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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Yosemite in Snow

Hi Blog.  On Monday, October 28th, we woke up in our Yosemite camp site to some low clouds and rain showers.  No problem.  We knew the rain was coming, so, the day before, we had strung a rain tarp from the back of Great White.  Here is Kathy under the tarp sipping coco-coffee and chowing down on apples and cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast in the rain.

As the clouds thinned out, we could see that the rain had turned to snow in the higher elevations.  The granite peaks looked like cupcakes with white frosting on top.  The weather forecast called for the showers to end and temperatures to rise into the low 60's.  We decided to go ahead with our plans to hike up to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls even though it was still sprinkling.  Have rain gear, will travel.

We walked over to the trailhead, passing a number of campers ringing out their wet gear.  Just as we arrived at the trailhead, a shuttle bus dropped off some tourists.  They had no rain gear or hiking boots, just umbrellas.  They wanted to know how far the falls were, so we told them 7 miles round trip. They looked at each other and then decided to walk the half mile nature trail and take the bus to the Visitors Center.

As we started up the trail, we felt a little guilty scaring the tourist away from the falls.  We forgot that we calculated the mileage from our campsite - NOT the trailhead.  The actual mileage is 2.4 roundtrip to Vernal Falls and 5.4 to Nevada Falls.  Oh well, our guilt didn't last long as we began walking up and up with a now steady rain.   Hey wait - that rain is awful slushy looking.  I think those are snow flakes.  Yep - it's snowing!  How cool is that.  Look the snow is sticking on the bridge.

We stopped at an overlook and gazed down the valley.  We could hear the Merced River tumbling down, but with all the snow, we couldn't see very far.  Here is what the first snow in Yosemite of this season looked liked.  We met up with a backpacker on his way down.  He warned us there was more snow up top.  By the time we reached the steps to Vernal Falls, the snow was already a couple inches thick where it was sticking, and, on the rest of the trail, it had formed thick slush that was beginning to freeze.  Dave checked his thermometer, and instead of the early 40F temperature increasing to 60F, it had FALLEN to 32F! wonder the snow was sticking and freezing.

At the stairs in the photo above, we watched three hikers carefully pick their way down before we headed up.  We made it up to the railed viewing area at the base of the falls.  If you look carefully you can see the ribbon of falls coming down from the cliff above.  This picture is not a black and white photo, but it sure resembled one:

Here is what the falls look like when it is not snowing:

By this point, the snow was coming down pretty fast and furious.  We figured that we could make it to Nevada Falls, but would we be able to make it back down those stone steps if they were all covered in snow and ice?  We decided this would be our turnaround point.  We took one last photo of us with the falls between us and began the task of picking our way back down the steep, slippery steps.

In just the short time it took us to climb up and down the steps to the falls, you can see how much more snow had accumulated on the bridge.

Without any mishaps, we arrived back at the trailhead safe and sound.  Since we cut our hike short, rather than walk back to camp, we decided to jump on the shuttle bus and head into Yosemite Village for something warm to drink.  We found a self-serve deli with a real wood-burning fireplace.  It took a few minutes of table hopping before we got close enough to the fireplace to start drying out our hats and gloves.

As we sat enjoying a bowl of soup and cup of hot chocolate, we struck up a conversation with another couple seeking the warmth of the fireplace.  Turns out, they were also camping in the North Pines Campground.  They pulled in late last night and parked next to a giant white truck with a green tarp behind it.  Yep, we're neighbors.  We had a lovely time chatting with Keith and Diane from Idaho.  We compared notes on a number of national parks.  Before long, the sun was shining and our gloves were almost dry.  Time to get out and explore the valley before all the snow melted.

We stopped in the Visitor's Center for a quick refresher on the history of the Yosemite Valley before heading out across Cook's Meadow to catch a glimpse of Sentinel Dome dusted in snow.

Here is Half Dome with a new snowy white cap.

We watched as the low clouds broke apart and slowly drifted up and over the Middle Brother.

From Sentinel Bridge, we could look up the Merced River and catch a of glimpse of Half Dome reflected in the water below.  We marveled at how different this scene was from the one we saw the day before and posted in our October 27 blog entry.

On the way back to camp, we stopped by the historic Ahwahnee Hotel.  To protect the Ahwahnee from fire, a fate of many of the Park's earlier hotels, its wood-like facade is actually concrete, poured into rough-hewn wooden forms and stained to look like redwood.

As we sat enjoying our hot toddies in the hotel bar, we ran into the neighbors to our right - Fred and Carol.  We caught up with them as they sat in front of the huge fireplace checking their emails.  After chatting about the different hikes and sites in the park, we made plans to join them for a glass of wine after dinner.  We left them to their computer bibbling and headed back to camp.

Just as we were leaving the hotel parking lot to catch the trail back to camp, we noticed a woman photographing two bucks munching on the grass growing next to the trail.  We let her take a few photos, but explained we needed to get on the trail to get back to camp.  She was happy with the photos she got and the deer barely looked up from their nibbling as we walk by.  Just down the trail, we passed a small herd of about 10 does and fawns.  No wonder the guys were sticking close by.

When we got back to camp, we found that the heavy wet snow almost took down our green tarp.  We ended up moving it to a new location because a puddle had formed behind the truck.  There was some snow still on the tent, but once we brushed it off, we were high and dry.  Keith and Diane came back from their adventures in the valley and offered us the use of their Class C camper van while they were out to dinner.  If it had still been raining, we might have taken them up on that offer.  However, we were all set up to cookout.

After dinner, we met up with Fred and Carol (and their dog Hopi) for a glass of wine and chatted about retirement and full-time RVing.  Before long, it was time to snuggle into our Zero Degree sleeping bags and call it a night.  Tomorrow we head back to Oakhurst.  Night night, Half Dome!

Mud Flap Girl

David had the opportunity today to apply the "Mud Flap Girl" appliques to the truck.  Katie brought them as a present when she and Justin visited us in Vallejo the other week.  They look right smart!

Baxter Leading a Particularly Ambitious Campground Walk

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Yosemite in Fall Colors

On Sunday, October 27, we started our camping trip to Yosemite.  We drove in the South Entrance through Wawona, and down into Yosemite Valley, where we found our campsite in North Pines Campground.  We pitched our tent under the VERY TALL pine trees.  Because our campground is at the eastern end of the valley, the cliffs of Yosemite loomed above us on three sides:

Once we set up camp, we decided to take an 11-mile hike around the Valley Loop Trail, which traverses the main part of the valley and parallels the main road.  Setting off on the trail, we crossed Merced River where Tenaya Creek joins it.  The green of moss on the rocks in the riverbed joined with the blue of the water to make a brilliant contrast with the yellow, orange and brown leaves:

As we hiked west along the north part of the loop, we encountered huge granite boulders that have fallen from the cliffs above.  Luckily, we didn't witness any boulders crashing to the valley floor:

We hiked further westward and passed the historic entrance to the Ahwahnee Lodge, built in 1927 and designated a national historic landmark in 1987.  It was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who also designed the famous landmark lodges in Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon.  Here's Kathy exploring the original stone gated entrance:

The day was a brilliant, sunny, warm day, which was perfect for seeing the late autumn colors on the valley floor.  We were probably a week or so past the prime, but nevertheless, the fall hues were warm and inviting.  Here is a view of Lower Brother across Leidig Meadow:

The trees were so tall, we had to strain our necks to see to the top of them.  Most of the tallest trees were Ponderosa Pine.  Here's David trying the yoga "tree" pose in front of ponderous friend:

All along the north valley floor - especially near Camp 4, where climbers camp while they scale the cliffs, we saw groups of climbers practising and learning new skills:

Looking back across Leidig Meadow, we caught a glimpse of Half Dome:

Some of the bridges provided exceptional scenic views.  Here's one of Sentinel Rock over Merced River:

