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Fern on the Four Mile Trail, Yosemite National Park

The Moon is Waning Gibbous (76% of Full)


Re: Winter Wonderland

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Winter Wonderland
January 29, 2015 08:38PM
A few days after Christmas, back when we all were a bit more optimistic about having a real winter, JKW and I found ourselves back in the Sierra.... this time, in the Hetch Hetchy area, looking to do one of our favorite loops in winter. The forecast was for chilly days--freezing or lower--and colder nights (in the teens), but as we crossed the dam and headed to Wapama Falls, it was more spring-like than winter-in-the-Midwest-like.

Somewhere near the Tueeulala bridge we heard from the advance party on the radio.

Wapama Falls at least was flowing well, although the bridges were bone-dry--no "mist trail" experience.

Not far past the Wapama bridges, we found some trail graffiti from a fan--perhaps one either with dyslexia or who works for the road painting department, or...?

The cascades below Rancheria Falls were, well, frosty--certainly not as inviting as they are after a hot summer descent from Tiltill Valley--except perhaps for JKW.

Despite the warm sun and clear skies, it was still winter.

We reached our first real snow late in the afternoon near the top of the "pass" between Rancheria and Tiltill Valley--the one with mini-McGee Lake in it.

The advance party had informed us on radio that our planned campsite--on a dome overlooking Tiltill--required navigating some delicious country, so we opted for plan B, the nice site in Tiltill we had passed by so many times before. We reached the floor of Tiltill just as the sun was setting.

The trail across Tiltill was mostly dry--or at least frozen--with just a bit of squishy goodness near the north end.

Interestingly, the sun was setting exactly at the lowest point in the southwest, where Tiltill Creek leaves the valley, from where our campsite was, so we were greeted to a few bonus minutes of sun that evening--gold during the shortest days of winter.

The projected lows for the night were in the low teens, so we chose to camp under a nice umbrella of incense cedar.

The sun disappeared just as we started to prepare dinner.

The evening ended up being much warmer than I'd expected, and I spent awhile just laying out on my Z-rest watching the moon and stars, trying to pass some time before climbing into the tent. Eventually, it was chilly enough to warrant more shelter, so we hit the bed--at about 7:00.

PROTIP 1: Ever wonder what that small pocket at the top of Big Agnes Fly Creek, Slater, and other tents is for? Hats? Gloves? Well, maybe, or, during a long winter night, you can fire up a movie on your GPS device of choice* and enjoy some entertainment in the warmth of your sleeping bag until a more civilized bedtime. Remember, you have to get through about 15 hours of darkness...

The night had actually ended up being unexpectedly warm, so preparing breakfast and packing up without direct sunlight was not bad. So far, there hadn't been much winter, but we expected to need our snowshoes later in the day.

We didn't encounter much snow until nearly at the top of the switchbacks above Tiltill Valley. The conditions were "middling"--too many bare patches for snowshoes, but too much post-holing where there was snow to go without.

It became clear that we were following the tracks of others.

Near the top of the burnt-out area, we stopped for a lunch break, following the boot prints of the advance party. Since snowshoe tracks left this lunch spot, we decided to don ours as well.

The levelish traverse to the top of the switchbacks descending into Lake Vernon finally felt like a winter trip.

The descent into Lake Vernon was icy, but the sky was clear.

Below us, the lake was frozen over.

At the bottom of the switchbacks, we met up with a member of the advance party, who led us around the lake to the pre-selected campsite area.

After setting up our tent and getting water from a small break in the ice we had dinner on a small patch of bare ground near camp, watching the sun set behind and around us.

That night was peaceful and calm--except for the loud noises that the shifting and cracking ice would occasionally make.

That night the temperature dipped into the teens. Ice crystals had started to form in our water bottles, despite keeping them in our tent. We were not patient enough to wait for the sun to hit us, so we had breakfast and started to pack as the sun slowly climbed over Mt. Gibson. Finally, a bit after the promised time of 8:30, we were in its light and warmth. Not soon thereafter, we were climbing out the Lake Vernon basin over generally icy conditions.

As expected, the deepest snow we encountered was between the Moraine Ridge junction and a bit below Beehive. The snow was unfortunately an icy crust over softer snow, so our snowshoes created a wake of large, broken, angular chunks of snow, making it hard to either break trail or follow in the rough wake of others. Still, the snow wasn't all bad.

We were able to remove our snowshoes near the "Frog Pond", and stopped for a snack on bare ground just past it.

From there, with the exception of a few minor icy spots, it was clear summer-like sailing back to the dam.

We made good time down the switchbacks, the crisp morning and snow from earlier in the day fading quickly away as we descended.

More Pictures

* Footnote to PROTIP 1: The $30 Lumia 520 and a $10 SD card makes a very capable GPS device--that you can also load up with movies, books, and music. It apparently can also be used as a phone.

PROTIP 2: If following PROTIP 1 with others, bring a headphone extension cable, a Y splitter, and headphones so that they can enjoy the natural sounds of the ice creaking and moaning.
avatar Re: Winter Wonderland
January 30, 2015 10:38AM
Pure goodness! Thanks for the report and morning diversion.
avatar Re: Winter Wonderland
January 30, 2015 01:45PM
Love the PROTIPS!
Re: Winter Wonderland
January 30, 2015 03:40PM
Vernon is always nice for a long weekend. Thanks for sharing.
avatar Re: Winter Wonderland
February 02, 2015 02:59PM
Love the PROTIPS!

PROTIP 0.02 :
Even though "been there before" ... bird brains usually forget the cliffy parts....
It always "looks easy from here"

PROTIP 0.02 :
Even though "been there before" ... go back and explore... it's never the same ...

PROTIP 0.02 :
Winter cap a requirement in "winter"

PROTIP 0.02 :
Have fun

(Falls Creek on way up to Jack Main)

Chick-on is looking at you!

O... For the "been there" crowd... if in the area... go past Wapama and hike thru the blast zone... WOW ... and not a lot really came down..!

Chick-on is looking at you!
avatar Re: Winter Wonderland
February 03, 2015 07:08AM
Forgot to post this one... 3 Osprey Sightings... smiling smiley

Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Winter Wonderland
February 04, 2015 10:31AM
Love, love, love.. and that hat! Too cute!!! Perfect fit!

As for the new Exos... I'm really happy. It's been super comfy all through the year. Yay!

Was a lovely trip! Thanks for sharing your time and the pics!
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