Archive for the ‘395’ Tag

California fall, 2018

Here’s an update on the fall colors in the Eastern Sierra, Mammoth and points north.

I drove up 395 on Saturday September 29, 2018, starting at Convict Lake, finishing at South Lake Tahoe. I also took a couple detours away from 395, notably east on the 120 to Sagehen Summit, Virginia Lakes, and finally the ‘back route’ to South Lake Tahoe via Monitor Pass. The day was quite windy, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of leaves are gone after the weekend. My guess is that the high peaks were exceptionally windy, so I don’t feel too bad about cancelling my planned hikes today.

At present, the cluster of aspens around Sagehen Summit are at peak, with a nice amount of red color, but also mixed in with trees that went from yellow to black. This won’t last too long, maybe 2-3 days at the most.

Convict Lake is still at least a week from peak, the color change is 40 % or so with still plenty of green. I’d aim for the first or second weekend of October.

Virginia Lakes are at peak, but again it’s been quite windy. Below, closer to Conway Summit, the color is maybe at 30 % and will look better in a week.

Further north, Monitor Pass is near peak, as is Hope Valley. Luther Pass is changing unevenly, with some groves still all green and others yellow. I’m not sure how all this compares to previous years.

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Mt. Whitney day hike

I’ve run out of stuff to blog about, since my traveling is pretty limited these days.

So I’ll give some details about my late summer day hike of Mt. Whitney back in September 2015. It’s a commonly climbed peak in the Sierra Nevada, since it’s the highest point in the contiguous 48 states, at an elevation of 14505′ (4421 m), and there’s a trail all the way to the top. The trail and Whitney Zone is subject to restrictions on use, and given the fragile state of the ecosystem and plenty of unprepared hikers, it’s probably a good thing. I think that there would be lots of people being peeled off the trail and the summit by rescue squads.

Now about the permit. I had no trouble getting one at the Interagency Visitor Center, at the junction of CA 190 and US 395, for the following day. But I also spent a good 15-20 minutes thinking about whether to punish myself like this. The weather was reminiscent of my first (two-day) hike of Whitney in 2003, hot and dry in Lone Pine, almost excessively hot. And since I’m getting older, I’m not sure how many more times I’ll be able to do this.

To put it in a few words: it kicked my ass. None of the trail is steep, but the length, a hefty 22 mile round trip with 6500 feet of elevation gain, including a brief uphill back up to Trail Crest on the way back, makes this a pretty serious undertaking. I started at 4:30 AM, and was back at the car by 6 PM, as the temperature was dropping and the daylight fading. Still, the weather was very stable and warm, with a temperature nearing 50 F at the summit, and nearly no wind. Having hiked a number of 14ers in Colorado, this one still took in excess of 13 hours. I thought I was prepared? Get an early start, and I mean early, like 3-4 AM, and don’t forget the headlamp.

Dawn above Lone Pine Lake

Dawn above Lone Pine Lake

The trail is more like a freeway, and really gets going after you arrive at the last lake (and water source). This is where the switchbacks start, and honestly, it’s too many. I didn’t bother counting how many, but it’s more than the 99 advertised. After all that, the trail levels off and traverses across a slope to Trail Crest (13600′, 4145 m) and the entrance into Sequoia National Park. Yay, you’re there! Not really, you head downhill to a junction with the John Muir Trail, and it’s still another 2 miles to the summit.

Looking towards Owens Valley

Looking towards Owens Valley

Home stretch, just past Trail Crest, also really tiring!

Home stretch, just past Trail Crest, also really tiring!

Summit view, looking south towards Mt. Langley

Summit view, looking south towards Mt. Langley

September is a pretty good time to hike. I’ve done this twice now, and both times were in mid-to-late September. While the days are shorter, the temps stay warm, there’s less competition for permits, fewer bugs, and generally stable weather. There are brief sections on the “99 switchbacks” that stay icy, so watch out. A good rule of thumb is that the summit temps are 40-50 F cooler than in Lone Pine.

I slept in Lone Pine, since this was an unplanned hike. By all means, get a decent place to sleep after your hike, I chose the Dow Villa historic property in Lone Pine. Before your hike, I suggest trying to sleep a bit higher up, like near the Portal. As for the other stuff. . .

Another hint: do this as a 2-3 day hike, it’s way more fun, and you’ll have more time to soak in the scenery. I was too busy being tired to really digest it all. What I should have brought: more food. A banana, orange, and beef jerky is not nearly enough. I essentially went with a light breakfast and nearly nothing else. Not the best idea. More drinks: the two bottles of energy drinks and 1.5 L of water are not quite enough either. The energy drinks did have the electrolytes that kept me from completely malfunctioning. Not surprisingly, I conked out on the way down and fell asleep at for 15 minutes, at 14000 feet.

It’s a beautiful hike, and the minimalist landscape above treeline is special. Up there, it’s just the blinding granite and the deep blue of the many lakes dotting the High Sierra. Have fun hiking, but by all means, be prepared, I wasn’t quite ready and was fortunate to summit.

 

 

 

California 2009, Part 2

I headed east, and uphill, to the Sierras, which in my opinion, are at its best after Labor Day, as the weather stays stable, the crowds disappear, and the colors start to change on the trees.

