Monday, October 10, 2011

Autumn is Coming to the Sierra Nevada - October 2011

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“Where you off to?” I called after the Lady as I saw her disappearing up the ridge. I was out with the camera and tripod taking a few more long exposure shots of the darkening skies.
“I’m just running up to the top,” she called back over her shoulder. “I just want to get to the top before it’s too dark.”

I took this shot of the last fire in the sky.

And then I saw her top out on the high point above what the Lady now calls “Anniversary Camp.”

What were we doing back up on Monitor Pass on this cold night after the first significant storm of the coming wet season? Weekend plans with another couple had fallen apart. The truck and camper were already packed. A Friday afternoon check on road conditions confirmed that Monitor Pass had just opened. Sonora, Tioga, and Ebbetts passes were still closed.

Friday afternoon after work we were off.

Snow was several inches deep on the west side of Monitor as we arrived at sunset. There was too much snow at one site we had wanted to try. We headed over to the east side of Leviathan Peak. There was less snow and we headed back out to where we had camped on our anniversary weekend. We hurried with the setup chores as the evening light and views were outstanding.

Last light and new snow on the Sweetwater Range across the West Walker River Valley.

The view north from camp.

The Sierra Nevada crest to our south.

The Lady returned from the highpoint. It was too cold to eat outside so we lit off the furnace and enjoyed our cozy camper. I ventured back out to do a few more long exposures with the camera.

Monitor Pass has become one of our favorite spots to spend a night on our way to the east side of the Sierra.

We slept in. Surprised to see it was six when the Lady rolled over and checked her watch, we were reminded that the daylight is quickly shortening with the change of seasons. The predawn light from our high vantage point changed from moment to moment, a different mood with each turn around.

It was just too beautiful to be inside. We bundled up, enjoyed our coffee and breakfast, and were happy.

We had no real plans. We wanted to check on the coming of fall colors and road conditions and access after this first storm, but we had no set destinations. This was a weekend just to see where the road took us.

We headed down the steep east side of Monitor Pass and intersected with highway 395. We turned south.

It was a quiet morning on 395 as we drove. An overhead sign now stated that Ebbetts, Sonora, and Tioga passes were open. We had an idea. We wondered if the spider would bark.

We headed south from Bridgeport on Twin Lakes Road. As we evaluated snow level on the mountains this morning, we decided to spend the day hiking up Robinson Canyon above Twin Lakes.

The Lady found we had cell coverage here and made the call. The Spiders had been on the road for a couple of days and were exploring Yosemite. Their plans had initially been to travel east and over Tioga Pass with a camp in Tuolumne Meadows. The storm had changed that.  We wondered what their plans were now that highway 120 was open again.

Can you believe cell phones? Barking Spider and the co-pilot were halfway up the Yosemite Falls Trail when he answered. Sure, they would head over to the east side, but first they were going to the top of the falls and on to Yosemite Point and then over to the rappel spot down to the notch on Lost Arrow Spire. Barking had climbed the spire years ago. It was time to go back and see it from the top again.

We would find a camping spot near Lee Vining and supply them with directions at day’s end.

We headed up to the end of Upper Twin Lake and Mono Village. We parked, got the boots on, donned the packs, and headed up the trail. The aspens are just starting to change but any time of the year up here the visuals are breathtaking.

We did a leisurely hike up to Barny Lake and stopped. From here up the terrain steepens and the snow on the trail grew deeper. This was a good spot to enjoy the mountain grandeur and quiet, or so we thought, or at least we wished.

Barny Lake has a wonderful sandy beach at its outlet end. It is a beautiful spot. There was one backpacker there, asleep in the warming sun, leaning back on his pack. We quietly moved up the trail to give the gentleman space and peace. The several groups who came up the trail behind us did not. They crowded the beach, and, they all had dogs. Two groups had packs of dogs, all off leash and uncontrolled. The fights started. The barking and growls and yelps of the dogs and the screams and shouts of the owners echoed back and forth in this high cirque. It was mayhem. Then I saw something I had never seen before, even with all my years of rambling the high country. A large shepherd took a break from the fights and pranced into the lake and quickly took a recognizable hunched stance.
“Lucy NO! Lucy NO! Lucy NO!” echoed and circled around the high granite walls. Several voices joined in. Lucy did not understand or perhaps her need was too great. All the hollering was to no avail. Lucy launched a loaf.

I looked away. I do not know if an attempt was made at retrieval. Judging from all the new feces on the trail on our return walk, I doubt it.

Barking Spider is so quick with sharp wit. This could have been the scenario if he had been there - fast to his feet, on top a boulder, his voice thundering in the basin, “Hey partner! Quick! Get it! That will make a great trophy German Brown for your wall!” At least this was his suggested action as we told the story at camp that night.

It was time to leave Barny Lake, although we will remember it as Lucy No Lake. Clearing our heads of the recent events, we enjoyed our walk back down canyon.

We relaxed at the truck upon our return then packed up and headed back to 395 and the drop down into Mono Basin and Lee Vining. It was late afternoon. Would we connect with the Spiders?................Ah, I guess I've already given that away.

It was an uneventful and peaceful ride down to Lee Vining. 395 along the eastern Sierra is one of our country’s most beautiful routes. We had plenty of daylight left as we thought of our friend Ted and his mention of a dispersed camping site to the south of Mono Lake. We figured we’d look around and see what we could find. Off of a numbered forest road we found a nice spot on the edge of the Jeffery Pines and the broad expanse of brush leading down to the south shoreline. We had an early supper and awaited a phone call from Barking while enjoying the evening light and broad vistas.

Barking and co-pilot Spider came in around sunset and joined us at this wonderful secluded spot. They were full of stories about their recent adventures and we enjoyed talking into the night.

Photography wise, this weekend continued to be a delight with predawn light.

It was nice to have a leisurely morning. With these spectacular surroundings, coffee tasted especially good, its warmth refreshing against the cold morning.

Our first stop for today was the south tufa area at Mono Lake. It had been over 25 years since the Lady and my last visit. It was nice to see the improvements, interpretive signs, and raised lake level.

And folks out having fun.

And the hints that autumn is coming to the Sierra Nevada.

We wandered toward home, a burger at the Jolly Cone in Bridgeport - passed on a massage – the hot springs soak had already worked its magic.

It had ended up being a great weekend, one that had started out with no plans, but the road had taken us to wonderful places.

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