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: