Monday, May 12, 2014

The Sweetwater Mountains - May 2014

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This was a perfect weekend trip for us. It contained many elements - exploration of new country, long hike, cross country route finding, spectacular scenery, weather, and special discoveries - that are at the core of our wanderlust. It started with the discovery, on a previous trip, of a great campsite we'd like to use sometime in the future. When I mentioned it to the Lady as a possible destination for this weekend, she struggled with remembering it. I guess we just might have too many of these tucked away in our gray matter.

After a quick launch after work on Friday, we made good time traveling south down the Eastern Sierra's main artery, highway 395. We enjoyed talking with the owners of Walker Burger as we grabbed a quick dinner.
"You two still doing all the work around here?" I asked.
"The kids aren't on yet. They start just before Memorial Day," he explained.
"Where do you spend the winter when you're closed?" the Lady asked.
"In that house right there." A finger point led our eyes to the neat, simple home. "We don't make enough sellin' burgers to spend winters in the south of France, if that's what you're thinking!" His smile lit up his face.

Walker, California sits at the south end of the West Fork Walker River's Antelope Valley and at the north (bottom) end of the West Walker River Canyon. I have a passion for native trout and enjoy their evolutionary tales. I am greatly saddened that most species are teetering on the edge of extinction.

With full tummies after Walker Burger, the Lady asked, "Where should we head for tonight?"
I answered with a question, "Want to try and make it to the campsite? We just might have enough daylight?

The Lady agreed. It was only because of our current drought conditions that we thought reaching this remote spot at 9200 feet was even possible in early May. There were sections of 4x4 road that passed through sheltered, shaded areas. It was quite possible lingering snow banks would block the way in addition to downed trees. We were taking a risk, but with our pop up we could set up camp for the night at any alternate accessible spot. Would we make it?

The last rays of sun streamed through camp just as we set up.

It was just as beautiful as we remembered.

The Lady made hot chocolate as I set our chairs in place. The Lady grabbed our quilt and we wrapped up together as daylight faded. A chorus of coyotes erupted in song. It was perfect.

Saturday was for hiking, a good long hike. We wanted to explore the 4x4 route to the north and evaluate if it was doable for our rig - or more importantly - would we drive it. On this cold clear morning, we started out.

Several signs, as you enter the Sweetwaters, explain that motor vehicles are required to stay on designated routes, only those marked with numbers. There are many primative roads branching off that are not marked with route numbers. Many are not signed as closed and show vehicle use. A motor vehicle use map from the Bridgeport District helps and is recommended. It is difficult to be assured you are on legal vehicle  routes when most of the signage looks like this.

In many places, if you take the time to look around, you can find where signs have been pulled up and thrown aside.

Our route climbed steeply to a high barren ridge crest.

As we headed north the temperature continued to drop. The cold wind bit into our faces. Our shell parkas came out of the packs along with another insulating layer, fleece hats to cover the ears, and mittens. It is good to be prepared.

After several miles we dropped off the ridge route and into a valley holding a tiny desert stream.

It was pleasant and delightfully warm out of the wind, although the air temp was probably only in the low 40's. We pulled out our lunches. The Lady had some nice fresh food treats for us.

I suggested to the Lady, "You know we intersected the upper reaches of this drainage shortly after we left camp. There are no trails or roads on the topo quad, it could be a lot of bushwacking and climbing......................" The Lady interrupted, "I was thinking the same thing. Let's go!" Our cross country adventure began. The lady pulled her hiking sticks from her pack. We each got one which helped immensely with the repeated stream crossings.

It was cold in this high country canyon.

I had other reasons to want to venture up this tiny, precious desert water course. It was spring, time for the annual migration upstream to begin the spawning ritual.  With quiet  and stealth, we searched the sheltered areas. It was remarkable what we saw.....................

Climbing out of the drainage we intersected a user created motorcycle route.

After 10 or 11 fun miles, we returned to camp a little after two.

The weather was changing as we explored the high meadow, the birth place for these tiny streams that are the lifelines for everything that lives here and down out of the mountains.

Late in the afternoon, as we walked with our mugs of coffee, the weather continued to change. I had told the Lady that the last check on the forecast I had done Friday indicated a 20 to 30 percent chance of showers.

As we cooked dinner the snow started. First there were little flurries of snowflakes dancing against the windows. The Lady popped outside for a bathroom break. "Well it's sticking," the Lady said on her return, "Blowing hard and the snow is coming in horizontal."

We watched the storm build as we ate dinner.

We washed up the dishes and talked about the storm and decision making. We were the only people up here and out miles on a 4x4 road, a road with two long 4x4 low descents on the way out. The storm was just winding up. "Well if we are going to move out, it'd sure be nicer driving out with some daylight left." I looked at the Lady. "Let's do the smart thing," she replied.

It was six fifteen when we pulled out. The snow was deeper and the storm more intense below us. We had made a good call.

Around eight pm we had camp set up - so easy to do, pop the top, turn on the propane, and hook up the outside grey water tank for the sink - at a favorite spot above the Little Walker River. There was no one around, but we were not in any way feeling lonely. The storm broke just as our hot chocolate was ready for an evening walk.

With a clear night we knew it would be cold in the morning. But, we also knew it would be perfect, and it was.

Life could hardly ever get better than this............................................................

1 comment:

  1. Oh, it's a hardy breed that ventures up to 9200 feet in May. Nice (chilly) report.