Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter Deepens

DNC is making plans to open the Badger Pass Ski Area this weekend, and awaiting the NPS go-ahead. If they do open, it'd be just for the weekends, then opening 7 days a week as of 17 December. Watch their website to be sure.
We got more snow over the weekend, and it's been so cold that little has melted. Park roads have chain restrictions on them, even down Hwy. 140, so call 209/372-0200 before you head to Yosemite to get the latest conditions. The Valley has a foot of snow in most places, and trees on the shady south side are still snow covered, 3 days after the storm. People are skiing and snowshoeing and sledding in the Valley now, but bundling up for the temps in the 20's and a thin overcast. A local Indian told me yesterday that things looked like this shortly before the big flood in 1997. Hmmm.
At the base of Upper Yosemite Falls a large snowcone has already built - unusual for it to be so big in late November. Because it's been so cold, ice accumulates for most of each day, with only a few hours warm enough to reduce it.
The forecast includes a chance of more precipitation in the next few days, with temperatures remaining quite cool.
Have you seen the new Yosemite Conservancy magazine? Parts of it are here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Winter is On

Extra cold temperatures (low 20's in Yosemite Valley) follow the recent heavy snows. The webcams this morning show you blue skies with snow on ridgetops as far west of the park as you can see. In the Valley the outside wall of Dave's house is 28F and there's a bit of dry spindrift in the air. The high country is well and truly coated with a healthy season's snowpack base layer.
The Four Mile Trail, Mist Trail/Ice Cut, and Glacier Point and Tioga Roads (to cars, not skiers) are officially closed for the season. The ice rink is open and the ski area opens on 17 December.
Yosemite's Christmas Bird Count -the 79th annual- happens on Sunday 19 December. Contact sarah_stock@nps.gov if you're interested in participating. The low snowline will have birds shifting downslope and concentrating in pockets of accessible habitat. If these conditions remain for 3 more weeks, we should have good numbers this year. Another storm this weekend suggests it'll be wintery for at least a little while yet. Don't forget: this is the number one place on the planet for wintering white-headed woodpeckers.
The day before, Saturday 18 December, there are still spaces available on the Conservancy's "Moonlight Snowshoe" Outdoor Adventures course. We'll meet up at Badger Pass at 3 p.m., give you snowshoes, and head out to watch the sunset and moonrise over a unique landscape of bright white and deep black. What a weekend that'd make: an evening snowshoe trek then a day of birding.
We have a lot to be thankful for in this astounding place. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Early, substantial snows

We got a few inches of snow on the Valley floor overnight on Friday, then a bit of sun came through mid-day and lots of melting took place. Even more snow accumulated Saturday night and is still piling on this morning. Snow is even sticking in El Portal, down under 2000' elevation. This means messy driving, even on the 'all-weather' route of Highway 140 through the Merced Canyon. The road between El Portal and the Valley has R2 conditions this morning, and there'll be snow all the way west of Mariposa into the foothills.
The Badger Pass Ski Area isn't supposed to open until 17 December, but there's enough snow now for XC skiers to get out at Crane Flat or Chinquapin today - provided they can get there safely. Mariposa Grove might be another option, skiing or snowshoeing up from the South Entrance. This is an early holiday present for those who look forward to Sierra winters.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Autumn Out

Walked up northwest from Foresta to Little Nellie Falls on Saturday - very crowded - with foliage color, blue sky, deer and bear tracks, a few birds (including a surprise solo horned lark!), and millions of springtails. There were some puddles in ruts on the Coulterville Road from the prior weekend's rain. On the surface of the sunlit puddles were rafts of millions and millions of the tiny gray insects, too small to break the surface tension, even when massed this way. They were hopping continuously, there were dispersed individuals on the muddy road surface, but the party was all afloat. Hard to comprehend but wonderful to observe.
Sunday's saunter took us from Chinquapin out the old logging rail grade southeast to the Alder Creek watershed. It is unusual to be able to stroll on the horizontal for mile after mile above 6000' in the Sierra, but here's a pleasant legacy of commercial forestry. From the 1907 railroad that came to El Portal, steep (up to 78%!) inclines were built up the south side canyon wall in 1912 and the north side canyon wall by 1924. It's hard to imagine the costly labor of hundreds of people creating this access for extracting sugar pine from what is now peaceful forest. There's a bit of patchy snow, which held tracks of coyote, deer, bear and squirrel. Aspens in Bishop Meadow are bare now, the black oaks and dogwoods still have a bit of color hanging on.
Glacier Point and Tioga Roads are still closed, though the weather will determine whether this is a closure for the whole season or not. A La Nina season is expected, which could go either way for wet/dry.
A new speed record for ascending the Nose Route on El Capitan was established over the weekend: just under two hours, 37 minutes. Human springtails?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Into Merced Grove

After weeks of nice foliage color, it's STILL really colorful in Yosemite. Black oaks in the Valley have come into their own, dogwoods, bracken, azalea, dogbane and maples are still so bright. Adding to the glow, now the forest floor is lightened by fallen leaves, too. I was with a group in Merced Grove over the weekend and we enjoyed the quiet of the big trees enhanced by the startling albedo change brought on by yellow dogwood, azalea and hazel. What a colorful look for this deep shady valley.
It was mighty pleasant to walk on the old Coulterville Road to the old ranger cabin, in the middle of Yosemite's smallest sequoia stand. I'll be snowshoeing in for a night in the ranger cabin with another group the first weekend of February.
Sunday night brought snow down to about 6000' in Yosemite. Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road are closed, perhaps for the whole winter now. The Valley's great fall colors now include a good amount of white, from snow extending down from the south rim, and ice that builds on Yosemite and Sentinel Falls.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Indian Summer

Another storm Friday night. Tioga Road is closed for now. Glacier Point Road closed then reopened. Exceptionally warm weather is forecast for this week, up into the mid-70's for Yosemite Valley. The river is still above average from the 24 October rains, but is much closer to normal volume than when it filled meadows and covered trails early last week. Foliage is quite colorful in spots still - many of the maples add color with leaves on the ground. Cottonwoods are lighting up now.
Yes, Oprah camped here a few weeks ago, but even better news: biologists at Texas Tech published the formal description of a new species of pseudoscorpion that lives in some of the talus caves along the north wall of the Valley: Parobisium yosemite. There are about 3300 species of these tiny arachnids worldwide, part of a vast, hidden world of scavengers and predators in the leaf litter, under rocks, and in the soil. Pseudoscorpions lack the stinger/tail of a scorpion and are too tiny to harm us. Oprah has 30 million viewers a day but she doesn't get to live in Yosemite like this little critter does.
Once again, Yosemite claims the world championship for the wintertime population of the white-headed woodpecker. My copy of Audubon's 2009 Christmas Bird Count summaries came last week, and there we are: there were more white-headed woodpeckers in Yosemite on last winter's count day than anywhere else. The Yosemite CBC has been the kingdom of Picoides albolarvatus three times in the past 20 years or so. Check the NPS site and consider joining us for this winter's count, 19 December.