Sierra Snow

On December 19, 2008, in Nature, by Meghan

It’s the same, but different, you know. The snow of the Sierra Nevada is still that same frozen white stuff that falls out of the sky across the higher latitudes and altitudes of the earth’s surface. However, Sierra snow, which I experienced this week during the winter’s first snowstorm, has got some serious substance, body, and bulk. If it were an ungulate, it would be a bison. If it were a motorized vehicle, it would be an eighteen-wheeler. If it were a mountain range, it would be the Himalayas.

The snow of the Sierra Nevada falls hard to the ground in beefy, weighted clumps. It arrives in volumetric proportions that far exceed available local landing space, requiring it to accumulate in precariously perched piles. Upon contact with anything of the earthly variety, Sierra snow adheres in the same way that duct tape sticks inseparably to itself. There, the snow sits unmoving, except to further coalesce and commingle with adjacent snow, rendering it stolid, brick-like, and a permanent neighborhood addition. Above the ground, the snow-laden limbs of trees bend, bow, and sometimes break, unable to maintain correct posture under the snow’s mass. High above Yosemite Valley, in altogether striking and strange fashion, snow somehow fastens tight to a selection of those famous vertical and near-vertical cliff faces.

I have previously seen a lot of snow, but the snow of the Sierra Nevada is inimitable. God bless the snow of Wyoming! Wyoming’s snow falls from the sky all day long but rarely touches the ground; it is so light and airy that it instead dances on the wind until it crosses over the South Dakota state line. And, how about that Texas snow? Texas’ snow is faint and fleeting, and you have a viable excuse for missing it if you happen to blink at the wrong moment. The snow of Wisconsin and Minnesota is, indeed, callous and cruel. However, that’s mostly because the biggest snowstorms occur well outside of winter, and even winter’s shoulder seasons.

Sierra snow sticks to a Yosemite Valley road.

I have many questions about Sierra snow that I hope to answer this winter:

  • What is the snow like underfoot if I don Yaktrax and run like hell (I already learned that if I run without Yaktrax on Sierra snow, I should wear knee and wrist protection.)?
  • Will road conditions still worsen from the other night, when they required that I drive my truck in second gear, in four-wheel drive low, and with tire chains (And, if they do, is that when officials finally close the roads and render it a Snow Day?)?
  • Will my cross-country skis make that same noise, like a zipper being pulled hard and fast, as they traverse Sierra snow (I sure hope so!)?
  • Will I get my truck back up my steep, snow-covered, switch-backing driveway again before spring (I’m scared to try again since my truck failed on it during the above-mentioned road conditions.)?
  • Will I sink in when I dive my snowshoe-ed self into 36 inches of uncondensed Sierra snow (And, if so, will I be able to move?)?
  • What’s it like to ice skate in Yosemite Valley under those creepy, looming snow-covered cliff faces (A little creepy, perhaps?)?

I will be sure to report back as I learn!

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9 Responses to “Sierra Snow”

  1. Bob - says:

    well looks like you have some unanswered questions and I hope the Sierra Snow keeps coming to get your questions answered 🙂

    BUT please be safe and don’t get to Meghan Crooked Trail -KkkeeerrRAZzzY …OK !

    Merry X-Mas!

  2. A says:

    What a vivid description of the snow! Wonderful!
    It’s Yaktrax weather here, too. 🙂 Hope you aren’t too banged up, ha ha!
    Can’t wait to hear about your adventures!

  3. WynnMan says:

    beautiful sierra snow! hope all is going well. That snow should be good training for the sand in March. That should be a great race and experience.

    I’ve read leopold over and over, and of course I have a place in my heart for his writing as he is a true conservationist who describes it as straight as board, and of course being a wisconsin native I connect with many of his locations. However I enjoy the rogue/ Huck Finn style of Abbey much more.

    have a happy holidays! What else is in store for 2009?


  4. Leslie's Keith says:

    So well written…I can just hear the Sierra Snow Blanket falling in one big “Thump!”…ground covered…done…


  5. Sunshine Girl says:

    ….and when does a snowboy turn into a snowman??

    My brother once got sent home from school for making “Dolly Parton” out of snow. She looked great, right down to the nipple! Now, go make your own snowman…

  6. Backofpack says:

    Your post reminds me of our time in Colorado, in Rifle. I was awed by the sky, amazed by the clouds. Our friends there could not understand my fascination – after all, the sky is the sky and is the same everywhere, right? Wrong! When they finally came to Washington, they got it. Our sky, at least on the western edge, is hemmed in by trees and mountains, there aren’t those endless vistas that I could see in Colorado. The clouds here are dense, and sometimes impenetrable. The coulds in Colorado were huge and just different. Anyway, your beautifully written snow post took me back, wayyyyyy back, to 1978…

  7. saschasdad says:

    Wow, not only are you a cool person and a great runner, but you’re definitely the queen of analogies! Awesome, Meghan…very good descriptions.

  8. Roslyn says:

    My mother, who was German, always referred to very fine snow as “deutsche Schnee,” something she evidently remembered wistfully from her childhood. It’s hard for me not to think of her when it snows–and to wonder, “Is this German snow?” She never referred to “amerikanische Schnee,” but I guess that’s what big fat wet flakes are!

  9. elizabeth says:

    Hey Meghan!
    Happy New Year!
    Hope you and June are well. Look forward to more of your blog posts in 2009.

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