -- look it up!).

January 9:  It rained all night; excellent sleeping weather.  Another leisurely morning -- no reason to run out into the rain, and our equipment (hanging from every hook) was still pretty wet.  We had our usual grim trailer breakfast:  a big omelet with melted cheese, toast and butter, and zucchini bread for desert, all washed down with plenty of Starbucks coffee.

Just as we were finishing breakfast, the rain stopped.  We looked out:  big clumpy flakes of snow were drifting down and had already carpeted the ground:

Suddenly, we were energized -- let's get outside!

We hiked through Grant Grove (which is right near the campground); the snow had already encased the twigs of the willow and alder along the creek:

The snow would stop and start -- it was particularly striking against the darker trees.  This is a 1/15 second exposure, hand held:

Felice took this super slo mo video with her iPhone -- this is really worth watching, I think:

We then took the North Boundary trail, which loops around from the cabin in Grant Grove and eventually comes back through the horse stables.  That would be a long hot hike on an ordinary summer day, but it was fun in the snow.  (Note for a future hike:  not far from the stables, there were some rock outcroppings that would have some good views on a clear autumn day; the viewpoints are easily located on a topo map because of the small concentric circles at the summit.)

January 10:  The snow had stopped, but the highway was closed, so we hiked up to Panoramic Point from Crystal Springs Campground.  Due to the snow, we decided to walk up the roadway itself, rather than trying to follow the snow-covered trail.  The views were pretty good from the top, although the patchy cloud cover got in the way most of the time.  Here, the clouds lifted to show the ranges far to the east:

From Panoramic Point, we hiked for quite a while up Park Ridge, which would be a good hike on a cool day:  some shade and some open areas.  The whole hike (Panoramic plus Park Ridge) would be a good snowshoe route.

January 11:  The highway was still closed, so we started the day at Big Baldy, an old favorite.  Around the midpoint of the hike up to the summit, the trail passes through the contact zone between the intrusive granite and the metamorphic "roof rock," the ancient seabed that was pushed up by the rise of the Sierra.  We even found a boulder showing the exact point of the collision:

Although we've been here many times, it's always fun to be on top of the world, with the Great Western Divide on the horizon:

In this shot, Little Baldy (our next day's hike) is the gray dome just to the right of center:

When we got back to the trailhead, we decided to see if the highway had reopened during the morning.  Yes!  So, off to Lost Grove, which was (as always) completely deserted:

By the time we got back up to the highway, the late afternoon light made everything look somehow like a postcard from the 1930s, with "Wish you were here!" scrawled across the bottom.  While editing this shot, I had to actually tone down the luminance and saturation:

Driving back to the campground, we caught a spectacular sunset.  This shot (on Felice's iPhone) shows the Santa Lucia Range on the coast (about 200 miles away) on the western horizon:

As it got later, the sky overhead turned into a mix of pink and indigo:

January 12:  We hiked up Little Baldy, another perennial favorite; as was true all week, we were completely alone.  Or maybe not -- after some Internet work, I am pretty sure that this was either a gray fox or a very small coyote:

The view from the summit was worth a long look (at least as long as it took to eat a peanut butter sandwich):

Of course, the traditional boot shot:

The boots made their own distinctive tracks; ours were the only bootprints on the trail:

There is a large area about halfway between the trailhead and the summit that recently burned.  We were happy to see that the fir seedlings (hundreds, and maybe thousands?) had seized this opportunity to grab some sunshine:

Since we were already to Little Baldy Summit, we drove to Congress Grove, just another ten minutes away:

Bonus -- another great sunset on our drive back to the trailer.  The wavy fog in the San Joaquin Valley below us looked like the ocean:

Late that evening, we bundled up and drove down into Grant Grove, to see if we could get a shot of a Sequoia and Orion.  Yes!  (This shot may be worth clicking on.)

If you are a fan of astrophotography (and who isn't?), that is Sirius peeking through the tree.  Procyon is the bright one in the upper left.  Betelgeuse, Orion's left shoulder, is clearly visible as a dying red giant, as is Rigel, Orion's right foot.  (Actually, if Orion is facing us, with his sword in front of him, Betelgeuse is really his right shoulder, etc.)  The Orion Nebula is in the middle of the sword.

January 13:  We took a brief hike on the North Grove Loop before heading home.  (For future reference, the right half of the loop has more old-growth trees.  The left half goes through the area of the Rough Fire of 2015.)  First, though, we had to get a shot of the trailer with two Sequoias:

In the burnt area, we were encouraged to see that the forest floor was speckled with Sequoia seedings -- with a lot of luck, maybe a few of these little guys will see the year 4018:

And one more "big tree, little person" shot -- Felice is waving a red bandana:

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Eastern Sierra: December 2017

(Remember that you can click on the photos to see a slideshow, and then hit "escape" to get back to the text. Also, a note on the photo credits: as always, both Felice and I took these shots, and many of my shots resulted from her suggestions. I do the photo editing using Lightroom; my goal is to reproduce just what we saw, as faithfully as possible.)

After three months (!!) without a camping trip, we managed to get away for a few days to the Eastern Sierra, to do some snow-hiking and to see the Geminid meteor shower.

December 10:  Our first campsite was in the Horton Creek area, west of Bishop.  The access road was very rocky; but the campsite was right underneath snowy Mt. Tom, on the left side of this photo:

And yes, that's a dim meteor over the mountain peak, the only one that we managed to photograph all week.

