Mother’s Day Riding God’s Corduroy

The book reports always came back with plenty of red pen marks, scribbles in the margin, lines through text, and questions in the margin. “Why?” “Who?” “What happened here?” And this all from a Nancy Drew novel. I wasn’t sensitized to the comments, but I always thought back to the earliest comments on my writing. The brown, lined paper, 11×13; the skinny dashed line between the solid ones for forming letters at appropriate heights; the story I wrote in first grade about how kittens got their whiskers. The folds were carefully preserved and fragile, but the comments on the side, collected from my grandmother’s English Department in Michigan, were cherished bits of wisdom. My mother had sent my compositions to her, and, once circulated, they were returned and posted on the refrigerator. My mother was my editor: a relentless perfectionist who wanted everything explained in clear and concise fashion.

The forest due south of the Tuolumne Campground was gradual, easy terrain, and the smell of pine permeated the warmth of the mid-morning air. I liked the feel of the pack weight on my back while I picked my way through the trees, my boots stomping hard against the open slabs while I searched for consistent snow. Streams flowed small but strong in each gulley, emerging and disappearing under drifts edged with dirt and needles, the water tasting of earth and spring. In an unsure moment, I pulled out my GPS to get a bearing, but as long as the landscape remained this gentle, I was happy following the western face of Johnson Peak.

Around mid-day, I swung the pack onto a few dry boulders and kicked out of my skis. Near a tear in the snow, listening to the roar of the melt, and the sun on my face, I nestled into a perfect crook. Arms outstretched, I was soon snoring loudly. The sirens of the High Sierra, those nap rocks. But what was the hurry? I was still looking for winter here, expecting shorter days and long, cold nights. Spring had snuck up on me this year, and I still hadn’t come to term with the long days. My body offered no complaints at the chance to rest and soak in the high country. With a smile and a grunt, I heaved the pack to my shoulders and clipped once again into my skis to continue my ascent.

The foxtails thinned, and the slabs shone out from under the snow at the saddle south of Johnson Peak. Below me spread the Rafferty Creek drainage, Evelyn Lake still frozen, and the north faces and bowls of the peaks around Vogelsang held acres of snow. Behind and below, the Tuolumne River wound and flooded the Meadows. Small puffer clouds hovered above the Cathedral Range, their shadows washing over the grey spires of Cockscomb, Unicorn, and Matthes Crest. My boots clunked heavily across the granite as I strode up the ridge of Johnson, and I had to giggle at my clumsiness on the boulders. What should have taken 20 minutes in trail runners took almost 45 in the boots as I wiggled and turned and reached through the brush for the rocks below. I had to laugh at myself as I pulled up onto the summit blocks through a chimney between boulders, especially when I spotted the easy step-around. I kicked back and absorbed the view from my perch.

We were walking along, I’m not sure exactly where, but it doesn’t matter since she had a knack of doing the same thing wherever we were. My hair was short then, and my mom was able to reach up and pluck a single strand from the top of my head. With a quick pull, and a yelp from me, she could remind me of how tall I was. Great: what every teenage, athletic, and brainy girl needs. But the lesson became clear after a few hundred yanks. Stand up straight, girl. Be proud of who you are and what you can do.

If I were to stay high across the northern slopes of Tuolumne Pass, I might be able to piece together a path on snow to Evelyn Lake, just a few more miles away. On the eastern slope of the saddle, a few old tracks twinkled in the angled afternoon light. With an eyebrow raised, and a mischievous smile, I threw my skins into my summit pack and locked my heels. I could decide better with a few laps under me, I thought.

Well, that was patently obvious, I laughed to myself at the bottom of the first run.

Fun wins.

With each run, my smile grew, the laughter louder. It was a simple slope, but who can complain when the snow looked like this:



After two hours of running up and down, I grabbed the big pack and glided back down to the tarn to the west. A chunk of slab provided the perfect campsite not far from open water, and I dug a small hole in the snow to chill my can of Fat Tire before dinner. Snuggled down in my bag, I found myself drifting off as I held the gazed across the topo. I woke a few times that night, turning over and pulling the vast blanket of stars up close under my chin.

“So when do I get to see Tuolumne in winter?” my mother asked. There was an excitement in her voice, perhaps a little regret and longing. My parents made multiple annual pilgrimages to Yosemite, but they were limited to the Valley while Tioga was closed, and summer to the Meadows. That’s yet another amazing thing about my mom: while I know my adventures make her nervous, she wholeheartedly supports them. She really appreciates that phone call on Sunday evenings to let her and my pop know I’m home safely. Technically, she’s still waiting for those “winter” shots, but it’s not as if she’s fixated on calendar dates defining the seasons.


I knew the only way I’d get out of bed that morning was by deflating my pad, forcing myself to get on with the day. I had woken to pine needles tickling my nose, and the sun creeping over the southern ridge of Johnson. My stove was just out of reach, so I reluctantly slithered out, avoiding the drips from melting frost on the top of the bag. The XGK roared to life, and I layered the bacon in the pan, readied the coffee and eggs. I squinted up at the bowl over my head, waiting patiently for the sun to warm the north-facing snow.

From the upper ridge, I was able to view clear down into Sunrise Camp and towards Little Yosemite Valley. A line of clouds crept closer from the Central Valley, and a chilly breeze was a welcome touch on my sunburned face. I warmed up with two laps skirting the bowl, the lower half turning from NE to north, and the snow changed with it, remaining icy and fast and crunchy under my skis. On the final lap I diddled around with entering the bowl from the side, only to find nothing but loose boulders and no platform to don my skis. With my mouth pinned in a frustrated line, I looked up at the top entry from the ridge and knew I “should” have simply scrambled up to the top. But, once again, fun overrode fear, and my right shin, bruised from who-knows-what the day before, screamed on the final set of turns back to the campsite. It was already one o’clock, and time to creep back to the TOF.

I followed the cascade to Elizabeth Lake, finally giving up on trying to connect the sloppy snow patches and just postholing my way down. I finally had to completely unhitch the top buckle of my right boot due to the pain in my shin, but at least the more frequent open lengths of trail allowed for a more normal stride. Unicorn Creek rumbled under the snow bridges and ice, and the air smelled of mud and pine. Doggedly, I kept swinging one foot in front of the other through the trees. Around four I finally reached the campground, then stopped on the bridge over the Tuolumne River to remember the flood stage of last summer. I looked up to see a car stopped in the road, two women smiling broadly at me, waving and giving my thumbs-up as they allowed me to cross the road.

I called my mom from the MoMart in Lee Vining an hour later to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. And to thank her.

I love you, Mom!

From the luckiest girl in the world:

Climb Hard, Be Safe.


A slide show of this weekend’s picture can be found here:


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