Monday, March 4, 2013

East Side Sierra Nevada – March 2013

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The Lady had started water boiling for her special camping hot chocolate mix. We were leveled up, settled, and ready to sit outside and take in the grandeur of the brilliant star filled sky overhead. Settled, the Lady loves to be settled in her camper, everything in its place and I was about to unsettle it as I climbed back inside.
“Two signs at the kiosk say ‘No Camping Allowed.’”
“Really? It sure looks like people camp here,” she was surprised as I was. “Why don’t they have signs at the entrance?” she asked.
“They even cite the Mono County ordinance number on the signs. We probably wouldn’t be cited, just asked to leave but who wants to be roused awake in the middle of the night?”
“We are good people who follow rules. We’re going to move aren’t we?” she stated more than asked.
“Yes we are and we’ll find an even nicer spot.”
“We got this setting up and taking down to an easy routine. Let’s go!” She was instantly to work.

The adventure continued.

We figured we’d get away this weekend, we just didn’t know where and when. We wanted to get away, maybe needed. It had been a busy week on all fronts. We didn’t want to plan; didn’t have the time. The Lady loves to backcountry ski. We could use an opportunity to check out access and trailheads for future spring ski trips over on the east side. The Lady had thrown her gear together Thursday evening before bed. It only takes a couple of minutes. Our packs are usually ready to go, habits born from so many middle of the night calls to respond to incidents. I did the same early Friday morning and put the skis in the rack on the camper’s roof and then I settled into work, a possible trip put out of mind.

The Lady got home late from teaching. This was expected. “What do you want to do?” she asked. “Should we leave now or wait and leave early in the morning?” She was trying to read a response in my eyes.
“We just need to add some food to the camper, right?” I asked.
“It’ll take me only a couple of minutes and I’ll take a quick shower and change clothes.”
“Then let’s just leave tonight.” I saw this was the answer she wanted. I’m not without skills to read her eyes too.

This is now it began. This is how we ended up in the roadside area just south of Walker along highway 395 in the Walker River canyon. We were on another adventure.

We looked for another spot to spend the night further up the Walker River Canyon.

“Was that a road in just past that guard rail?” I asked. It was hard to see in the dark. Luckily there was almost no traffic to deal with.
“Maybe, seems I remember seeing people in that area in the summer.”
I pulled off on the right shoulder and did a u turn. The rough narrow dirt track led to the opposite side of a screen of trees and a level spot and a perfect campsite. The sound of the river soothed away what little residual stress we carried.  It was time for sleep.

A friend is leading a trip up Mt. Tam and Crater Crest in a couple of weeks so we checked out the access up Twin Lakes Road out of Bridgeport. Parking for that trip is at the lower end of Lower Twin Lake and the crux for those climbs is getting up the steep moraine and up out of the Robinson Creek drainage.

The Twin Lakes Road is plowed in the winter all the way to the end at the entrance to Mono Village. This would be your access to ski up Robinson Creek and the Matterhorn area. The Lady saw many other skiing opportunities.

Ice was piled up along the shore.

Our next stop was Virginia Lakes Road. With our lack of storms in January and February the snowpack is slim but we were searching for adventure. We parked at the end of plowing just a short way in from 395.

The paved road beyond was mostly clear from here on up (maybe plowed) and it looked like Mono County was taking advantage of the dry spell and getting some roadwork done. We climbed, then crossed the road, and then continued to climb the north moraine. We found ourselves in very familiar territory with the view down at Mono Lake.

This was familiar because we were at Ted’s Dunderberg Camp.

We continued up and stopped for a snack where this route intersects with Dunderberg Meadow Road.

I expect on this windswept ridge that snow is usually thin. We explored and made mental notes of possible routes for future trips. The sky had become overcast with a strong south wind. We had followed the tracks of a snowcat that looked like it had continued down to Virginia Lakes. With the frozen wind slab and hard windblown drifts, the cat tracks provided a groomed slope for our descent back to the truck. We relaxed and worked on tight parallel turns down the narrow corridor stopping only to take in the views.

We crossed the road and looked at the final drop to the truck. Here the compacted snow in the tracks saved the day. Outside of the tracks the snow was mush and dropping through to catch skis under sage is not much fun.

There is an area just east of Conway Summit grade on 395. If you look close as you drive you may see the access road. We wondered if, with the shallow snow cover, it would be accessible for a spot to spend the night overlooking Mono Lake. It was.

The granite outcroppings are beautiful, especially in the late afternoon light.

We walked and explored.

Nestled in a small gully are the remains of a cabin.

This was our vista as we ate dinner.

After a hard fought game of scramble – the Lady won again – we enjoyed the night view of Lee Vining far below.

A small storm came in early Sunday morning with a few snowflakes. It made for a somewhat dreary dawn.

The half moon would peek out through the clouds enveloping the eastern crest.

Far in the distance, morning sun, for only a moment, hit the crest of the White Mountains.

This was our campsite.

Since time spent in therapeutic hot spring water refreshes on so many levels, we stopped at one of our favorite hot springs.

We drove up highway 108 west of 395.The road is plowed about a mile past the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center. The area is cleared enough for overnight camping in your camper. This gives access up the West Walker drainage and the Sonora Pass area.

We headed toward home as the rain started. A warm storm was coming through with high snow levels. The Lady had a couple more books to donate to the Walker Book Exchange.

This had been a fun quick trip with skiing, exploring, expansive night skies, hot springs, outstanding vistas – pretty damn nice indeed.


  1. Frank, we are glad you and others enjoy these ramblings. Thank you.