Sunday, October 16, 2011

Aspens and Snow: Bishop Creek, October 2011

(Remember to click on the pictures to enlarge, and then click back to get back.)

We had planned a brief trip up to the Bishop Creek area to see the fall color – but a few days before we were to leave, a surprise snowstorm dumped a couple of feet of snow on the Sierra. As usual, we decided to push on despite the snow, and we were very glad that we did.

October 7:

The drive northward on Highway 395 was spectacular – this is Mt. Whitney peeking out from behind some clouds:

In the mid-afternoon, we found a quiet campsite in the Big Trees Campground (right on the creek at 7500 feet). The aspens in this area were still mostly green at that time, with little frost or snow damage to the leaves. We unhitched and took the Canyonero up to North Lake. The road was a little tricky – very twisty and narrow, full of snow, slush, and ice, with a thousand foot cliff on one side of the road. (No problem, really.) But we were surprised at how much storm damage the aspens had suffered up at the lake – some trees were bare, while many others were covered in black or brown leaves. Normally, the reflection in the lake at this time of year is brilliant; this year, it was muted and more subtle:

This is almost the same shot, edited in Lightroom:

Fortunately, Felice found a few colorful leaves that had fallen into the snow:

We drove back down toward Lake Sabrina (rhymes with "Carolina") at sunset – this is a view toward the Ancient Bristlecone Forest in the White Mountains, east of Bishop:

This is almost the same shot, edited in Lightroom:

Bundled up against the cold, we watched the sunset from the dam at Lake Sabrina:

This is almost the same shot, edited in Lightroom:

October 8:

We hiked up to Blue Lake along the east shore of Lake Sabrina. The creeks had begun to thaw after the storm:

Felice took a shot of the thick icicles forming in the shadows:

There was quite a bit of wet snow on the trail – we were grateful for our knee-high waterproof gaiters and our hiking poles equipped with big "powder baskets:"

From time to time, the trail broke out of the trees and we could see the Owens Valley far below:

Along the trail, the normally rough fields of dark granite boulders were softened by a layer of whipped cream:

It was exhilarating to be in the backcountry after a snowstorm – usually, this terrain would be unreachable:

Up at Blue Lake, we caught a reflection of Mt. Thompson and its glacier fields:

October 9: As we drove up to South Lake, we noticed that the aspens along the south fork of the creek had begun to change and had not suffered too much storm damage:

We slogged up to Treasure Lakes (above South Lake), through deep wet snow. There were several water crossings; although there were some bridges, the bridges were covered in snow, and it was a little tricky to cross the streams. Judging by the footprints on the trail, only one other hiker had previously reached the lakes after the storm, and he had encountered some difficulty in finding the trail. So we had to do a little bit of independent navigation from time to time, which added to the sense of mild adventure:

Mt. Johnson loomed over the lake:

Here is a quick video panorama of Treasure Lakes:

That evening, we proposed a farewell toast to the original LMIC; this was our last trip in it, since we have purchased a new one. From the way that Felice is bundled up, you can tell that it was a cold night -- after dinner, we grab our blankets and our books and our snacks:


October 10:

After the strenuous hike to Treasure Lake, Felice's shins were a little sore from her snow boots, so we decided to hike below snow line in more comfortable boots; also, it looked like rain. (As we later discovered, it snowed in the higher elevations that day.) We drove north, up to Convict Lake, which is worth seeing once. The lake itself was nothing special, but the geology of the surrounding mountains was really amazing – waves of metamorphic rock tortured by the intrusion of the Sierra granite:

We were hoping to head up toward Mildred Lake, but the signage was poor, the chaparral was dull, and we decided not to push on. Instead, we hiked back around the lake. Felice reacted quickly when we ran across this torpid late-season snake:

We then headed south to McGee Creek. Ordinarily, McGee is a hot and sunny trail; but on a cold, cloudy, breezy day, this was a surprisingly delightful hike. A couple of miles from the trailhead, the aspens were almost at peak color:

This is almost the same shot, edited in Lightroom:

Someone we met told us that the red aspens were genetically different from the yellow or gold trees – I don't know if that's true, but the red specimens were rare and spectacular, especially against the backdrop of snow and rock:

Even though we got a late start, we covered a lot of ground, with plenty of time to get to the beaver pond, three miles from the trailhead. The beavers had built a substantial dam, and their snow-covered lodge was framed by the aspens reflected in the water:

The McGee Creek area is very enticing – someday, we will get an earlier start and will explore the further reaches of the canyon. On the way back down, we got a good view of the up-tilted metamorphic formations in the John Muir Wilderness – if you look carefully at this picture (and perhaps enlarge it), you can see that the vertical ridges are really sedimentary layers that have been compressed into marble and other metamorphic rock; they have then been tilted 90° from horizontal to vertical, and the more-resistant layers now stick up above the softer, more easily eroded layers sandwiched between them:

Late that afternoon, we stopped so that Felice could take my picture near my very favorite road sign:

Just after sunset, we noticed that Mt. Morgan was creating a "banner cloud," as it disturbed and condensed the flow of moist cold air over the peak. This picture was taken with a 20 second exposure at f38, using a neutral density filter:

October 11: We headed back to South Lake for a hike to Long Lake and Spearhead Lake. The colors in the canyon below South Lake had really intensified:

The trail to Long Lake was pretty icy in the morning, since there had been several days of melting and re-freezing. We were very grateful for our microspikes – you can see them under Felice's boots in this shot at Long Lake, with Bishop Pass in the background:

It felt like quite an accomplishment to trudge through the deep wet slushy snow – imagine walking through miles of knee-deep mashed potatoes and gravy! You can see Mt. Goode and its glaciers behind us:

Incredibly, we encountered a frog hopping across snowfield -- he needed a little directorial assistance:

Before we left, we took a quick panorama video of Long Lake:

On our way down the hill, we noticed an "erratic." The big gray boulder perched atop the reddish cliff had been carried down by a glacier from the granite cliffs surrounding the lakes and then had settled on top of the rusty iron-bearing rock when the glacier finally melted -- this picture might be worth a click, so that you can see that these are two totally different kinds of rock:

(The French term for these odd rocks is "roche moutonee," or "sheep rocks" -- the French farmers thought that that the big rounded rocks in their fields looked like lost sheep. The glaciologist Louis Agassiz realized that the anomalous rocks must have been carried down into the meadows by ancient glaciers.)

The snow got sloppier and muddier as we hiked back down in the afternoon. The afternoon was so warm that we were able to enjoy cocktails by the creek at our campsite, a treat usually restricted to the summer months:

That evening, we watched the full moon come up over the mountains at Lake Sabrina:

I took a 30 second moonlit exposure of the mountains surrounding the lake -- this one might be worth clicking on:

This is almost the same shot, edited in Lightroom: