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Re: Henness Ridge Winter Conditions Update for February 12-15, 2021

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Henness Ridge Winter Conditions Update for February 12-15, 2021
February 18, 2021 12:53AM
(For those wondering about the strange format of this trip report, I'm a fan of the Tuolumne Winter Rangers and their weekly reports on Tuolumne Meadows Winter Conditions. I thought it would be fun to make this trip report look similar to one of their reports. My apologies if that makes it a little hard to follow.)

February 17, 2021 Posted by: FatFlatlander
New snow: 2-3 inches
Total settled snow depth: ~24 inches (at 6,000 feet)
High temperature: Mid 30's
Low temperature: High Teens

Valley View on February 12, 2021.

Ski Conditions and Weather
My family are not skiers; snowshoeing is a better match for our coordination levels. After watching a few inches of snow fall on Saturday morning, we did a short snowshoe trek up to the Henness Ridge Fire Lookout Tower on Saturday afternoon.

Henness Ridge Fire Lookout Tower on February 13, 2021.

I was surprised at how many people had attempted the trail without skis or snowshoes, as evidenced by the many "posthole" boot marks along the trail. It might not have been so bad if they had stayed off to the side, but of course they tended to walk where the snow had been compacted somewhat by those in snowshoes. It made our travel quite a bit tougher as you had to place your steps carefully to avoid one side of your snowshoe sinking into a boot print. I thought it might be helpful here to do a quick review of etiquette on multi-use winter trails:

Diagram of proper winter trail etiquette

In the diagram above, start at the trailhead where you can put on your cross-country skis or snowshoes. If you are a skier, use the ski lane. If you are a snowshoer, use the snowshoe lane. If you need to cross over the ski lane at any point, be sure to step over the ski tracks so that you don't leave indents from your snowshoes on them. If you are wearing snow boots or other footwear, use the boots, sneakers, and sandals lane, which immediately bends around and returns you to the trailhead, where you can put on cross-country skis or snowshoes. Easy, huh?

Sunday was cold and clear, and I did a solo snowshoe over to the new NatureBridge campus. I took the fire roads on the way there, and went cross-country on the return trip. Um... more on that later.

View south toward Wawona from the fire roads between Yosemite West and NatureBridge.

Monday brought a warm storm system with light drizzle up at Yosemite West. We packed up and headed out, but stopped at the Merced Grove trailhead to try snowshoeing down to see some Sequoias. The trail here had so many boot prints on it that it looked like a field of open egg cartons. The rough trail conditions, some downed trees, and persistent drizzle combined to quickly sap any enthusiasm the kids had for the trek. About a third of the way along the trail that heads down to the grove we encountered a large downed tree that fully blocked the road. That was the straw that broke the camel's back, and we returned to the trailhead to dry off and warm up as we headed back to the Bay Area.

Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions
While I enjoy reading the weekly reports from the Tuolumne Winter Rangers and learning a little about things like wind slabs and depth hoar (and have even perused the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center's website, with tons more useful information), I am still a relative novice snowshoer with no real ability to evaluate avalanche conditions and who has no business being anywhere near avalanche country.

Which is exactly what I was thinking as I lay face down in the snow, staring down a 30ish degree slope to the pavement of Henness Ridge Road about 100 vertical feet below me. I had snowshoed from Yosemite West to the new NatureBridge campus via some fire roads, but decided to try going cross-country on the return trip. A bit west of NatureBridge there was a steep slope that I had to contour along. About 3/4 of the way across this section, my right snowshoe (downhill side) hit some weak snow and essentially postholed. I ended up with my chest on the snow, facing downhill with my right leg and snowshoe buried in the snow beneath me. Fortunately, after a minute of cursing my own stupidity I was able to swing my left leg around and get enough purchase to pull my right leg and snowshoe out of the snow. I quickly shuffled the rest of the way to more moderately sloped terrain. How much risk was there of that slope giving way? I don't know... and that's exactly why I should not have been there. What's that old saying: "Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment". Luckily we don't always have to pay the full price for bad decisions, but if we are smart we can still learn from them.

We spotted some common mergansers coming in for a landing on the Merced River on our way in (okay, my family spotted them... I was too busy taking pictures). We heard a Nuttall's woodpecker at Tunnel View on the way out (my family actually saw it as we were driving off. Once again, I missed it, but had a better excuse this time in that I was driving). In between, the common raven was the creature most frequently heard and/or spotted in our travels. There was a pair of ravens hanging around the condos we were staying at up in Yosemite West. They flew up to the balcony railing each day we were there, and seemed just as interested in studying us through the glass as we were in studying them. It sort of made us feel like we were the ones in the zoo! Other than those bird sightings, Douglas squirrel and coyote tracks in the snow were the only other signs of wildlife we saw.

A less-than-unkindness of ravens. (Or is it not quite a conspiracy of ravens?)

General Information
While I wish we would have gotten more snow, and done more snowshoeing, overall the trip was a great opportunity for my family to leave work, school, and pandemic-related stressors behind for a few days and just relax and bond in my favorite place on earth.

Thanks for reading!
FatFlatlander - Presidents' Weekend Henness Ridge Winter Ranger (Okay, so I'm not really an official Ranger... but I am an official Junior Ranger!)

View northwest from a clearing between NatureBridge and Yosemite West on February 14, 2021.
Re: Henness Ridge Winter Conditions Update for February 12-15, 2021
February 18, 2021 06:41AM
Nice report and a good homage to the winter-rangers-format! Glad you didn't hurt anything more than your ego on that fall. winking smiley
Re: Henness Ridge Winter Conditions Update for February 12-15, 2021
February 19, 2021 05:19AM
Nice report, and I like the format!
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