Snow Dazed

On March 25, 2010, in Adventure, by Meghan

I feel as if I’ve used this title before, but it’s perfectly appropriate for this blog post, so I’m using it again. Bryon and I took a four-day trip on snowshoes into the backcountry of northern Yosemite National Park a few weeks back. Snow-dazed we were, in the finest of manners. Enjoy this photo-journal from our trip!

Rain and snow make "snain," and I'm still smiling!

With four days of winter camping goods on our back, we climbed into the backcountry through the beginnings of a mountain snowstorm.

Climbing into the growing snowstorm

We made it not too far from the trailhead before old and new snow required snowshoes. The storm puked snow in huge, fluffy snowflakes falling hard from the sky. We quit moving an hour before dark and made camp. After an afternoon of getting wet, it was a race to get dry, warm, and fed before the simultaneous witching hours of cold and dark. We made it, then we laid prone in the tent for about 14 hours until the next day dawned and the snow stopped.

Pastel, deep winter, morning light made sunrise a hallowed moment.

The storm’s morning afterglow was intense, breath-taking. It filtered the rising sun’s light in delicate pastels that looked more like the colors you might find in am Edgar Degas painting, rather than the real world.

We missioned to dry our gear from the previous day's storm.

This was Day 1’s camp, Camp Pitchfork, named from a snagged tree nearby that looked just like a devil’s pitchfork. We made our campsite a regular shite show to dry out from the previous day’s storm.

The storm clears from the terrain above the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

As the sun did its drying work, we had a pretty alright view to enjoy. Would you agree? We were itching to get our gear dry and on our backs, though, looking at all the new snow everywhere!

Bryon and I begin the second day's adventure.

Day 2’s journey begins! We won’t run far, nor walk far, but we’ll indeed do hard work!

A blanket of fresh powder covers the trail!

One foot of fresh powder and more as we climbed higher made traveling slow and navigation slower. Where’s the trail? Brand new, unmodified snow crystals glimmered in every direction, like the flashy lights of Broadway.

The uncrossable Cottonwood Creek trickles its way downhill.

The infamous-to-us Cottonwood Creek is lovely to look at, but I can’t help but feel a wee bit of scorn for it when I look at this photo. This creek changed our entire backcountry experience because it was uncrossable. We searched for a few hours for a safe crossing across 2 of its tributaries (We made it across only one of them.), then faced the fact that we needed a new route plan.

Our snowshoe tracks disappear into the dark, frozen night.

We settled on a flat-topped ridge for the night, at a camp we called Camp Blue Horizon because the blue twilight wouldn’t give up to the black dark for a long time after sunset. This was our coldest night of camping, but we had all the right gear and were cozy, bug-like all night.

Hoarfrost crystals glisten artfully in the morning light.

Tall hoarfrost crystals grew during the night on everything, and we enjoyed nature’s art the next morning.

Our Big Agnes tent, sitting atop some well-yarded snow, kept us warm and dry.

Happiness is a yarded campsite! Like many ungulates who yard their grazing territories in winter by walking around to compact the snow for easier movement, we, too, yarded our campsite. I should say that Bryon, the “Master Yarder,” did.

Perhaps the best backcountry invention, the Jetboil stove and its coffee press

Happiness is also dark-roast coffee in the backcountry!

Bryon and his big pack explore an unnamed meadow.

Day 3 of our trip took us through some beautiful forests and meadows, all hovering around the 6500 foot above sea level point.

Cottonwood Meadow stands empty and untrodden.

Cottonwood Meadow was peaceful, totally untrodden by anything. Most of the wildlife we saw up in the snow was of the avian kind.

Meghan makes a brave snow bridge crossing.

As our experience with this kind of backcountry grew, we became trusting of certain snow bridges over tiny creeks. Mostly I became trustworthy of them after Bryon went over first! We came to rest this night at the margin of a meadow, calling our spot Camp S-Curves for the meandering creek nearby.

Good morning!

See, what did I tell you? Happiness is good backcountry coffee!

Jack the Sea Otter, though seemingly out of place on snow, enjoys his backcountry trip.

Jack is a sea otter that was adopted from the Pacific Ocean last fall. He likes exploring, so he came on this trip. He said he likes liquid water better than all the frozen stuff that was out there, though.

"Here kitty, kitty!"

Day 4 brought our trip to a close, and the majority of our route took us back downhill. The farther we descended, the more the world thawed. At 4,000 feet or so, it was spring! Fresh snow from 4 days ago bore tracks of everything and its mother, including those of a mountain lion. We reasoned that these tracks were perhaps 2 days old, due to the degree of melting that had taken place within the tracks as compared to our own fresh tracks across the snow.

A bold Valley Garter Snake has apparently forgotten that it's cold-blooded.

A dainty Valley Garter Snake, black, yellow, and orange, hung out in the snow and water along the trail. We were taken aback by the bold presence of a cold-blooded creature until we consulted our reptile field guide at home to learn that this particular snake has a strong cold tolerance. Welcome to spring then, little buddy!

This happy camper concludes his hike!

Our trip concluded at the Smith Meadow Trailhead near the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, in the northern part of Yosemite. We came out of the backcountry at the same place we started, on the opposite side of the park than we intended to finish. No matter, we were snow-sated, for sure!

8 Responses to “Snow Dazed”

  1. olga says:

    This was so seren and beautiful, Meghan. Way to enjoy life.

  2. sea legs girl says:

    Awesome, Meghan! You are quite a talented nature photographer, you know.

  3. Rick Gaston says:

    Great photographs! It was nice living vicariously through the two of you through the photos and captions while enjoying a hot cup of coffee in the comfort of a warm and dry room. The mountain lion track photo was sweet, so was the close up of the snow crystals.

  4. Danni says:

    That sounds fabulous!

  5. SteveQ says:

    Your everyday adventures would make my lifetime top ten lists! Glad you enjoyed my post on what a great date I can be, too. 😉

  6. elizabeth says:

    Hi Meghan. When you weren't using your snowshoes, did you attach them to the outside of your pack? Was wondering the best way you found to do this? My snowshoes don't fit in my pack and sometimes I want to attach them to the outside and then run a while with them on my back until I get to deeper snow. Thanks. Good luck in the desert!

  7. JeffO says:

    Awesome photos! Isn't snow great?! End of winter and I'm still not ready for it to go. At least it stays long up high! Love the frost.
    But camping on top of snow? I dig in. You brought your burly tent-warmer, though, so I guess it made no difference.
    Soon, I'll be able to take my son on multi-day winter outings.

  8. Meghan says:

    I'm a little delayed in commenting on this post, sorry!

    Olga- Thanks, darlin'! Methinks you're enjoying life as well!

    Sea Legs- I have to give credit to Bryon as many of these photographs are his, and I neglected to identify him as the talented one!

    Rick- Thanks, Rick! The snow crystals picture was Bryon's.

    Danni- Wanna come along next year?

    Steve- I'm pretty lucky, I will admit!

    Elizabeth- We used the in-place strapping on our packs to attach the snowshoes at the beginning and end of the trip. Ours was a hiking trip, so we didn't have to deal with any bouncing, though.

    JeffO- I guess ideally you would dig in if wind conditions were particularly bad? On the really cold night, too, I could see that it would have kept things warmer. Luckily, the bottomed out temperature at ground level was still within our sleeping bags' comfort levels. I don't have that much experience winter camping, though. Trial by fire!

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