Monday, November 3, 2014

Non-stop Yosemite

It's a fantasy year when you can wrangle five visits to Yosemite. Even better? Experiencing each season, like stepping into a glossy calendar. It was an odd year in the park, with severe drought dashing any hopes of reliable snowshoeing, and quickly choking off the springtime waterfalls. Summer wildfires led to dramatic helicopter evacuations of Half Dome, a firefighting fatality, and on flights back east, views of ethereal smoke columns framing the Valley.

In January, there hadn't been enough precipitation to snowcamp under the giant sequoias, so I saddled up for a short backpack up and around Glacier Point. After the winter road closure, the snack bar turns into a backcountry ski hut with bunk beds and pleather sofas, and the usually packed overlook is as hushed as a meditation retreat. My trusty microspikes kept me upright on glassy ice-sealed trails, and sections of crusty snow preserved the paw prints of unknown critters. Important lesson learned: in frozen ground, plastic trowels don't dig catholes.

Yosemite Valley from Four-Mile Trail

Icy Mirror Lake Trail

Daytime temp at the Glacier Point Hut

Hikers tempting fate at Vernal Fall
Instead of skinny dipping in granite bowl lakes, a spring work trip was more about poking hotel room mattresses and dissecting restaurant menus. On the way to Hetch Hetchy, logging machines feasted on downed and blackened forest - the aftermath of the 2013 Rim Fire - and a bear stopped traffic by sashaying across the road like a supermodel.

After completing the John Muir Trail, my long-distance hiking obsession evolved into ticking off sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. This summer's stroll was a 150-mile chunk between Tuolumne Meadows and Lake Tahoe, traipsing between high passes and mosquito-cursed canyons in Yosemite's northern wilderness. My daily mileage kept up with most of the nimble thru-hikers I met, and after so many sola hikes, it was a joy to break up the introspection and become part of a trail community.

Sandy beach at Benson Lake, the "Sierra Riviera"

Stella Lake, at Yosemite's northern border

PCT thru-hikers clock in at 1000 miles from Mexico
Tuolumne Meadows lured me back for a second summer excursion of long day hikes and storm-wary peakbagging, but it still wasn't enough. In mid-October, I braved nights of late night guitar solos and opportunistic raccoons at Camp 4 and checked off a handful of higher elevation hikes before first snowfall.  But my snowshoes and boots are primed for winter action, and I can't wait to get back soon.

Mono Lake from Mt Dana

Wildlife near Parker Pass

Mt Hoffmann begs to be summited