 December 11:   It was a chilly, breezy, and sunny morning, the perfect time to get some portraits with our little "grand-trailer:"

We headed up Bishop Creek to Lake Sabrina.  As we expected, the road was closed at Aspendell, so we walked for a couple of miles on the deserted highway to get to the lake.  Up at the lake, we met a brave (foolhardy?) guy who had been skating on the partially frozen lake.  He told us that he and his buddies sometimes backpack up into the high country, just to skate on the alpine lakes surrounded by snowy mountains.  Fun!

We took a trail that ran along the western side of the lake, which we had never taken before:

Unfortunately, after about a mile, the trail petered out in a difficult talus field.  On our way back to the trailhead, Felice couldn't resist the temptation to conduct an experiment to test the thickness of the ice:

The patterns in the fractured ice were like nightmarish jigsaw puzzles -- Felice framed the shot perfectly:

This photo (taken at sundown) captures the lovely stark emptiness of this part of the Sierra, especially in midwinter -- the sweep of the sage-covered alluvial fans leading to the glacier-carved canyons, snowy crags above us, the cold wind rattling the brush, the trailer all alone, in the middle of nothing:   

In this photo, I tried to "paint" the trailer with a flashlight during a time exposure -- perhaps a little too much paint:

This is Mt. Tom, with a light coat of "paint" on the sagebrush:

The nearby Tungsten Hills are at the bottom of this shot, and that's Orion high in the sky.  The nebula is plainly visible.  Just over the hills, you can see the slight "light dome" coming from the town of Bishop:

December 12:  Another cold, clear, and breezy morning -- this photo (taken from our campsite) is an effort to catch the slanting light of midwinter.  If this looks like an imitation of a Galen Rowell shot, it is:

And this is another in a series of "the view from the trailer" photos --  the dark border is the inside of the door:

Just after that shot was taken, a nice lady from the BLM drove up in a truck.  It turned out that we were camped in the Round Valley Deer Migration area and had to move.  (Note to self:  next time, ask about deer migration season.)  So we packed up and relocated to the Volcanic Tablelands, a huge semi-flat area north of Bishop.  There were lots of campsites available, but quite a few campers, too -- surprising for mid-week in the winter.

After we found a new campsite and got set up, we still had time for a late afternoon hike up Pine Creek Canyon.  The trail was steep but not impossible, gaining a thousand feet in a mile and a half.  It switchbacked up a cliff above the creek, across from an impressive (and active) tungsten mine.  The mountain peak above us actually looked metallic in the late afternoon sun -- probably an optical illusion:

Back at our new campsite, we watched the sun drop behind the Sierra from the comfort of the trailer -- very pleasant!

December 13:  This shot shows the morning view from our campsite:

And this photo toward the east shows the campsite in the Tablelands, with a ridge of lava boulders behind the trailer, and the White Mountains in the background.  You can see that the dirt "two track" road leading to the campsite was pretty good -- only a few small rocks:

The Volcanic Tablelands is a convenient boondocking area (close to Bishop), but it is not really isolated.  There were a surprising number of campers in the general area, especially since this was midweek and midwinter.  We saw quite a few small RVs with thick foam mattress "crash pads" on the back or on the roof -- these are for "bouldering," in case the climber falls.  (Not my kind of sport.) 

Based on a tip from a local person who knew a lot about the road conditions, we decided to drive up to South Lake, even though the road was nominally closed.  Sure enough, the county had lowered the barrier cables, and we drove (carefully) up to the lake, over sheets of thick glare ice.  We had the entire lake basin to ourselves:

Of course, we had to take our customary boot shot:

The streams were running under a thick cap of ice:


We couldn't make it all the way to Long Lake -- the snow got pretty deep, especially in the drifts that clogged the switchbacks:

Felice spotted a big cluster of icicles hanging from the rocks: 

From one of the viewpoints on the trail, Felice zoomed in on a jagged crest across the canyon -- I think this is called an "arete," pronounced "a rate:"

On our way back down, we found a knoll at the intersection of the Long Lake trail and the Treasure Lakes trail.  The knoll overlooked South Lake and also gave us a good view of Hurd Peak to the south:

The drive back down the mountain was a little tricky -- the ice had thawed during the day and had re-frozen in the late afternoon.  But I just put the truck into "Four Wheel Low," and rolled very slowly down through the sheets of ice.  No problem, as it turned out.

The sunset that evening was the best one of this trip:

After dinner, we sat outside until midnight to watch the meteor shower, which was one of the best we'd ever seen.  The meteors were generally bright and slow, appearing all over the sky every minute or so.  It was cold (around 30 degrees) and windy, but we were dressed warmly.  We also spread a heavy sleeping bag over ourselves -- very comfortable!

Overall, the star-watching in the Volcanic Tablelands was very good but not great.  There was some light pollution from Bishop, and there were a few RVs within about a half-mile of our trailer, some of which had outside lighting.  So it was not perfectly dark, but almost.

December 14:  We took Casa Diablo Road from our campsite all the way up to Crowley Lake.  It was fun (bouncy and dusty!) but time-consuming -- it would have been faster to drive back down to Bishop and take 395 instead.

We hiked the McGee Creek trail.  Of course, we took a photo of my favorite road sign:

The creeks in the canyon had deposited thick wads of ice on the rocks -- Felice caught these scalloped "ice sculptures:"

The last of the sun bounced off the top of this two thousand foot long avalanche chute:

That is a classic "hanging valley" in the middle of this next shot, over Felice's head:

That evening, on the way back to the trailer, we stopped off at the viewpoint on 395 overlooking the whole Bishop Creek/Buttermilk Country drainage.  This is exactly how it looked -- the pink-orange sky, with the purple mountains reflecting the last of the sunset: