High Country, Out of Character


That’s Mount Dana, elevation 13,057 feet above sea level, just south of Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. The picture was shot from a ridge above the Gaylor Lakes just north of the pass, elevation about 10,500.

My nephew Max and I drove across the Tioga road on Wednesday, and it’s a trip that will leave an impression for some time. As I’ve said elsewhere, this is country that’s normally far beyond the reach of the casual winter traveler. The Sierra this high up is usually buried in snow. Beyond that, it can be cold and harsh in a way that’s utterly foreign to us Northern California lowlanders. The day we were up there, it felt like the temperature was in the high 40s, at least, and warmer in the sunlight. There was no wind. I was wearing shorts, though that was pushing it a little. Plenty of others have journeyed up to this strangely accessible alpine world. A local outdoors writer did a blog post last week about a couple guys who had driven up to hike Mount Dana–yeah, that peak pictured above–in running shoes.

All the weather forecasts show that this midwinter idyll, made possible by a long, long dry spell accompanied by unusually mild daytime temperatures, is coming to an end. The forecast for the end of the week is blizzardy: snow, then more snow, with high winds. And already, the weather has changed. Today’s high is for a high of about 30, with 50 mph winds gusting to 80 mph. Tonight’s forecast: a low of 10, with a westerly wind of 60-65 mph gusting to 105 mph. I have a picture in my head of being blown clear off this ridge.

More on this later. For a rather short trip–we were only on the road across the high country for a few hours–it filled my head with impressions.

6 Replies to “High Country, Out of Character”

  1. I have a feeling that the trip in 10 days would involve a long hike and/or snowshoes. From the forecast, it looks like things are going to be locked down for the season after these storms roll through. Of course, who knows?

  2. That is is very cool. Lucky you got up there when you did. Sounds like all hell is breaking loose up there now. The other thing, that elevation is really high. I don’t think I saw anything approaching that altitude in Alberta (Canadian Rockies) last October. Maybe 9000 feet or so in Banff.

  3. Well, 9000 feet is plenty high. This is the highest point you can drive to in the Sierra. There’s a place not too far away, in the White Mountains on the California-Nevada state line, where I think you can drive up to about 13,000 feet (and from there there you can hike — not climb –up to the summit of White Mountain Peak — 14,246 feet). The White Mountains are home to the famous bristlecone pines, with some individuals as old as 10,000 years. We ought to go sometime!

  4. Looked at your Flickr photos. Looks like fun. But there is also a feeling of “Aral Sea in the Sierra” about the images. How often does it get like this. It seems that the precipitation cycle (rain, snow) of the regoin goes back for millennium. Just seems it shouldn’t be that dry.

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