Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Sequoia After the Fires: June 2022

(Remember that you can view the photos as a slideshow by clicking on any photo.)

We had been checking the trail closure maps, wondering when it would be safe to hike in Sequoia National Park after the disastrous fires.  As soon as the trails opened, we headed north, hoping that some of our favorite trees had survived.  (Spoiler alert:  some of them did, and some didn't.)

June 9:  We arrived in the late afternoon and snagged a boondocking site in the Sequoia National Forest, south of Grant Grove.  There was a full moon, and I took yet another "little trailer in the big forest" shot:


June 10:  No point in delaying the inevitable:  we hiked into Muir Grove, knowing that it was going to be in bad shape.  In an apparent effort to cheer us up, the wildflowers were going crazy, probably because there was so much sunlight reaching the ground due to the fire damage to the trees.  These little guys are "ground pinks," a variety of phlox:


They were carpeting the forest floor:



We came across a really interesting fungus -- not as pretty as the wildflowers, but with a very complex geometric shape.  I think this is a tetrahedral dodecahedron -- that's the shape, not the species.  It was about three inches in diameter:


When we arrived at the grove, we were relieved to see that the Sentinel (not its official name) was still standing guard, albeit with some fresh burn scars:


But the nearby Grand Circle (also not an official name) was badly damaged.  One of the main columns had broken off, probably as the result of the fire (but possibly due to high winds):




We then hiked off-trail in search of our favorites, the Husband and Wife trees (again, unofficial).  The going was much tougher than usual -- instead of walking on top off a springy bed of fallen sticks and decaying vegetation, we trudged through dry bare soil mixed with ash.

Amazingly, there were a few downed logs that were still smoldering, even though the fire was extinguished almost a year ago:


As we approached H&W, our hearts sank -- we could see that they were badly damaged and probably would not survive:



Compare those shots to these, taken in 2016:




The sense of grief was overwhelming.  What are the chances that so many of these iconic and massive trees, thousands of years old, would have perished during our brief lifetimes?  After so many hot, smoky summers, and after this particularly painful loss, we felt as though we were experiencing planetary doom in real time.

As we were despondently packing up our camera equipment, a bit of comic relief arrived.  Even though we were in a very remote portion of the grove, far from the trail, a young forest ranger suddenly appeared.  Seeing our equipment (and our REI-intensive hiking outfits), he asked, "Are you guys scientists?"

(I did say "a bit" of comic relief.  Not exactly the Marx Brothers, but it'll have to do.)

June 12:  To recover a modicum of optimism, we hike the North Grove trail, near Grant Grove.  North Grove suffered a catastrophic fire several years ago that killed some of the mature sequoias.  But others survived, and the forest has begun to recover.

Many of the giants were untouched by the fire.  Felice is at the base of the tree:


Across the creek, I stood at the base of another healthy monarch:


There were big clumps of California mountain lilac:


In the years after the fire, thickets of sequoia seedlings quickly took root -- they are now racing up into the sunshine:


After a nice hot hike, we cooled down in Big Meadows Creek:


This is a "water shoe" shot, instead of a boot shot:


This group of Jeffrey's shooting star was also enjoying the cool stream:


Before heading back to the trailer, we stopped in at Montecito Sequoia Lodge, to see how they were doing after Covid and the fires.  Our old friends, the Three Bears, welcomed us back:


And we were very pleased to find that the lodge is doing just fine -- the fires were held at bay, and the surrounding forest is still beautiful.

June 12:  We left our idyllic boondocking site and moved south to Lodgepole Campground, which is less idyllic but more well-located -- closer to the trailheads.

June 13:  We took the Lakes Trail out of Wolverton and headed for the Watchtower portion of the trail -- not as steep as the dreaded Hump, but narrow and cliffy.  The round trip was more than nine miles, with a 2000 foot gain topping out near 9000 feet.

The first part of the trail was shady and cool -- the forest floor was carpeted with wildflowers.  I have tried (and failed) to identify the little blue guys in the photo below -- they have four petals, two blue and two white:


We came around a bend in the trail and there was a fairly big bear not far away, busily clawing at an old stump in search of grubs.  Before we could whip out our cameras, he ran away.

