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: