Yosemite in Winter

January 20-25, 2017

I can't believe it's been six years since I went cross-country skiing! When Josh and Carole mentioned a winter trip to Yosemite, we leapt at the chance.

Josh and Carole have been living a wonderfully funky converted summer cabin tucked into the redwoods atop a ridge overlooking Silicon Valley, and there's a great restaurant at the bottom of the hill.
Near El Portal. It's been a record-breaking year for snow in Yosemite, with the Park Service reporting 207 inches of snow and 20.25 inches of rain in the three weeks prior to trip.
So we were surprised that we saw no accumulation until we actually entered the park. Once in the park, we found plenty of snow, but it was pouring rain.
Just the right consistency for a snowball fight, though!
The road to Badger Pass was closed, but we thought we might find better conditions at higher elevations. So we put on the chains and headed out Route 120 toward Crane Flat.
The chains did a good job, but at about 6000 feet, the road was blocked by a van that had no chains and couldn't make it up the hill.
Cars were quickly piling up behind us, and a snowplow was trying to come down the hill, so we decided to turn back.
But less than a mile back down Route 120, a jacknifed semi had blocked the road.
There was no choice but continue up Route 120. By then, the road was a white tunnel with steeply carved sides. We waited about an hour at Crane Flat, until a ranger came by and told us that it would take at least another four hours to clear the road, and that we'd be better off to try to make our way over the mountain to a lodge just outside the park.
Safe and sound, drinking wine and playing Scrabble, at Rush Creek Lodge, on the wrong side of the mountain.
After warming up and drying out, we concluded that there was no option but to drive all the way around, nearly 120 miles, back to Yosemite Village via Routes 120, 49 and 140. It was a long, long day of driving (thanks Josh!), but the views were awe-inspring, like this overlook of the Merced River.
Overnight, the rain turned to very deep, heavy, wet snow.
Winter wonderland!
Finally, we might get some use out of cross-country skis!
We set out directly from the lodge, following the trail to Lower Yosemite Falls. There was a lot of water on the trail.
And there it was, a tumble of snow, mist and half-frozen water!

Alas, less than two miles out, my barely-used cheap Chinese ski boots — purchased to replace my +30-year-old three-pin boots — came apart. Dennis and I turned back warmed up, dried out, and decided go hiking instead, while Josh and Carole continued toward Mirror Lake. By then, all roads into the park were closed, and the hotel staff was asking guests not to go outside.

Yosemite Panorama

We hiked out the Valley Loop Trail, and had the park virtually to ourselves. The outlines of Three Brothers and Sentinel Rock were dimly visible at the edge of the meadow. But then, slowly, a hazy sun began to poke through the clouds.

Almost immediately, we heard the chatter of rocks and ice cascading down the sheer face of the Three Brothers as the sun melted the snow blanketing the summits.
Another thing that caught our eyes was the strange blue, glacier-like color of depressions in the snow. Apparently wet snow is denser thand therefore absorbs more red light than dry snow.
Our last day in Yosemite. With Josh and Carole, we took a six-mile hike in thigh-deep snow along the Valley Loop Trail, closer to the base of othe mountains.
The view northeast toward Half Dome.
Notice the raven in the foreground.
Swirling clouds above the Three Brothers.
North Dome.
And, finally, Lower Yosemite Falls in the sun.
Big, fat, sassy ravens represented the dominant species in the Park.
Firelight reflected in the windows of the Mountain Room Lounge.
It took all of us to rock the car out loose from its personal snowbank.

A ridiculously pretty video.

Back in the valley, Josh led us on a great loop hike in a freshly-minted open space, along Peter's Creek and over Long Ridge.
Josh counted 107 rings on the fallen giant.
Taking a break at the Wallace Stegner memorial stone bench.
In the mountain lion's lair!
Dennis and Josh
Very cool wooden water towers that serve Josh and Carole's hilltop community.

Thanks Josh and Carole for an unforgettable winter adventure!