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Fern on the Four Mile Trail, Yosemite National Park

The Moon is Waxing Crescent (50% of Full)


Re: Dance With the Devil

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Dance With the Devil
February 06, 2013 08:37PM
I arrived at the Old Big Oak Flat Road Trail trailhead around 8:30 after a long, solitary drive from the Bay Area. I had encountered only a few other cars since Oakdale. The sky was dark and overcast, and a cool breeze blew from the north. I heated some water for tea on the tailgate while doing the final packing: micro-spikes and snowshoes were in, the heavy mittens were out. A group of a few people stopped at the trailhead, took a few pictures, and continued their travels.

The OBOFRT passes through an extensive burnt-out area hit twice by big fires. There was no snow on the trail for the first mile or so, which climbed to the top of a ridge. From there, through the burnt remains of pines, manzanita, and chinquapin, Bridalveil Fall and El Capitan appeared, as did the only glimpse of Half Dome I would see that day.

Past here was the first snow with a few footprints from a few days, or maybe a week, ago, but these eventually petered out. The snow was consolidated enough to prevent every 8 or 9 of 10 steps from breaking through; the occasional shallow "posthole" was enough to reduce my stride to more of an awkward stumble. The snow coverage continued to increase, especially near the Tamarack Creek crossing. While the creek wasn't too high, the snow on the banks made it awkward to find a reasonable crossing point. Perhaps a mile short of Cascade Creek, the snow was deep enough that I finally surrendered to putting on my snow shoes--and maybe 200 yards after this, took them back off for a significant dry stretch. Shoes on, shoes off, shoes back on... A final creek crossing was made tricky due to the thickness of the snow near the creek and having the shoes on. By the time I had arrived at the actual Old Big Oak Flat Road, the coverage was significant.

My original plan was to head down the OBOFR to Rainbow View and back, so I crossed the Cascade Creek bridge and trudged down the old road. Footing was awkward and inconsistent due to small mounds of ice within the snow. I didn't see any tracks heading towards El Capitan at the official junction. Just past the former site of the Gentry's Ranger Station, the snow ended and the snowshoes came off. Except for a few brief sections, the old road was snow free from there on.

I stopped for lunch at an opening with decent views near BM 5323. Rainbow View has better views of the valley, but there's more room to spread out at this location, and the views are still decent.

Instead of just continuing to Rainbow View and back, I decided that I would return via a side trip to Devils Dance Floor. After a quick peek at Fireplace Creek, I retraced my steps--the only ones I'd seen in hours--to the junction past Cascade Creek. Along the way, the sun almost broke through the clouds enough to form shadows, but any such progress was short-lived.

One reason for wanting to return via Devils Dance Floor was to see if this route would avoid potentially deep creek crossings. Perhaps it did, but there were still other significant crossings; one near a washed-out culvert tested my waterproof boots. The foot that went in got wet, but when I finally removed the boots at the car, both feet were equally wet...

I was able to make decent progress following the road, which I stayed on all the way to Tamarack Flat campground. This wasn't the shortest way to the Dance Floor, but I wanted to take advantage of the comparatively open and level road and the convenient bridge in the campground. The campground itself was covered by a thick blanket of snow, and the only signs of occupancy were various animal tracks. A small, shallow creek flowing through the campground was frustratingly difficult to cross due to the vertical, steep snow banks on either side.

After a few relatively steep sections, I was near the top of the Dance Floor and was rewarded with occasional views of the Clark Range. Just below the broad, flat summit I encountered snowshoe tracks--perhaps a few days or weeks old--and followed them to the top.

Right at the top was a patch of bare granite, which I took advantage of to have another snack, melt some snow for water, and make more tea. To the east were views of some of the high points in and around Yosemite Valley.

Despite a few stray patches of blue sky, the sky darkened as the sun dropped behind a band of dark clouds. While there was still an hour or so before sunset, there was already a band of gold light near the horizon. On a warm, sunny summer day I would have spent an hour or more on the Dance Floor, but I was running out of daylight and had to return to the car by dark.

After a short, steep drop off the summit plateau (snowshoes off, microspikes on...), I encountered the snowshoe tracks again. Rather than putting my snowshoes back on, I took advantage of the compressed snow these tracks offered and followed them down the ridge that leads from the Dance Floor to the trailhead. The travel along this route was decent, especially where the snow was deep enough to cover the shrubbery; once below the snow line, it was more like traveling through a derelict hedge maze, finding open routes through extensive patches of burnt chaparral and stepping over numerous fallen, burnt logs.

The sun set just as I met up with the trail, and for just a moment I could feel a bit of warmth from it--the only such experience the entire day. The bare hills near me glowed golden-red for a few moments, and in the distance El Capitan turned pink for just an instant. As quickly as this final treat of light arrived it disappeared, the red and orange glow on the horizon fading to gray.

As in the morning, another group pulled into the parking lot, took a few pictures, and left as I descended the final switchbacks to the car.

The GPS tracker claimed 15.5 miles and 4400' of elevation gain, during which I had encountered zero people on the trail and the tracks of only one other party.

More Pictures
Re: Dance With the Devil
February 06, 2013 10:34PM
Great stuff! Thanks.
avatar Re: Dance With the Devil
February 06, 2013 10:44PM

Thanks for the great trip report of your day hike.

By the way, which type of tea (and which brand) do you usually drink while hiking or backpacking?
avatar Re: Dance With the Devil
February 07, 2013 07:56AM
(as in Word)
(or U Da Bird!)

Tanks for Sharon Aaron

No one was parked there when drove by at about 8:15.
Woulda stopped if had seen ur car. smiling smiley

Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Dance With the Devil
February 07, 2013 08:39AM
chick-on-- I think I was at the T/H around 8:45... Spent too much time in Oakdale getting breakfast, lunch, and coffee, I guess :-(

plawrence-- As for tea, I'm not too picky... My basic requirements: it must be something that can steep for hours, and the bag must be strong enough that it won't break despite being sloshed around in a backpack for hours. I think I started with a Kirkland-brand green tea, then went with some orangle herbal, and finished with another green tea--whose bag did break :-(
avatar Re: Dance With the Devil
February 07, 2013 09:53AM
If you ever drink black teas, I've found that English tea bags from the likes of PG Tips, Tetley, Taylors of Harrogate (Yorkshire Gold) are a bit studier than American tea bags (since they're designed to steep inside a teapot and not be removed. They don't come with a string attached). Tetley does sell their green tea here in the states but it's a bit harder to find at stores than their more popular black teas.

avatar Re: Dance With the Devil
February 07, 2013 12:02PM
Good stuff. Thanks for sharing smiling smiley
Re: Dance With the Devil
February 08, 2013 01:34PM
Beautiful. What a fantastic day that must have been.
Re: Dance With the Devil
February 08, 2013 03:13PM
Like your sunset image. Of course fire reburned those brushy areas again before much had a chance to grow back. Looks like all those charred silhouetted branches are on fire yet a third time.

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