The shredded stump did not run away:


The view of Tokopah Canyon from the Watchtower was grand:




There weren't many wildflowers clinging to the cliffs, but this Indian paintbrush deserved a photo.  (Can we say "Indian paintbrush" anymore?  Or should it be "Indigenous pigment applicator?")


There were still a few snowdrifts up at Heather Lake, at around 9000 feet:


Hands down, this next shot is my favorite photo of this entire trip.  Felice has "cremnophobia," anxiety brought on by steep cliffs.  It is a little different from acrophobia (fear of high places).  She does fine in high places, as long as she is not on the very edge of a sheer cliff on a narrow trail, with nothing between herself and the cliff, where any false step could be fatal.  (Wait -- this does not sound like an unreasonable phobia -- it sounds pretty darn rational, doesn't it?)

Unfortunately, there are many hiking trails (especially in the Sierra) that are scratched into the sides of sheer cliffs -- so Felice can't let those cliffs stop her from hiking.  In the past, she would have to force herself to inch along the worst parts of those cliffy trails. 

But not this time -- she triumphed over her fear!  In this photo, she is just inches away from a two thousand foot cliff:


When we got back to the Watchtower overlook, the clouds had gathered, obscuring the view:


On the long hike back down, a big marmot struck a noble pose for us:


More triumphant celebration:


June 14:  We took the Panther Gap trail, hoping to avoid the smoke from a prescribed burn in the Giant Forest area.  A long hike -- over 8 miles, with more than 1500 feet of gain.  The smoke impaired the view:


The lupines were just coming into bloom:


This particular trail crosses several small streams.  The willows and the ferns were going strong -- Felice had to wave a red bandana so that I could see her:


June 15:  The smoke from the prescribed burn drifted in and out of the Lodgepole/Tokopah area.  We explored the various cascades along the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River, upstream from the campground.

Amazingly, in all of the years we have taken the Tokopah Falls trail, we had never taken the time to go off-trail to see the cascades:


While we waded (carefully) near the cascade, our boots demanded a "two-shot" of their own:


It was a hot day -- just perfect for a snowmelt head-soak:





Half a mile farther upriver, we came upon another refreshing off-trail cascade:


Mercifully, the trail to the falls was mostly in the shade.  The lupine in this canyon were a slightly different color than those in the Wolverton area (more purple than blue).  I'm not sure if this is just random variation or a different species:


Tokopah Falls was, frankly, less spectacular than it usually is in mid-June -- not as much snowmelt.  Also, the sky was smoky, and there were more people at the falls than we usually see.  It's still not too shabby, though:


The view of the Watchtower, two thousand feet above us, was marred by the smoke:


On our way down, the smoke cleared a little, giving us a better view:


After we got back to the trailer, we had time to do a little more wading in the river, followed by the time-honored ritual of the Snacking Circle.  Even in a semi-crowded campground, with the background hum of generators, and even with the smoky light, it was still very pleasant: 


(And yes, that is a bandage on my leg -- a minor scrape while clambering into the stream.  An honorable wound, suffered in a worthwhile venture.)


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

East of the Eastern Sierra: May 2022

(Remember that you can view the photos as a slideshow by clicking on any photo.)

May 2:  a quick trip to find trees, water, snow, silence, and the Big Empty.  Where to find boondocking just below the snowline?  The plan was to look for a campsite that was not quite in the Sierra but near it.  On the first night, we stopped at Oh! Ridge campground overlooking June Lake.  Supposedly, the campground got its name because a camper saw the view of Carson Peak and said:

May 3:  Our prime boondocking candidate was a campsite east of 395, on BLM land, at around 7000 feet.  In preparation for the trip, I had marked the access road and the campsite on our ihikeGPS apps, along with several fallback campsites.

We arrived at the foot of the access road, parked, and then walked up to the campsite (about 3/4 of a mile), examining the rough, rocky, sandy, steep, rutted forest road.  It was a daunting walk up the hill:  could we really tow the trailer up to this campsite without damaging it?

That was a tough question, because this was the most difficult terrain that we had ever encountered with the trailer.  The roadway was very narrow; we knew that we would scratch both the truck and the trailer on the thick thorn bushes lining the roadway.  And at one point, some low-hanging tree branches would brush the side of the trailer.

But when we got to the top of the hill and sampled the view, we knew we had to give it a try.  Another slow walk down the hill to the truck and the trailer, this time planning the best pathway for crawling through the chunky rocks.

The tow up the hill took us nearly half an hour of slow-motion rock-crawling in "low 4X4," an extreme transmission setting that we have almost never used.  Our small truck, stubborn and dogged, carefully dragged the trailer over the obstacles:


The truck was covered in "Sierra pinstripes," badges of honor:

Turning the truck and trailer around was the next challenge -- the campsite was not nearly wide enough for an easy "lollipop" turnaround, and it took a lot of time-consuming backing and forthing before we could get the front of the trailer pointed toward the mountains.

The real reward for all of this effort was the view from the kitchen table -- a 50 mile expanse of the Sierra, decorated with late-season snow:


After getting settled, we headed off to Bodie, arriving there at 4 pm.  Bodie closes at 6 pm at this time of year.  In retrospect, a two hour visit was not enough -- Bodie was much more interesting (and less "touristy") than we had expected. 

Be advised that there is a per-person entry fee of $8, which is well worth the money.  So is the $3 brochure.  The state park uses the funds to keep the town in a state of "arrested decay," which sounds like a great strategy for aging gracefully.

The building on the right is the "IOOF" hall -- a little research later revealed that the International Order of the Odd Fellows was (and still is) a fraternal and charitable organization.  The members were "odd" because they came from a variety of trades:


Perhaps the best part of Bodie was the view of the interiors of the buildings.  There were a few open to entry.  Most of them, though, could be viewed through glass windows.  Felice discovered that even if there was glare on the glass, you could still get a good photo by placing your phone directly on the glass.  The late-afternoon lighting was surprisingly good.

Many of the residents apparently abandoned their possessions when leaving Bodie, after the mines were played out.  This is the kitchen of the Tom and Jessy Miller house -- you can see their big china bowl on the right side of the table, bearing their names:


(Note:  a sharp-eyed reader spotted the bowl and let us know that this is actually a "Tom and Jerry" bowl.  Tom and Jerry is a hot eggnog cocktail.  I wonder if the Bodie State Park rangers know this?)

This is a parlor, complete with pedal-operated sewing machine (on the left):


Note the lion's heads on the feet of the pool table:


The schoolroom is frozen in time.  The announcement of the potluck dinner is still on the board, and the reading lesson is still on the easel:


The remains of a tricycle:


A general store -- note the stamped-tin ceiling.  The machine on the left is a coffee grinder:


We returned to the trailer before sundown:



May 4:  I woke up at 3 a.m. (as I sometimes do) and stepped outside to enjoy the show -- that's the galactic center of the Milky Way over the snowy peaks:


The morning was very cold and windy -- Felice enjoyed her breakfast blanket (hi, Cor!):


The trailer posed for its obligatory "little RV in a big landscape" photo.  This picture can't quite capture the blessed silence and isolation of boondocking in the backcountry, but it will have to do:


We drove to the Green Lake trailhead.  The aspens had not yet begun to leaf out:


This area looked a little different in late September of 2019:


The beavers were enjoying the aspens, too:


Note the tip of the pole on the upper right side of the trunk -- this aspen was probably 16 inches in diameter.  I wonder if the beavers cut down trees like this one over a period of several days (or nights) of work?


