(Click on the photos to see a slideshow, and hit "escape" to get back to the text. Both of us took these photos.)
February 11: We took a long drive from Potwisha Campground into Mineral King on a very slow and twisty road. It was almost 90 minutes from the trailer to the trailhead; but then again, we had the entire mountain range to ourselves.
About halfway up the road, there is a gate that is locked in the winter. (We had gotten the combination from the ranger at Foothill Visitors Center.) The gate is tricky to open: the lock is hard to reach, and the bolt is balky. But if you want solitude, you have to put up with some difficulties.
The road ends (in the winter) at another locked gate two miles from Atwell Campground, so we had to walk on Mineral King Road to the trailhead for Paradise Ridge. There were quite a few Sequoias along the roadway:
(In each of the photos of the Big Trees in this post, look carefully at the base of the tree to get a sense of scale -- you may have to click on the picture to see the person!)
When we got to the turnoff for the Paradise Ridge trail, the route began to climb steeply. The guide books describe this part of the trail as shaded, but that was before the bark beetle infestation destroyed many of the pines. The good news is that the Sequoias are apparently impervious.
The most striking thing about this isolated trail is that there were no footprints at all, even though the soil was soft. Perhaps since the road was closed in October, we were the first folks to have hiked this trail since the autumn months, so the rain and the melting snow had erased any traces of last year's boots.
After a mile or so of climbing, we reached a very dense grove of Sequoias:
Not far from the Sequoias, we came across the biggest pine cones we have ever seen, about two feet long:
A little research later revealed that sugar pines produce the largest pine cones in the world, up to 26 inches in length.
The guide books also said that there would be views of the Great Western Divide from the trail, but we were not able to see the high country skyline. However, there were pleasant views of the snowy Mineral King drainage:
Ironically, some of the best views were from Mineral King Road itself. The triangular mountain on the left is Sawtooth Peak, over 12,000 feet high:
Overall, we concluded that this hike was worth doing once, just to experience the novelty of having an entire Sequoia grove all to ourselves, with no one else within 20 miles of us. Absolute silence, all day long. But the "commute" (90 twisty minutes each way) was pretty daunting.
February 12: We headed up to the Giant Forest area, intending first to drive out to Moro Rock and then to hike among the big trees. But the road to Moro Rock was closed due to ice and snow. No problem -- we turned it into a hiking trail! This enabled us to see the Sequoias along the road, which are usually hard to see from a car:
As one might imagine, there were very few people hiking to Moro Rock. The climb up the rock was not difficult -- there were handholds and steps, with hardly any snow or ice. And the view of the Great Western Divide was terrific:
The road past Moro Rock toward Crescent Meadow was also closed. We came across this tight group of "three sisters:"
We took the Bear Hill Trail back to the General Sherman Tree area, and we were once again completely alone for the rest of the hike. Heading down the highway back to the campground, we got a good view of Moro Rock at sunset:
The big trees at the base of the rock provide some sense of scale.
February 13: We hiked to Marble Falls; the trailhead was at the campground, so there was no long commute. The trail was surprisingly warm for a day in February, and the climb was steady but not too strenuous. After a couple of hours we almost reached the falls, but a recent rockfall had made it impossible to get all the way to the falls.
We enjoyed lunch next to a cascade:
Many of the boulders in the canyon were covered in a crystalline deposit -- I think these are calcite crystals:
Speaking of geology (as I often do), the photo below contains a fun mystery, which I think I might have solved. This is obviously a sedimentary bed of sand that has been tilted from the horizontal to the vertical. Along the way, it was then lightly "cooked" by metamorphosis (heat and pressure) and is now sandstone. The layers are a little wavy after having been cooked. The outcropping has later been eroded away, pitted by the water of the stream. Look at this shot and see if something weird jumps out at you:
What's that zig-zag running across the top of the shot? It is about six feet long and about an inch and a half wide, give or take. Clearly, it was created after the sedimentary strata were deposited, because it bisects the strata. It looks like a snake's tunnel, but it seems unlikely that even the most vigorous snake would have penetrated so many layers of well-packed sand. It's not a fault -- there is no offset of the strata.
I think it might be a fulgurite: a fossilized lightning strike! When lighting hits sand, it sometimes happens that the sand is fused along the path of the strike, creating a long, thin vein of quartz-like rock. If my guess is right, this happened while the sand was still horizontal (and possibly moist and uncompacted). It would be a lot harder for the electricity to flow through dry or dense sand.
Going further out on my limb, I think the strike occurred on the right side of the photo, because the area of fused sand is much thicker on the right side than on the left. After the strike took place, the top of the sandbank (on the right) was then buried by additional deposition.
(End of geology lecture.)
The trip back down to the campground was uneventful, but we were greeted by a group of very tame deer:
The campground was very quiet all week long -- there was almost no one else around.
February 14: Even though it had been a warm and dry winter, we just had to do some snow hiking up on Little Baldy. We strapped on our microspikes and had no difficulty with the ice on the switchbacks:
This "boot shot" of the Great Western Divide includes the red straps of the microspikes:
Up at the summit, we decided to re-enact a famous family photo from 1991. This is the original:
And the copy:
(I guess you had to be there.)
As is often the case, we had the whole mountain to ourselves for several hours:
Later that afternoon, we paid a quick visit to the Congress Grove area and headed up the Alta Trail for a while:
At the end of the day, the obligatory "tree trunk wishes" were carefully made: