Monday, September 9, 2013

Into the Smoke – September 2013

“I just realized something,” I was kind of thinking out loud.
“About what?” The Lady’s voice was sleepy.
We were cuddled in our bunk, on the edge of falling into sleep. It was dark outside. A wind buffeted our camper. Except for the sound of the wind, all was quiet - quiet and we were very much alone.
“I sprinted those 100 yards to catch the top of the salad bowl that the wind picked up.”
“Lucky you were able to get it or it could have gone for miles,” the Lady replied.
“And we scrambled to the top of that granite knob after dinner and after the sunset.”
“Yes?” she asked.
“Did you feel the elevation? I didn’t at all.”
“No, I didn’t feel any affects from elevation. I felt like we were running around at home. Why?”
“We are at 11,000 feet. That’s what I just realized. I hadn’t given it a thought. We are parked and sleeping at a little above eleven thousand.”

Where were we? How did we get there? Well, that’s the stuff of stories.

“Do you want to head out tonight and go away for the weekend?” the Lady asked. She had found me in my shop when she returned home from school.
“You want to, don’t you?” I answered the question with a question. She smiled.
 “Load the truck up,” I said.

The Rim Fire in Tuolumne County and Yosemite National Park has reached epic proportions and has now consumed more than a quarter million acres (over 391 square miles). The impact from smoke to the northern California and Great Basin areas has also been epic. This was why we went to the coast last weekend. Well, we figured the smoke would be bad wherever we went for a short weekend. It had already been awful here at home. Could it be worse? 

It is amazing how fast the Lady is in getting the truck ready. Actually it’s pretty easy. We always have a stock of food on hand and with cold stuff just pulled from the refrigerator, well, we’re ready to go. A quick shower and pick up a couple sandwiches at Subway, once again the truck’s tires are going round and round down the road.

Traffic was almost nonexistent, probably a result of all the smoke. We pulled into one of our Monitor Pass hideaways. The camper was set up and in short order we were comfortable in our chairs enjoying our sandwich dinner with this view – a dreary haze with deeply filtered light.

The smoke was so thick to the west the setting sun was a barely noticeable floating orb.

At dawn Saturday morning we had blue sky above. We must have been right at the inversion layer. To the west we could just make out Hawkins Peak just west of Markleeville.

Smoke had settled into the Antelope Valley to the east.

We still enjoyed our breakfast and marveled how dry it is, even before the start of fall.

“Let’s run up to Emma Lake again,” the Lady said.
“That’d be fun. If it’s smoky, we can relax along the lake. If it’s clear, there’s a lot to explore.”
The smoke thinned out as we drove up the West Walker Canyon. Access is up the Little Walker River Road to the Hoover Wilderness trailhead.

When we reached Emma Lake the light was taking on the familiar smoky haze.

It was still worth the effort to come up here.

The wind picked up and added a bit of chill to the air. We decided not to skinny dip. It also started to really pump in the smoke.

We wanted to go to the top of Mount Emma, but with the increasing smoke we decided not to. We moseyed down the trail and stopped for a mid afternoon ice cream cone at Bridgeport’s Jolly Cone.
“Is that the ski3pinners?” a familiar voice asked rhetorically as we waited in line.
It was folks we know from home, just coming off a 19 day backpack on the John Muir Trail.
“The smoke is sure bad here in Bridgeport,” we said.
They answered that it was clear south of Conway Summit as they drove north.
“We’re going south!” We got our cones and headed to the truck.
Well, it was better at Conway Summit, but not clear. We stopped at the Mono Lake vista. We told ourselves, “There is a lake there, really.”
“Let’s go up instead of down. Maybe it’s better up high.”

We headed up to Virginia Lakes. It was quite busy; most folks were casting hardware into the water. Then we checked on Ted’s Dunderburg Camp. It was empty, the interlopers from a couple of weeks before were gone. Did Ted roust them out?

The smoke up the Virginia Creek drainage from the moraine.

“How about going up the Kavanaugh Ridge Road to the top? Get as high as we can?” I asked the Lady.
“Let’s go!”

The road takes you up from the east to a saddle in Kavanaugh Ridge. The west side of the ridge is a precipitous drop into the upper basin of Green Creek. Here there are many rocky columns for the Lady to explore.

There was distinct blue sky straight above. Anywhere else, the smoke was daunting.

The sunset was terribly spooky and spectacular at the same time.

It was otherworldly.

After dinner we climbed one of the high points on the granite ridge to the north. It did seem that the smoke was lowering, settling.

The view down to Mono Lake was still mostly obliterated.

We returned to our lofty and lonely camp. We set our chairs right on the edge of the drop off and watched the world go dark.

What would the sunrise be like? We were up early. The smoke had settled thicker into the lower valleys. Mono Lake was nowhere to be seen.

A predawn long exposure photo down in the Green Creek Basin showed that much of the smoke had drained out overnight.

We waited for the sun. It rose eerily out of the smoke.

Our camp was surprisingly clear.

“We have to climb to the top of the ridge before breakfast, see what it all looks like with first light!” The Lady’s idea of an easy morning stroll with coffee mugs took us quickly to the top.

As I made pancakes with fried eggs, the Lady climbed back out on her new favorite perch.

A teaching colleague at the Lady’s school has enjoyed reading our trip stories here. Last Thursday she presented the Lady with a “Quillow” (quilt that folds and stuffs into a pillow) she had made. She thought it would be perfect for the Lady’s style of camping. It was a very kind gesture and the Lady is thrilled to have such a sweet and special gift. It just may go where no quillow has gone before.

We were very reluctant to leave.

We were pleased that much of the smoke had blown out as we headed north. It really was turning into a beautiful day. We saw that some of the aspen along Dunderburg Meadows Road are already starting to change, a consequence of our far below normal snowpack last season?

We explored around the Green Creek area before we turned toward home. We had an early dinner at Walker Burger. Their annual season closing is around mid October, “Or earlier if we get an early winter, cold and rain. Wouldn’t that be great?” We heartily agreed with Theresa. An early and a very long and very wet winter would indeed be great!

1 comment:

  1. It looks like the glacier on the north side of Dunderberg Peak is still there despite the drought! Great trip report -- was it difficult to get the truck up from the meadow past Dunderberg Lake? The first mile of that little road is very steep and rough.