Almost no matter where you are in the Valley, you can see Half Dome.  Here it peeks out over Merced River:

Kathy formed her own tree buddies.  Here she is, measuring a particularly large Cedar to see if it's roomier than our RV:

As the afternoon started turning to evening, the sun fell lower and the shadows grew longer.  In the yellowing evening light, the trees' fall foliage seemed even more golden:

At the western end of the loop, we hiked past El Capitan.  In the photo below, if you enlarge it, you can see some tents hanging on the cliff, to be used by climbers scaling the cliff:

Crossing to the south side of the valley floor, we walked into the shadow of the southern cliffs.  The sun and cliffs threw dramatic shadows across the meadows:

Cathedral spires, lit by the lowering sun, held court over the Merced River:

As we hiked back eastward along the south side of the valley floor, the sun turned the cliffs into ghost-like presences:

Much of the Valley Loop Trail is asphalted, which we weren't particularly happy with, although it appears the NPS is deliberately letting sections of it go "back to nature" and turning it into a sandy or gravelly trail.  As "unnatural" as the asphalt was, in places we discovered the cobblestones that were first laid for the trail when it was presumably the original carriage road around the valley floor:

We made a stop at Swinging Bridge to look eastward up the valley.  The sun, descending in the west, cast our shadow out toward the river:

Toward the end of our hike, we were returning to our campground, and we found our old friend, Half Dome, looming above to the southeast, purplish in the setting sun:

Across on the north side of the section of the valley where we camped, Washington Column, on the right, and North Dome, behind it, glowed golden in the ripening light:

Walking back into the campground, we found that we had new neighbors, who were just setting up camp with their camper van and a nice cabana.  Fred and Carol are from the San Francisco area, and they were camping with their sweet dog Hopi.  We made friends with Hopi and introduced ourselves to Fred and Carol, and briefly compared notes about our travel itineraries.

Then it was back to our campsite for a hot, scrumptious dinner.  Night fell all too early and, after some wine and some stargazing, we crawled into the tent.

We knew that showers were due in late.  Around 10:00 p.m., the winds started roaring down the valley floor.  They mainly blew the treetops, but we could hear the roaring above us.  In the wee hours, the rain started to fall.  Waking briefly to note the wind and rain, we anticipated a rainy breakfast and hike the next day.

Sugar Pine Railroad

Hi Blog.  On Saturday, October 26th, we took a ride on the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.  We got lucky because this weekend was the last weekend the trains would be running.  We arrived early to make sure we could find a place to park Great White.  This gave us plenty of time to explore the train shed and museum.  The Sugar Pine Railroad uses Shay model steam engines, which were favored for logging work because, while they could not reach high speeds, they produced a lot of torque and could haul heavy loads up steep grades.  The current railroad has two Shay engines.  Here is Number 15 getting ready to take us for spin around the forest:

The museum was filled with all kinds of artifacts from the early days of Yosemite Mountain.  The older fellow hosting the museum spent nearly a half hour telling us the history of the facility and the area.  Here is Dave working the steam donkey engine used to pull large logs down to the tracks to load onto the train cars.

The museum also displayed information about the early prospectors and their search for gold.  If you wanted to, you could try your hand at panning for gold.

Next we explored the train shed.  Here is Dave checking out one of the Jenny Railcars.  These are Model "A" powered railcars that were once used to transport logging and repair crews.  The Model A Ford Engines power the trolley-like cars over the same route as the Logger Steam Train.

Once we boarded the train and got under way, we took a short video so that you could hear the Sugar Pine Train Whistle.  The entire trip was only four miles, but we learned a great deal about the forest and life of the loggers.  We stopped at the halfway point so the train could take on more water for the return trip.

We all got a chance to get out and stretch our legs.  Those interested could climb aboard the engine and have their picture taken.

The railroad follows a portion of grade originally carved into the mountain by the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company in the early 20th Century. The company originated in 1874, when it was organized as the California Lumber Company to log the area surrounding Oakhurst, California. The Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company once had a large sawmill at Sugar Pine, California. The railroad had seven locomotives, over 100 log cars, and 140 miles of track in the surrounding mountains. In addition to the railroad, the Company also transported lumber in a flume that stretched 54 miles from Sugar Pine to Madera, California. It was the largest log flume ever constructed.  This was the most efficient way to transport rough cut lumber out of the mountains for finishing and transport at the bottom of the mountain. The Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company practiced clearcutting, which removed almost every single tree within the stands of timber surrounding the track. The thick forest of today belies this history, although large stumps from the original old growth timber dot the forest floor lining the tracks. There are also a number of rail cars and spare parts lining the tracks waiting to be refurbished and put to work.

Riding the rails all morning can build up a powerful hunger.  So, on the way back to Oakhurst, we stopped at Bass Lake for a bite to eat.  Here is the view from the restaurant.  The mountain on the other side is Goat Mountain which we climbed on Friday.  If you enlarge the photo, you can see the fire tower where we had lunch.

After lunch, we walked over to the Craft Fair.  Unfortunately, being full-time RVers, there's not a lot of room in our RV for extra stuff.  We didn't see anything we had to have, so we spent some time enjoying a local bluegrass band, the Narrow Gauge Ramblers, who were a garage band doing a large public performance for the first time.  Keep note, readers, because when they get famous, you'll remember you heard about the first on this blog!

When the band took their break, we decided to head back to camp to get ready for our camping trip into Yosemite.  We are looking forward to spending some more in the park.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hike to Goat Mountain Lookout

This morning we walked into town and poked into the visitor information center to ask for more information about Yosemite and about our planned hike to Goat Mountain Lookout at Bass Lake near where we are staying.  We hit the jackpot!  The fellow in the information center had lots of hiking maps and information.

Armed with the information about the hike to Goat Mountain Lookout, we drove the 9 miles or so to Bass Lake.  We had some difficulty finding a place to park the truck, because the trailhead to the top of Goat Mountain was in a lakeside campground, but the campground was closed for the season.  We finally found a parking spot and headed up to find the trailhead.

Here's a photo of Bass Lake.  It sits at about 3,000 feet elevation.  The summit of Goat Mountain is at 4,634 feet.  So, we had about 4 miles to gain 1600 feet - not bad.

At the top of the campground, we located the trailhead.  Here's Dave admiring the trail sign.  We were a little surprised, because the trail documentation said that the hike is 5 miles round trip.  Note that Goat Mountain Lookout is shown as 4.4 miles away.  This after half a mile of walking from the lake to the top of the campground.  We hadn't exactly been prepared for a 10-mile hike.  We only had two litres of water, but we did have lunch and snacks.  We decided to go ahead and head on up, knowing that the weather was mild and that we've hiked 10 miles before without using a full 4 litres of water.

Along the way, Kathy stood almost underneath an old tree that had fallen across the drainage near the trail.  Little did we know when David took the photo that Kathy got photo-bombed by one of the zillions of gnats that beseiged us throughout the hike.  Here's the damn bug, shining in the flash of the camera:

David found some huge granite slabs standing upright and had to try to topple them just like that now infamous boy scout leader.  He was not successful.  Maybe that was for the best.

The trail we chose had some great scenic views.  Here's one view looking down on Bass Lake:

We had several opportunities to look across to the range of mountains to the northeast.  This is a view of Shuteye Peak, which has an elevation of 8,355 feet:

At the top, we sat on the stairs of the lookout tower to eat our lunch and enjoy the view.  The cabin, which is no longer in use for fire lookout purposes, now houses signal relay equipment.  Here's Kathy munching away under a huge signal drum:

The lookout tower was not without its amenities, however.  We were blessed with a two-seater outhouse, just in case we both felt the need:

The hike back was pleasant and uneventful - except for the gnats.  They plagued us up and back, and we often had to wave our hands or hats to shoo them out of our eyes as we walked.  Note to self:  try this hike next time after the first frost.