Monday, June 29, 2015

Early season Sierra

California's in the midst of an epic drought, though you wouldn't have known that at the end of April. Lack of snow cancelled my late winter igloo-building trip. The mountains were dry and the ski resorts were getting desperate to put a positive spin on premature "spring conditions."

Looking back at my tracks
So I got a head start on researching the next edition of Lonely Planet's Yosemite guide, crisscrossing through the western gateway towns and shouldering my backpack for what I thought would be a straightforward three-day hike across Yosemite Valley's north rim. The Snow Creek trail has been on my to-do list for years, and my only real concern was the availability of water. Ha!

I hope these footprints aren't leading me astray
There was a brief snowfall two days before my arrival, and I figured that it would be melted out before I hit higher elevations. But a few hours into day one, the trail tread went white and I had to follow other people's tracks in the snow. That was fine until dozens of snowy treads petered out to just two sets of footprints. Did these damn people really know where they were going?

Trail or creek?
I had the top of El Capitan to myself, camping in a dry patch with fog streaking by at dusk. After sunset, the wind began to scream and tried its best to scour me off the granite. The tent stakes held for a few hours and then blew out all at once, collapsing the tent walls and wrapping me up like a supersize burrito. If there were any El Cap climbers dangling in portaledges that night, it must have been a sickening ride.

Yosemite Falls and Half Dome on the way down
Without a GPS or any more tracks to lead me, I bumbled my way (well, maybe I checked the topo profile on the map a few times) to the Yosemite Falls junction and bailed, knowing that the lesser-used trail further on would be completely invisible. The falls were frothing nicely and I rejoined the Valley crowds down in the 90 degree heat. Snow Creek: shelved again.