In May we packed up our San Francisco studio apartment – the one which has kept us “cramped up” – and we busted out of the Bay Area with one thing in mind: to get out.
We got out of our routines, out of our jobs, out of our apartment, out of our comfort zones. Outside, out of town, on and off roads, in and out of our typical notion of civilization. Five weeks zig-zagging our way across the United States, knowing it was only the beginning of an entire three and a half months we would spend on the road; plane tickets awaited us on the East Coast, bound for Europe.
But first this. Our first week was spent working our way down the 395 through the great state of California, our now former home, enjoying its beauty and slowly preparing to detach. Quickly remembering what it feels like to roam free.
Photo Locations (from top to bottom): Route 62 driving east from Joshua Tree; Yosemite National Park; Hike near Lake George in Mammoth Lakes CA; Crystal Crag from trail in Mammoth Lakes; Shepherd’s Hot Spring in Mammoth; Fossil Falls off CA395; view off Route 62; Desert life in Joshua Tree National Park; Friend’s re-furbished trailer in Joshua Tree; Warm sunset in Joshua Tree; Plant silhouette in Joshua Tree; Ready for bed in friend’s trailer Joshua Tree; Joshua Tree starry night.
Photos taken on Canon AE-1 with 35mm film and on Canon Rebel SL-1.
New year, new…. activities? Sure, why not! That wasn’t exactly the plan. We’ve been wanting to try out snowshoeing for over a year now, but last winter’s extreme lack of snow, and our poor efforts to seek it out, resulted in a year-long delay. So for the first weekend of the year, after the Sierras have been appropriately dumped on for a couple months now, we decided to take our snowshoeing ambitions to the white mountains of Yosemite at Badger Pass.
Yosemite. A love-hate relationship. We love it for its beauty, its history, its ability to inspire a love of nature in anybody. We hate it for those three things, too, because they have an annoying ability to attract droves of tourists with selfie sticks. But the other glorious thing about Yosemite is the moment you go about a half mile away from any trailhead, you’re usually in relative solitude.
And that is what we found on our turned-out-to-be-too-short first snowshoeing trek. We explored the back-trails of Old Glacier Point Road and found deep, snowy trails, so insulated and quiet. Fresh snow all around, and small trails leading every which way. A decent climb led us to a view of the peaks surrounding us. And an expansive meadow turned out to be a perfect place for lunch.
We began our return trip, and found ourselves back at the car all too soon; and back in the Yosemite crowd madness. We were left wanting more. We had found something new; a new way to explore the backcountry that we loved, and that was exciting in itself. Next time we’ll just have to choose a longer trail…
All photos in this post taken on a Canon Rebel SL-1.
An abandoned high sierra camp and a picturesque waterfall gushing into oblivion. It’s a quick trip, basically 6 miles each way leaving from Tuolumne Meadows, typically bustling with folks seeing all of the Yosemite high country that they can muster, but not so for us. For us, this is basically the last weekend of high country backpacking with a weather system promising the rest of California some much needed rain and a good dump of snow at elevation, needless to say Tioga Pass will close.
We park down a dirt road off Tioga road, throw our packs on and get on trail right on schedule; knowing that the distance is short makes the journey light and easy, fun and we are generally excited to be hanging out with friends from the east side. Making our way in, we don’t see a soul, one of Yosemite’s favorite trails and not one person do we pass heading in, it’s kind of remarkable. Passing cascades, waterfalls, and iced over puddles, we all fall in love with the day, crisp and in the 60’s, sun out with some cartoon clouds to interrupt the blue expanse of the sky.
Glen Aulin leaves nothing to be desired. A beautifully lonesome and quiet seasonal camp a couple weeks past it’s close date and now some great friends throwing lines into the water to try and nail one of those little Sierra Brook Trout to snack on before dinner. As afternoon progresses, we laze about, basking in the sun as we know it will dip into the 30’s this evening. The sun goes lower and lower until it disappears behind the wall of pine; its instantly cold and the small fire is the only source of heat for us now. Snacking on our friend’s lucky catch while we wait for dinner to rehydrate, we sip red wine with a whiskey chaser and reflect on good times past, present, and future.