The first part of the journey was a slog up the I-80 to Truckee, semi-scenic, and well, the weather didn’t quite cooperate, with rain showers most of the way. I don’t like driving the 80, so the highlight was perhaps the hamburger and pie at Ikeda’s in Auburn. I did turn off before Donner Pass and took the old route past Donner Lake, then south into good old South Lake Tahoe via Emerald Bay. This is a funny, but endearing town, mostly sprawl along the 50, full of cheap motels, average dining, and it’s hard to even get to the lake shore. But I lived there for a few months one winter.

Ikeda's, now and forever.

Ikeda's, now and forever.

I met my friends Anthony and Karen for coffee the next morning, under clear skies, and caught up on things. Hadn’t seen them in a couple years, but it left me pining for the calm relaxed pace of life in Tahoe, with all the outdoor stuff nearby.

Donner Summit, the old U.S. 40

Donner Summit, the old U.S. 40

Lake Tahoe from Kingsbury Grade

Lake Tahoe from Kingsbury Grade

I made my slow way to Mammoth Lakes, via the Walker River Canyon, Bridgeport, and Mono Lake. Mono Lake is one bizarre but beautiful body of water, with the shores covered in this alkali chalk-like substance, a strong sulfur smell, and millions of flies swarming at the shore. It’s extraordinary!

Mono County Courthouse, Bridgeport

Mono County Courthouse, Bridgeport

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

The shore of Mono Lake, a white crust and spongy mud

The shore of Mono Lake, a white crust and spongy mud

So most of this part of the trip was about hiking, and unlike last year, which was a rainout, I got in plenty of awesome scenery and lots of walking. Here we go:

McLeod Lake, around Mammoth- the trail is short and sweet, just over half a mile each way, so a nice little walk to start my morning. I just about froze camping the night before, and somehow the Thermarest doesn’t make for a comfortable night sleeping. The start of the trail at Horseshoe Lake is perhaps the most interesting section, with elevated CO2 levels leading to an area of grayish, dead trees. Despite having a beach, it’s not advisable to be low to the ground, where the CO2 concentration is nearly 90 %. It’s a reminder of the volcanic origins of the area, in fact Mammoth Lakes sits in the middle of the ancient Long Valley Caldera.

Dead trees, Horseshoe Lake

Dead trees, Horseshoe Lake

Pine Lake- I drove south towards Bishop, and turned west on the Pine Creek Canyon Road. This starts in Round Valley, a pretty area of orchards and rangeland, then goes up the very narrow Pine Creek Canyon before reaching a dead end at the pack station and the tungsten mine. Then it was a 4.5 mile hike that climbed steeply out of the canyon, and towards the lake. This is pretty scenic throughout, with nifty striated granite features on the walls of the canyon, and looking eastward, a spectacular view of the canyon and the White Mountains. A nice huffer and puffer to get me back in shape and used to the altitude.

Convict Lake and Mt. Morrison

Convict Lake and Mt. Morrison

Pine Creek Canyon and the White Mountains

Pine Creek Canyon and the White Mountains

Tyee Lakes- Hiked this the next day, the trailhead was a short drive up the 168 from Bishop. I was looking for solitude, I definitely got it, since I didn’t run into anybody on the trail. I’d say that it was not as scenic as Pine Lake, but the last lake was in a pretty gorgeous setting, with a small beach to chill out at. And there was some color change in the canyon, with some trees already yellow. 3.8 miles to the last lake.

Tyee Lakes basin

Tyee Lakes basin

Grüezi aus Zurich, California

Grüezi aus Zurich, California

Kearsarge Pass and Lakes- I camped just uphill from Independence, got the most spectacular star display, and got an early start on this hike. Also, the temperatures were warm, making it a refreshing and comfortable 60 F at the top of the pass. It’s long, 5.8 miles to the pass, and another mile downhill to the lakes. The trail is very well-graded, but the scenery is outstanding all the way, especially as you finally approach the narrow pass. As I was already pretty tired, the steep hike back up to the pass from the lakes was brutal, and the last two miles felt too long, as you see the parking lot, the cars, and the road and somehow never quite get there! At the end of the day, it was a well-deserved dinner at the improbably located, very French Still Life Cafe in Independence, and a real bed in a motel.

Early to bed, early to rise, camping near Independence

Early to bed, early to rise, camping near Independence

Big Pothole Lake and Onion Valley from Kearsarge Pass

Big Pothole Lake and Onion Valley from Kearsarge Pass

Entering Kings Canyon National Park, Bullfrog Lake

Entering Kings Canyon National Park, Bullfrog Lake

Kearsarge Lakes, pinnacles, and the Great Western Divide

Kearsarge Lakes, pinnacles, and the Great Western Divide

And that was it, 3 days of hiking in a row, 33 miles, around 8000 vertical feet, and fabulous scenery. I think it’s the minimalism of the high Sierra that’s so captivating, just granite, lakes, and deep blue skies. But as a final note, I also visited Manzanar War Relocation Center, now Manzanar National Historic Site, which commemorates one of America’s less magnificent historical episodes. Indeed, beautiful places have their ugly sides.

It was time to head back to L.A., but I always have a hard time pulling myself away from such a nice part of the world. But a few meetings and some work-related stuff brought me back there earlier than I would have wanted to.

Manzanar and Mt. Williamson

Manzanar and Mt. Williamson

Cemetery, Manzanar

Cemetery, Manzanar

I’ve been up most of the side roads off of the 395 leading towards the Sierra crest, and have been up many of the passes. But as always, there’s plenty more to explore, and I shall be back!