We've seen better-looking beaver dams than this one, but it gets the job done:


From the trail, we could look up and see Kavanaugh Ridge and Dunderberg Peak.  I'm just to the right of the center in this photo: 


Gabbro Peak rose sharply as we neared the lake -- we decided that with some snow, it resembles a chocolate brownie sundae:



But we could not get all the way to the lake -- the outlet area was flooded, and the snow was rotten and unstable:


Late in the afternoon, we started up the access road to the campsite -- the trailer is the little white dot in the center of the photo: 


This shot is emblematic of our hiking equipment during shoulder season:  a bandana to "wet up" for cooling off, and a snowshoe for, well, snow:  


(It turns out that we did not need the snowshoes -- the snow was slushy and compacted -- but we had to carry them just in case.)

May 5:  We knew that there would be snow in Lundy Canyon, but we just had to visit the cascades during the thaw.  The lower cascades were roaring:


The willows near the stream were getting ready for the growing season -- I think that these fuzzy little things are called "catkins:"


The trail winds through groves of huge old aspen -- this one is more than three feet in diameter: 


At times, the trail was deeply covered by snow, and we had to find our way across the snowdrifts.  Not a big problem, but it slowed us down a little:


We did make it to the base of the upper cascades, but no further -- the conditions were too tricky, with steep slopes and unstable snow.  The cascades were covered by several dangerous snow bridges:




As we were leaving the trailhead, we saw a beaver lodge in the middle of a pond:


Back at the trailer, the sunset looked as if it would be a bit disappointing:


But just as I was changing my clothes, the sky erupted.  We rushed outside -- I didn't even have time to put on my shirt (see lower right corner):


Those are the real colors -- I actually had to dial back on the saturation when preparing them for this blog post.  This was a classic "Sierra wave" sunset -- moist air flows from the West, rises above the crest, descends into the valleys east of the mountains, and forms "lenticular" ice clouds.


The light bouncing off the clouds illuminated the snow on the mountains:


There's not much more that I can say:


May 6:  We took the Buckeye Creek trail:  long, sandy, and dusty.  The whole thing was well over 9 miles roundtrip; the first three miles of the trail are completely unremarkable.  Eventually, the trail comes to a succession of big, lush meadows, with great views of the snowy ridges at the head of the canyon:



At about 4.5 miles, the trail later comes to a water crossing -- the water (pure snowmelt) was freezing and deep, and we saw no reason to get wet:



We sat by the creek for a while, just enjoying the cool wind, the sound of the water, and the reflection of the mountains:


As with all of our hikes this week, we saw no one on the trail.  But I doubt that we will revisit Buckeye -- too much sandy trudging.

Late that afternoon, lenticular clouds formed again, but this time there was no gaudy sunset:


Instead, we watched a storm blowing in over the crest -- the forecast was for snow flurries over the next couple of days:


May 7:  We decided to head south before the storm hit.  (Which was a good thing, since there were several inches of snow the morning after we left.). We thought that towing the trailer back down the hill would be easier than the trip up.  But there was one point where we reached a big "tombstone" rock, a slab-sided obstacle that the truck might have been able to negotiate but which the trailer probably could not.

Felice to the rescue!  She built a ramp of smaller flat rocks leading up to the tombstone, so that both the truck and the trailer rolled gently over the barrier. 

Filled with confidence (uh-oh), we headed for the Parker Lake trailhead near June Lake.  Instead of unhooking the trailer and taking the truck to the trailhead, as we usually do, we gambled that there would be plenty of room at the trailhead parking lot to turn the trailer around.

Wrong.  It was Mother's Day, and all of the mothers had decided to hike to Parker Lake.  No place to turn around.  Worse yet, the access road was in terrible shape, with boulders and ruts and gullies more than a foot deep.

So we just parked the truck and the trailer in a turnout and took a hike, hoping (correctly) that the parking lot would clear out.

After all of that drama, the hike itself was pleasantly anticlimactic.  The wind-blown lake reflected the late afternoon sun -- that's Parker Pass on the right:


Later, we got the trailer turned around and slowly maneuvered through the deep gullies:


May 8:  Homeward.  At lunchtime, cruising south on 395, we put on terrycloth "car bibs" that we had inherited from Felice's mom, accompanied by much hilarity, aided by a very unflattering camera angle.  (I guess you had to be there.)