Dinner is backcountry chicken burritos, wrapped in foil, and thrown in the fire to get that extra heat and cheese melt; again we are thankful for a dehydrator back home and the leftover chicken carcass from last week. The night rolls through, the cold sneaks in, the whiskey warms, and voices get louder as the “cheers governor” games get belligerent. Drown, stir, and off to sleep; warmth in a bag and a high country cool just kissing all of our faces.
Waking up, we linger in our bags, holding on to that last bit of heat until the need to pee is too much and we’ve got to get the day started and confront the cold of the outside as the sun meets the frost and warms the forest. Coffee to melt away the headache that the Turkey 101 birthed in the night and whatever is left for food to put in our stomaches. Break down camp, pack it away, give it a stretch and make sure no T’s were L’d; we are off, marching from whence we came, up up up and along the trail this time passing a few folks out on a morning day hike in the Yosemite High Country.
A quick one out, and we are back at the car ready to head back to the city, refreshed and relaxed. The ticket on the windshield could say otherwise, but fuck it. Note to self: dirt roads off Tioga road are apparently still part of the Tioga Corridor on which there is no overnight parking allowed past 10/15.
Saturday – Hetch Hetchy to Tiltill Creek (in Tiltill Valley) – 9.3
Sunday – Back to Hetch Hetchy – 9.3
The mark is still there from the mid 90’s, the painted-over crack and words that an environmentalist artist repelled and painted in the middle of the night on the O’Shaughnessy Dam. The words echoed John Muir, “Free the Rivers.”
It’s hard not to agree; hydroelectric power is on its way out, and wild salmon populations have been decimated by the hatchery system. Restoration seems appropriate now, seems necessary now if we want wild salmon to have a fighting chance of survival or hope to see some of our most scenic rivers run free.
There are 75,000 dams in the US alone, a third of which are over 50 years old, and 14,000 of which are considered “high-hazard,” meaning their failure could result in the loss of human life. This isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s an issue of infrastructure in disrepair and public safety. It just happens to have an environmental facet as well.
Stepping down from our soap box, we can think on this from the point of view of the future; of what our children and our children’s children are able to experience and share with their friends and families. Of what they are able to gain knowledge and experience from, and what kind of people we give them the ability to become. There is a direct correlation between our decisions today and the outdoors and America’s natural lands tomorrow, it’s time for that to be recognized.
Winter. It can mean different things to different people. It represents the end of a year, a time to hibernate indoors, and a chance for the plants and animals to take a rest before the cycle starts a-new. It means unimaginable cold temperatures in most of the country, where you don’t dare go outside unless you absolutely must. In these places in January, you know you’re only half-way through this season, and you’ll have to wait until April, or even May, before you’re hanging around in a t-shirt again.
In California, winter is just a New England’s Autumn day, yet it’s cold feeling when you’re used to temperate weather all year round. But every year since we moved to this great state we are granted a few weeks of real warmth and sunshine right smack in the middle of January. It’s like clockwork, and maybe it didn’t used to be like this, and maybe global warming is to thank, but we appreciate the thaw and the chance to enjoy some beautiful places that are usually bitter cold (by California standards) this time of year.
Hike to Upper Yosemite Falls – Yosemite National Park – 7.2 miles round trip
This is North America’s tallest waterfall at 2,425 ft.
Climbing up the 10,856′ Mt. Hoffman, it’s hard not to reflect on those who made it possible for us to enjoy it now. John Muir first ascended Hoffman on July 26, 1869 nearly 150 years before us; it’s incredible to think that after the century and then some that has gone by, that what we experience can still be so similar when everything else in the world is so drastically different.
In May of 1903, John Muir and then President, Theodore Roosevelt met in the Yosemite; they rode, hiked, ate, slept, appreciated, and pontificated under the magnificent blanket of the unimpeded starry Sierra night sky. It’s common to say that Muir gave Roosevelt a mission on this visit, a mission with which our President was familiar, but a mission at that; one of conservation.
On his journey back to Washington, President Roosevelt made a speech in Sacramento, he ended with this, “We are not building this country for a day. It is to last through the ages.”