Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January in Little Yosemite Valley

Mild, dry conditions allowed an easy visit to spend a couple nights camped up in Little Yosemite Valley. Only in shady spots and north-facing slopes was there a bit of shallow (icy, packed) snow; the ground is otherwise bare at 1830m. Nights were below freezing, days became comfortable in shirt-sleeves. There were many interesting things about this trip.

First: there was almost no one in this most popular backpacking spot. The LYV campground has dozens of people in it every night during the Half Dome season; it was a strange delight to experience it when completely empty.

Second: there were tiny frazil ice deposits in several places below Nevada and Vernal Falls, but in Emerald Pool the accumulation was up to 2 meters thick and covered 3/4 of the pool. These flows are remnants of the cold spell around New Years.

Third: last summer's Meadow Fire has completely changed the character of LYV, leaving it open and bare, but for black trunks. The campground area is unburned but a few minutes walk beyond there is a different landscape that's going to be a hot, sunny stretch in the summer, all the way up through Lost Valley.

Fourth: the little-known logjam in LYV has burned. This jam is upriver of the campground area, consists of several hundred tree trunks that have blocked the Merced River for many decades. It's big enough that it stayed in place during the flood of 1997. The jam is still there but the fire must surely have affected its stability.

Fifth: Consistent with the absence of people, there were none of summer's Steller's Jays in LYV.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

June-uary Again

The autumn's nice sequence of storms has faded to a string of mild, dry weeks. Snow is patchy at 6000' and Badger Pass (or might we be changing it to Munroe Meadow?) Ski Area has just enough snow coverage for a little longer. The storms we had Oct-Dec had high snow lines and our snowpack is less than half of average. The Merced River is also running at about half of average flow. Yosemite Falls is looking good, but the watershed is now burning through what should be March-May runoff. The snow cone beneath Upper Falls is modest and shrinking. The Sierra's drought continues.

Waterfall buttercup is blooming profusely in its usual spots in the lower Merced Canyon. Parts of Scorpio and the Summer Triangle are visible in the pre-dawn skies over the Valley walls. Much media attention is being paid to climbers on the Dawn Wall these days as an extra tricky ascent of El Cap is about to conclude after 2.5 weeks.

The media had also been reporting on the ownership of the names of the park's commercial operations like Curry Village, Wawona Hotel, Yosemite Lodge, etc. It would seem odd to have to buy these names back or to change them. Alas, they're just hotels; they're not Yosemite. Though traditional, the labels on ephemeral infrastructure shouldn't matter too much in the long run. No one worries about the Stoneman House, Camp Lost Arrow or The Cosmopolitan any more and "The Ahwahnee" will not last forever. The real and enduring beauty of these mountains is a gift that can never be taken away.